Tennessee Titans (10-7-0 SU, 9-7-1 ATS, 9-8-0 O/U) at New England Patriots (13-3-0 SU, 11-5-0 ATS, 7-9-0 O/U)
When and Where: Saturday, Jan. 13, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., 8:15 p.m. EST.
Line: New England -13.5
Having put aside the distraction of a published report of friction among owner Robert Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, the New England Patriots are ready to resume the business of winning a second straight Super Bowl as they host the Tennessee Titans in the AFC divisional round Saturday night.
Titans seek first AFC title game appearance since 2002
Tennessee (10-7) rallied from 18 down in the second half to defeat AFC West champion Kansas City 22-21 on the road Saturday for first postseason victory since defeating Baltimore in the wild-card round in 2003.
Marcus Mariota triggered the rally by catching his deflected pass and scoring on a six-yard reception. After Derrick Henry brought the Titans within 22-16 on a 35-yard scoring run with 14:06 to play, Mariota and Eric Decker hooked up on a 22-yard touchdown pass with 6:06 left for the go-ahead score.
The Titans did survive a nervy finish in which a Chiefs defensive touchdown on a fumble by Henry was correctly overturned by instant replay, and Henry’s 22-yard run on 3rd-and-10 secured the victory.
Mariota completed 19 of 31 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns with one interception while Henry churned out 156 rushing yards and added 35 more receiving in his playoff debut.
Mariota’s next task is to make sure Tennessee’s playoff journey does not end the way it did the last time it reached the divisional round, which was a 13-10 loss to Baltimore in 2008. The Titans have not been to the conference title game since a 41-24 loss to Oakland in 2002, and they have not faced New England in the postseason since a 17-14 defeat in Foxborough in the divisional round after the 2003 season.
Tennessee allowed 325 yards to Kansas City, but only 64 after halftime. If there is one area of concern for the Titans, is that the defense allowed three touchdowns in as many drives by the Chiefs once they entered the red zone.
The Titans were 21st in the league in red zone points allowed (248), and the 22 red zone touchdown passes allowed were tied for second-most in the NFL.
Patriots spend bye week shooting down talk of discontent
Despite having a bye into the divisional round as the top seed in the AFC, the Patriots (13-3) arguably made the most news during wild-card week after a published report described a sense of discontent between Belichick and Brady, with the latter reportedly the driving force in having backup Jimmy Garoppolo dealt to San Francisco during the season.
The three principal players in the story released a statement through the team refuting the article, and on Monday, Belichick shot down any idea he would be coaching anyone but New England in 2018 while stressing his relationships with Kraft, Brady and Brady’s trainer Alex Guerrero are all on solid ground.
The blow-up overshadowed New England winning its ninth consecutive AFC title and 14th in the last 15 seasons. It was also the eighth straight season the Patriots had won at least 12 games as they now set up to reach the conference title game for the seventh consecutive postseason.
The 40-year-old Brady put up numbers that belied his age, finishing with 4,577 yards and 32 touchdown passes with only eight interceptions as he is arguably the frontrunner for his third NFL MVP award and first since 2010.
Brady’s stats were all the more impressive considering he did not have top receiver Julian Edelman all season due to a knee injury. But he did have star tight end Rob Gronkowski, who stayed healthy for most of the season and finished with team highs of 69 receptions, 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.
Brandin Cooks, acquired from New Orleans before the season, made an impact in his first season with 65 catches for 1,082 yards and seven scores while Danny Amendola took over the role as primary slot receiver and chipped in 61 receptions for 659 yards.
Dion Lewis led the rushing attack with 896 rushing yards as New England led the AFC with 458 points and finished second in scoring to the Los Angeles Rams.
Defensively, the Patriots struggled at the outset, giving up 128 points in their first four games. They then limited opponents to 168 points in winning 11 of their last 12 games, despite playing without Dont’a Hightower from Week 7 forward.
New England forced just 18 turnovers this season after recording 23 takeaways in 2017. The Patriots were tied for fifth in the league with 21 red zone touchdowns allowed, and their 189 red zone points allowed rank sixth.
The Titans are:
- 0-4 ATS in their last four road games as underdogs of 10.5 points or greater.
- 9-20 ATS in their last 29 road games.
- 1-4 ATS in their last five games at New England.
The Patriots are:
- 6-1 ATS in their last seven playoff games.
- 9-1 ATS in their last 10 home games as favorites of 10.5 points or greater.
- 4-0 ATS in their last four games vs. Tennessee.
Brady is 5-1 lifetime versus Tennessee, winning the last five after a road loss back in 2002. He has thrown for 1,327 yards and 12 touchdowns without an interception over those five wins, completing 69.0 percent of his passes.
He threw for 267 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the most recent meeting, a 33-16 victory in Week 15 of the 2015 season. Mariota was forced out of that game due to injury after completing 3 of 6 passes for 32 yards.
The Titans are 0-4 all-time at Gillette Stadium, including a 59-0 thrashing in 2009 when Brady threw five second-quarter TD passes as the Patriots handed them their worst defeat in franchise history.