Solving the Patriots is an inexact science as the Pats morph into a different version of themselves week-to-week based on their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses.
That said, two things have proven to be something of an Achilles heel over the years. If you have a great pass defense and a great running game, you’re in business.
The Patriots’ Divisional Round opponent this Saturday night, the Tennessee Titans, aren’t great in either category – so the 13.5 Las Vegas spread on the game in favor of the Pats is warranted.
This season, the Titans gave up 239.3 passing yards per game, which ranked 25th in the NFL (to be fair, the Patriots ranked 30th in the NFL in passing yards per game, giving up 251.3 yards per contest).
The Tennessee defense struggled with top-notch quarterbacks this season – most notably old friend Jimmy Garoppolo on Dec. 17. Garoppolo completed 30-of-43 passes for 381 yards, threw a touchdown and had no interceptions in a 25-23 Niners victory last month in Santa Clara. Jimmy G posted a sparkling 106.8 passer rating in that one.
Gotta think Tom Brady will have as good or better success against the Titans secondary on Saturday. Combine Tennessee’s ineptitude at stopping the pass with Brady’s motivation to silence his critics following the release of last week’s ESPN.com story and it’s probably a good call to pick Brady as your DraftKings QB this weekend.
No doubt, Brady has highlighted this passage from the ESPN.com piece and will use it as motivation going forward: “People close to [Brady] believe [his issues with Bill Belichick’s coaching style] started after last year’s playoff win over the Houston Texans, in which Brady completed only 18-of-38 passes and threw two interceptions. Belichick lit into him in front of the entire team in a way nobody had ever seen, ripping Brady for carelessness with the ball. ‘This will get us beat,’ he told the team after replaying a Brady interception. ‘We were lucky to get away with a win.’
“The criticism has continued this year, as Brady has been hit a lot and battled various injuries. Atypically, he has missed a lot of practices and, in the team’s private evaluations, is showing the slippage of a 40-year-old quarterback even as he is contending for MVP and is as deadly as ever with the game on the line.”
Titans running game
You will hear a lot about how Titans running back Derrick Henry has the talent to shred the Patriots’ suspect run defense this week, particularly after Henry lit up the Chiefs last Saturday night – rushing for 156 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.
This might be a tad overblown, though, as Henry posted just two 100-plus yard rushing games this season prior to the outburst against Kansas City. This is not Todd Gurley or Le’Veon Bell coming to Foxborough this weekend.
The Titans finished a mediocre 15th in the NFL in average team rushing yards this season – running for 114.6 yards per game. The Patriots defense finished 20th in the league in rushing yards allowed, giving up 114.8 yards per game.
Expect the Pats defense to shut down Henry, and force shaky quarterback Marcus Mariota to beat them.