The Titans claimed the final AFC playoff spot after they beat up on a Texans team who played mostly their backups after locking up their own playoff position in Week 16. Meanwhile, the Patriots come in after losing to the Dolphins in a game where New England was a 16-point favorite to win, falling in perhaps the biggest upset of the entire 2019 season.
Even the most loyal of Titans fans became less than optimistic after the team’s 2-4 start to the season. Many even started talking about the draft and the team picking a quarterback. Very few entertained the prospect of seeing them make the playoffs.
But 12 weeks later, here they are. After head coach Mike Vrabel decided to bench Marcus Mariota in favor of Ryan Tannehill, much to the chagrin of half of the team’s fanbase, the team went 7-3.
Ryan Tannehill has been better than anyone ever expected. In his 10-and-a-half games (he played most of the second half of the Week 6 game against the Broncos once Mariota was benched), he threw for 2,742 yards. He threw 22 touchdowns and only six interceptions, posted a 117.5 quarterback rating and a 70 percent completion rate. He also added four touchdowns on the ground.
In addition to Tannehill’s brilliance, running back Derrick Henry captured his first league rushing title last week after sitting out Week 16 to rest his ailing hamstring and seemed rejuvenated. Meanwhile, rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown, like he has all season, made his case for the Rookie of the Year with another 100-plus-yard receiving day on Sunday.
The defense and special teams have been making plays at just the right time, whether it was a goal-line stand on the straight plays against the Chargers, a timely interception, or a blocked field goal attempt.
The one overwhelming detriment to this team since Week 3, after giving up nine sacks against the Jaguars, was the offensive line being pretty much nonexistent. But as the season carried on, the better the protection became for Tannehill and holes opened up for Henry.
As for Mike Vrabel, he’ll be taking on his former team and former head coach in a rare Patriots wild card game.
Titans Keys to the Game
- Pressure Brady
The front seven needs to get in the face of Tom Brady just enough to make him slightly uncomfortable and hesitant.
- A heavier dose of Henry
After last week, Henry looks rested and ready. The Titans’ main objectives will be to score points.
- Protect Kern
The Patriots’ special teams have blocked more than their fair share of punts throughout the season. Thus, the Titans may want to keep an extra blocker for their punter.
Date: Jan. 4, 2020
Start time: 8:15 p.m. EST
Location: Foxborough, Mass.
Stadium: Gillette Stadium
TV Info: CBS
Point Spread: Patriots -4.5
The Titans are 4.5-point underdogs on the road.
The Patriots will have trouble slowing down Derrick Henry, much like most teams he’s faced this season. And while the Patriots’ defense has been one of the best in the league, they haven’t seen a back like him.
Henry’s success will open the defense just enough for Tannehill, who is making his playoff debut, to make a few big chunk plays. A.J. Brown should have some success against the best cornerback in the league, Stephon Gilmore.
Defensively, the Titans will get after Brady and cause a few rare mistakes.
The Titans will come away with a narrow victory. Their reward? A trip to Baltimore to take on the Ravens.
Final Score: Titans 27, Patriots 24