Wild Card Weekend! Awesome, just what I wanted. Forget the bye, who needs time off? Certainly not a half dead Julian Edelman who is as bruised and battered as it gets. Now the Patriots have to win three games in a row, with at least one road trip to Kansas City if they want to make it three Super Bowl trips in a row. The Patriots haven’t won three games in a row since starting off 9-0 before their first loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Also an important fact to note, every team that the Pats have played made the playoffs in the AFC, has beaten them besides the Buffalo Bills, who kept it a one possession game in both match-ups. Getting anxiety yet? You should, this team certainly doesn’t look good enough to make it very far, but we’ve seen crazier things! Here is your Wild Card (threw up a little saying this) Weekend preview for Patriots VS Titans.
Three Keys To The Game
Key #1 : Keep Tannehill In Check
No QB has been hotter than Ryan Tannehill leading up to the post-season. Passing for 1,140 yards in the last four games and 10 touchdowns. Imagine how the Titans record would’ve panned out if Tannehill was the starter from week one? They might’ve won a couple more if that were the case! Throwing to guys like rookie A.J. Brown who eclipsed 1,000 yards as a rookie with eight touchdowns. Along with Corey Davis who is nothing short of serviceable, the Patriots secondary has their hands full with this match-up. It wouldn’t be smart to underestimate this team. There’s a reason they’re here and the electric passing game is a big part of that.
Key #2 : Slow down Derrick Henry
Former Heisman winning RB Derrick Henry has had a career year this season rushing for 1,540 yards and 16 yards on the ground averaging over 100 yards per game. He’s been one of if not the best running back in all of football this season. If we let Henry get off to a hot start, consider this game done. The D-Line and Linebackers are going to have to step up if we want to have a shot on winning this wild card match-up. Which means we’re going to look at run stuffers Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton have to be a BIG part of this game. If they can’t at least contain Henry, the Patriots chances of even a divisional round match-up is gone.
Key #3 : Josh McDaniels Needs To Get Creative
Josh McDaniels needs to utilize HB James White in short screen passes and using N’Keal Harry on those end-arounds we saw late in the season with his size. Also using more power running with Elandon Roberts playing fullback and using Sony Michel following suit. We’ve seen too often the well run dry in McDaniels play-calling arsenal. If we can’t grab something new against this Titans defense or find at least some type of spark. There’s again, no chance in hell we win this game.
X-Factor : Patriots Defense
Everything is put on the shoulders of this defense. Coming off of a loss where they got PUNISHED by the Miami Dolphins at home through the air, they need a quick turn around. Ryan Tannehill is significantly better than Ryan Fitzpatrick, that needs no explaining. Derrick Henry is infinitely better than Patrick Laird and Samaje Perine. Must I remind you that this so called “elite defense” lost to the Dolphins? They lost that game by themselves. Sure the offense let up a pick six to former overrated Patriot Eric Rowe off a throw where Tom Brady looked like Jameis Winston for a whole play. But the offense did their best to play catch up and the defense just didn’t give them that shot.
If this defensive unit wants to go down as one of the greatest in recent memory. They have to be able to hold their own against elite offenses. They haven’t this year and have even collapsed to bad ones. It’s just not a good look when you get smacked around by a team that was built to lose. Even given the trademark “#TankForTua” by fans. I get the offense has done them no favors all season. I 100% agree that the offense has lost them games. But the defense isn’t innocent either. How about actually winning something before coining yourself a stupid nickname like “The Boogey-Men” and selling merchandise like you’ve done anything but suck against the only playoff level teams you’ve played. And no, the Eagles and Cowboys don’t count.
So, this isn’t where any of us wanted to be, at all. To be honest, who would’ve thought in September that we would be in January talking about preparing for the Wild Card round? Tom Brady was really underselling the whole “Uncharted Territory” back in August when speaking about his contract. It applied to basically everything else about this year. As we look ahead to our first wild card match-up in 10 years.
I usually say in these situations “No way in hell the Patriots lose this game. They’re at home and they’re a lock for the AFC Championship”. Can’t do that this year as we’ve lost two at home. One to the Kansas City Chiefs (yes I know Jerome Boger is forever banned from any Dunkins in the tri-state area) and the Miami Dolphins of all teams (is it getting annoying yet? Good). This team just isn’t reliable in the big moment this year. With our only reliable WR being shattered as well? It’s not a great match-up.
Also looking at it from a defensive aspect. Our All-Pro CB Stephon Gilmore just got eaten alive by Devante Parker and our run defense has been suspect against good RBs (Nick Chubb had 131 on this defense, Frank Gore had 109, Mark Ingram had 119, must I go on?). Derrick Henry is an EXCELLENT RB. Like I said, probably the best the game has to offer right now. The weather is supposed to be crap as well so expect a lot of ground and pound all day. Although I expect the Titans to be a little too overwhelmed by the moment and cough up a couple opportunities the Patriots are able to make the most of and they’ll squeak out with a win, setting up a rematch from last years AFC Championship in Kansas City next week to face Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Final Score : 24-20, New England
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Greg M Cooper / USA Today Sports