New England Patriots Playoffs: Get to know the Tennessee Titans

KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 6: Strong safety Johnathan Cyprien
KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 6: Strong safety Johnathan Cyprien /

The New England Patriots will face the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs, and many expect it to be a cakewalk.

The Tennessee Titans haven’t been able to beat the New England Patriots over the last 15 years, but they’re a completely new team (as are the Patriots) and they’re ready to make a splash.

Tennessee beat Kansas City on Saturday and when Jacksonville beat Buffalo on Sunday, the AFC Divisional Round of the playoffs was set. Two AFC South teams are alive, but both are underdogs against the Patriots and Steelers. The Patriots-Titans matchup is especially lopsided, with New England opening as 14-point favorites. Some think that line is still not large enough.

Marcus Mariota, Derrick Henry, and Delanie Walker will have to be firing on all cylinders on Saturday if they want to keep up with the Patriots because there is no chance that the Tennessee defense can slow down Tom Brady and co. This could become a blowout, fast.

Series History

Patriots lead the all-time series 24-16-1

Last 5 Meetings

  • 2004: Titans 14 at Patriots 17
  • 2006: Patriots 40 at Titans 23
  • 2009: Titans 0 at Patriots 59
  • 2012: Patriots 34 at Titans 13
  • 2015: Titans 16 at Patriots 33

The last time the Tennessee Titans beat the New England Patriots was in December 2002 when they won 24-7 at The Coliseum in Nashville. That season, the Patriots missed the playoffs and the Titans beat the Steelers before losing to the Raiders in the Conference Championship game.

Titans Offense

Passing Leader: Marcus Mariota 3,232 yards, 13 touchdowns, 15 interceptions

Rushing Leader: Derrick Henry 744 yards, 5 touchdowns, 1 fumble

Receiving Leader: Delanie Walker 807 yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 fumbles

Marcus Mariota had a rough season as far as statistics go in 2017, but in the end, he was able to sneak his team into the playoffs. This past weekend, he led them to an upset win over the Kansas City Chiefs. In that game, Mariota went 19 of 31 for a 61.29% completion percentage, threw 2 touchdowns (one to himself), and threw one interception. Mariota also added 46 yards rushing on the ground. He did just enough to beat the KC defense to earn a 22-21 win.

Derrick Henry was, of course, the Titans leading rusher in their playoff win. He went for 156 yards and a touchdown with a long of 35. No other Tennessee running back got a carry, as DeMarco Murray is still out with a third-degree MCL tear. It’s unclear if he will be able to play in the Divisional game against New England.

The last weapon in the Titans arsenal is tight end Delanie Walker. He was the leading receiver for them in the regular season and in their win over the Chiefs. He has great chemistry with Marcus Mariota, but he’s no Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots defense should be able to take him away, forcing the Titans to win with either Derrick Henry or wide receivers like Corey Davis and Eric Decker. The New England Patriots defense clearly has the upper hand in this game.

ESPN‘s Titans reporter Cameron Wolfe provided a great primer on what Tennessee’s offensive philosophy is.

"“Coach Mike Mularkey’s exotic smashmouth scheme relies on bunch and multi-tight end sets to present versatile looks for the Titans’ running game. At its core, this is a run-first scheme that opens up the play-action game when it works. That philosophy has been under heavy criticism this season due to a step back from most of the Titans’ offensive players, particularly quarterback Marcus Mariota. Recently, the Titans have had more success on no-huddle drives on which Mariota has more control over the playcalling and rhythm. The Titans typically try to control time of possession and implement their bread-and-butter plays early. The run game, especially led by Derrick Henry, typically thrives on running behind left tackle Taylor Lewan. The pass game flourishes off the production and attention drawn by tight end Delanie Walker.”"

As noted above, Derrick Henry and the Titans love to run to the left. According to Pro Football Focus, Henry ran to the left behind Taylor Lewan 21 times on Saturday for 141 yards and a touchdown. He ran to the right just twice for 18 yards. New England will surely look to exploit this tendency on Saturday night.

Titans Defense

Tackle Leader: Wesley Woodyard 81 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries

Sack Leader: Derrick Morgan 7.5 sacks, 16 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries

Interception Leader: Kevin Byard 8 interceptions, 62 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries

Tennessee’s defense was able to slow down Kareem Hunt and the Kansas City rushing attack, but they failed to take away the Chiefs best player Tyreek Hill. He managed to grab 7 receptions for 87 yards in the game, and he rushed once for 14 yards. If that’s the Titans gameplan for the Patriots, they’re in for a long night. New England has tons of weapons in Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks, Dion Lewis, and Danny Amendola. Simply put, the Titans don’t have enough talent on defense to contend with those matchup problems.

The Titans were able to sack Alex Smith 4 times in the Wild Card round, but they failed to create any turnovers. They will have to win the turnover battle in New England if they have any chance at winning this game. Brian Orakpo was second on the team this season with 7.0 sacks and he’s still a force the Patriots will have to worry about, even at age 31.

Safety Kevin Byard is the only really solid player in Tennessee’s secondary, as former Patriots player Logan Ryan has had a down year. In 15 games this season Ryan had just 50 tackles and he did not record an interception. With the Patriots in 2016, he had 73 tackles and 2 INTs. It will be interesting to see if Tom Brady targets him during this game.

Wolfe provides some insight into Tennessee’s D as well.

"“A stout front seven provides the base for an underrated Titans defense. Known as the creator of the zone blitz, (Dick) LeBeau can vary from a heavy-blitzing game plan to falling back into three-man rushes like the Titans did Saturday at the Kansas City Chiefs. At times, he’ll match up his cornerbacks with top opposing receivers. Adoree’ Jacksontypically handles speed receivers while Logan Ryan often draws physical and/or elite slot receivers.”"

Titans Special Teams

Field Goal Leader: Ryan Succop 35 of 42 on field goals, 31 of 33 on extra points

Punt Leader: Brett Kern 49.7 yards per punt, long of 74 yards

Kick/Punt Return Leader: Adoree’ Jackson 23.1 yards per kick, 8.5 yards per punt

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The Tennesse Titans have a dangerous returner in Adoree’ Jackson, but in the Wild Card game, he looked a little shaky. Matthew Slater and the coverage team should be able to rattle him a bit and could perhaps force a special teams turnover.

Brett Kern though is one of the best punters in the NFL right now. He’s heading to the Pro Bowl with an average of 49.7 yards on each punt and he had a long of 74 earlier in the yard. If this somehow turns into a field position game, New England may have to make very long drives to flip the field. Don’t worry though because Ryan Succop is nothing special when it comes to making field goals. He made all 17 attempts from within 39 yards this season, but he was just 16 of 20 from 40-49, and he was 2 for 5 from beyond 50 yards. For comparison, Stephen Gostkowski was also perfect inside 39 yards, 8 for 11 from 40-49, and a perfect 4 for 4 from beyond 50. New England has the special teams edge.

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The New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans will kickoff their Divisional Round matchup on Saturday night at 8:15 PM at Gillette Stadium. The game will be called by Jim Nantz and Tony Romo on CBS. The Falcons-Eagles game will be on earlier that same day on NBC. On Sunday, the Patriots (hopefully) will learn who their opponent will be as the Jaguars and Steelers clash at 1 PM on CBS. The second NFC game will pit the Saints against the Vikings at 4:40 PM on FOX.