In the prime time conclusion to the AFC’s wildcard weekend, the (9-7) Tennessee Titans take on the (12-4) AFC East winning New England Patriots (8:15 PM ET Saturday on CBS).
Yes, you heard that right. For the first time since 2009-10, New England does not have a first-round bye and will be playing during Wildcard Weekend. It is almost unfathomable to believe, that a 12-4 division winner is not only playing in the first week of the postseason but is at danger of being eliminated.
Such was the case in 2009-10 when the Patriots lost to the Baltimore Ravens in a wildcard weekend blowout. Since that loss however, New England has been the unquestioned best team in the NFL. They have made the playoffs each season, with three Super Bowl victories and five appearances on the big day. In fact, if the Patriots somehow manage to return to the big game this season, they will tie the Bills for most consecutive Super Bowl appearances with four.
In any other year, the prospect of the Patriots getting to the Super Bowl wouldn’t seem strange at all. Entering this season, New England, currently in defense of their championship victory from last season, were favorite with the best American online sportbooks to claim their second title in a row. Now, entering the postseason, the Patriots aren’t even at the top of the page. You have to click the “show more” button on Bovada’s listing just to find New England, nestled in with the sixth best odds to win the title at +1100, which is 350 points below where the Green Bay Packers rank at fifth.
There is a reason for that. Despite starting 8-0 and later, 10-1, the Patriots slumped to the finish line, as Tom Brady showed every bit of his age in a way that he never has before. Starting in week nine, where New England found its first loss against the Ravens, the Patriots ended their season just 4-4. It was the worst finish to a season in the long successful Brady/Bill Belichick era. As it developed, football fans around the world watched the real time decline of one of the greatest the sport has ever seen.
It all seemed to culminate with a week 17 loss against the Miami Dolphins, one that if the result was swapped would have given the Patriots their first round bye. With a chance to win the game against the Dolphins, Brady couldn’t get it done. Against a 5-11 team, that the Patriots beat 43-0 in week two of the season, the all-time great simply couldn’t do enough. For Patriots’ fans, heading into the playoffs, that is more than just a little concerning.
Because the thing is, in the past, even when New England hasn’t been the best team on the field, one could never deny they still had a chance to win the title. This year however, it doesn’t feel that way. So yes, Titans’ QB Ryan Tannehill has never won in Foxborough in six tries (all with the Dolphins) and yes, the Patriots are 11-0 versus teams starting quarterbacks making their playoff debut. Still, there may be cause to bet against New England this year.
X Factor: Can Derrick Henry Run His Way into the Divisional Round?
One of the reasons why betting against Brady, Belichick and a decade-plus track record of success doesn’t seem like a crazy idea is because of the 25-year-old running back who will be taking the field opposite New England’s defense. In the midst of his best career year, Derrick Henry ran through and ran over every team the Titans faced this year. Henry finished with 303 rushing attempts, 1,540 yards and 16 touchdowns, all of which led or tied for the lead in the NFL. Henry had six games of rushing for 100 yards or more, five of which came in the last six games of the season. Henry was unstoppable and even saved the best for last, a 211 yard, three touchdown performance that led the Titans to a win over the Houston Texans.
Henry will be facing the league’s top defense in the Patriots and the sixth best run defense. Maybe don’t read too much into those numbers given much of it is reflective of just how good the Patriots were at the beginning of the season. Or, to rephrase, just how bad their opponents were both at the time, and how they finished at the end of the year. New England’s almost impenetrable defense has shown porous holes during the stretch run of the season. Against tougher opponents, the Patriots have not been able to continue their defensive prowess. That is concerning no doubt, especially given that defense will have their hands full not just with Henry, but with the NFC’s player of the month, wide receiver AJ Brown. Finding chemistry with a reborn Tannehill, Brown finished the season recording over 100 yards in four of his last six games. His 20.2 average yards per catch ranks second in the NFL.
And speaking of Tannehill…
May the Best QB Win
Just a few years ago, the prospect of Tannehill being a better quarterback than Brady would have been preposterous but here we are. New year, new decade, new team, new Tannehill. Since joining the Titans prior to the 2019 season, Tannehill has posted career numbers in completion percentage, and his second-best career mark for touchdowns. He also had his best season in terms of taking care of the ball with only 11 turnovers (six interceptions). Over the stretch run of the season, which saw the Titans go 5-2 en route to making the playoffs, Tannehill has been exceptional, throwing no fewer than two touchdowns per game and just two interceptions total. Something has changed in Tennessee as it has in New England. For that reason, there is a real and fair question regarding who will be the better quarterback on the field this Saturday.
Our Betting Preview’s Tennessee Titans vs New England Patriots Predictions & Picks Conclusion
This is a tough one. The Patriots are no longer the Patriots of old, but it is the postseason and experience tends to come into play. On the road at Gillette Stadium, will Tannehill be able to keep his composure in his playoff debut or will the stage be too much for him? That’s a big question and one that has certainly favored the Patriots over the years. There is a certain muscle memory to what Brady and Belichick do. This is how the Tennessee Titans vs New England Patriots predictions for this preview shape up:
- I think the spread, at -5 points, is too favorable to New England. Expect a field goal game so for that reason take the Titans +5pts @ best odds of -105 with Bovada. It is -110 with 5Dimes and Intertops.
- As for the total points likely to be scored in this NFL playoff game, go under 44.5pts @ -110 with 5Dimes or Intertops.