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Game Preview: Titans at Patriots

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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (12-4) at TENNESSEE TITANS (9-7)
Saturday, January 4, 2019 at 8:15 p.m. ET. Gillette Stadium.

The New England Patriots finished as the third seed in the AFC Playoff Field following a 12-4 finish in the 2019 regular season. New England has now qualified for the playoffs for the 27th time in franchise history (21 under Robert Kraft), the 17th time under head coach Bill Belichick and for the 11th consecutive season overall. The Patriots will host the Tennessee Titans in the first round of the playoffs. It will mark the fourth time the two teams have met in the postseason and the first postseason meeting since New England beat Tennessee, 35-14, in an AFC Divisional Playoff game at Gillette Stadium on Jan. 13, 2018.

CONTINUED PLAYOFF ADVANCEMENT

The New England Patriots have won at least one playoff game for eight consecutive seasons, dating back to the 2011 season.

SERIES HISTORY

The New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans (formerly the Houston Oilers) will square off for the 44th time since the two charter members of the American Football League began play in 1960. The Patriots and Oilers played twice each year from 1960-1969, and have played 23 times since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. In those 23 post-merger games, the Patriots are 15-8, including a 2-1 record in the postseason.

The Patriots and the Tennessee franchise have met three times in the postseason. In 1978, the Houston Oilers beat New England 31-14 in an AFC Divisional matchup at Schaefer Stadium in Foxborough, the Patriots first ever home playoff game. The Patriots beat Tennessee, 17-14 in a 2003 AFC Divisional Playoff game and then again 35-14 in a 2017 AFC Divisional Playoff game. Both of those games were played at Gillette Stadium.

New England leads the overall regular season and postseason series, 25-17-1. The last game between the clubs came last season when the Patriots traveled to Tennessee and lost, 34-10, on Nov. 11, 2018. The teams met this past summer in the preseason and held joint practice sessions together at the Titans practice facility prior to the Week 2 preseason game.

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SCOUTING THE MATCHUPS

By Paul Perillo

When the Patriots run - Edge: Titans

Despite the pedestrian numbers for the season (106.4 yards per game, 18th in the league), the Patriots running game has shown signs of life in recent weeks. That's been especially true of Rex Burkhead, who has been productive in his limited opportunities over the last month of the season. Burkhead had 48 yards on just six carries in the finale against Miami, and that came after back-to-back weeks with impressive touchdown runs against Cincinnati and Buffalo. Still, Sony Michel continues to get the bulk of the work, and admittedly he's been better of late as well. Still, he averaged just 3.7 yards per carry for the season and lacks the burst that Burkhead seems to provide each week. Tennessee has been solid against the run, ranking 12th overall and seventh in terms of yards per carry. Big DaQuan Jones mans the middle for the Titans inside of ends Jurrell Casey and Jeffrey Simmons. Dean Pees' 3-4 alignment has held up well against the run for most of the season and this will be a key element Saturday night as the Patriots try to avoid long-yardage situations by controlling the ball and clock.

When the Patriots pass - Edge: Titans

Tom Brady is coming off one of his least productive seasons, which finished with one of his least productive games. Brady is clearly dealing with some health issues, particularly in his right elbow, but he has consistently downplayed any and all physical limitations. His regular-season passer rating of 88 is his worst since 2013, and his 24 touchdowns were his fewest since 2006. There are a litany of reasons for the drop-off, most notable a lack of reliable options at the receiver positions. Aside from Julian Edelman and his 100 catches, the next wide receiver on the list is Phillip Dorsett with 29. James White (72 catches) remains a trusted weapon out of the backfield, but Brady has been forced to make do with less options than normal. The Titans secondary has not performed great this season, allowing 255 yards per game (24th). The unit misses Malcolm Butler, who is on IR, but still has some talent with Logan Ryan and Adoree Jackson, who missed the finale at Houston with a knee injury, at corner and Kenny Vaccaro and Kevin Byard at safety. The pass rush is led by Harold Landry's 9 sacks but otherwise isn't much of a factor. The Patriots protection has been improved as of late, but Pees will pick his spots and try to find ways to disrupt Brady and the passing game.

When the Titans run - Edge: Patriots

Derrick Henry is a load, and he's a load who can also move. The NFL rushing champ finished with 1,540 yards, 16 touchdowns and averaged over 5 yards per carry. He even sat out a Week 16 loss to New Orleans because Mike Vrabel chose to rest him rather than push him on a sore hamstring. What's even more impressive is Henry typically gets stronger as the season progresses. He was dominant down the stretch last year and did so again in 2019. He closed out the season with 211 yards and three TDs to help Tennessee punch their ticket to the playoffs. The Patriots run defense, which was an issue at times earlier this season, has been much better of late. After watching Cincy's Joe Mixon pile up 136 yards, the Patriots shot down Buffalo and Miami the last two weeks. Although neither has a back with Henry's ability, it still bodes well for Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton up front. This will be the key to Saturday night's game as the Titans want to run the ball and keep Ryan Tannehill in manageable situations. If Henry gets it going, it could be a long night. The Patriots will focus on him and make Tannehill beat them.

When the Titans pass - Edge: Patriots

Tannehill has transformed the Titans almost completely on his own. As difficult as that sentence is to believe for Patriots fans who watched him for years in Miami, it's true. Tannehill took over for Marcus Mariota in Week 7 and racked up a passer rating of 117.5 over the final 10 games. The Titans offense, which was coming off a five-game stretch with Mariota that resulted in a total of 55 points, three of which totaled 14, has taken off under Tannehill. Using rookie standout A.J. Brown (52 catches, 1,051 yards, 8 TDs) and Corey Davis (43 catches, 601 yards), the former Dolphin finished with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions while completing over 70 percent of his throws. The Titans also have a solid pair of tight ends with Jonnu Smith and Andrew Firkser, as well as slot receiver Adam Humphries. There's a lot of weapons to choose from and how the Patriots opt to match up will be interesting. Davis got the better of Stephon Gilmore in Nashville last season catching seven passes for 125 yards and a touchdown, and the two saw quite a bit of each other this summer during joint practices. The Patriots pass rush, which was dominant at times earlier this season, has been quiet as of late. It will need to turn up the heat on Tannehill, who was sacked 31 times and has had trouble dealing with pressure in the past. That's been particularly true in Foxborough where he was 0-6 as the Dolphins starter.

Special Teams - Edge: Patriots

It's not often when the Patriots face a team that has used as many kickers as they have but Tennessee fits the bill. Both have been forced to call on four this season, and on Saturday it will be Nick Folk for the Patriots and Greg Joseph for Tennessee. Joseph replaced the injured Ryan Succop two weeks ago and made all nine of his PATs while not attempting a field goal in his two games. Folk has been steady since returning from his appendectomy, making all 14 of his kicks the last three weeks. Both teams are solid in the punting department. The Titans Brett Kern is one of the best in the league, averaging 47.1 yards per kick with 37 downed inside the 20 against just two touchbacks. Jake Bailey turned in an impressive rookie season as well with 36 kicks downed inside the 20 with six touchbacks. Neither side has generated much in the return game, although Brandon Bolden did provide a spark with a 40-yard kickoff return in last week's loss. The Titans have used several players on both kicks and punts with Darius Jennings and Kalif Raymond handling kicks and Humphries and Rashard Davis on punts. Not much to choose from here but New England's penchant for turning in big plays in the kicking game earns the edge.

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TALE OF THE TAPE

Table inside Article
2019 REGULAR SEASON NEW ENGLAND TENNESSEE
Record 12-4 9-7
Divisional Standings 1st 2nd
Total Yards Gained 5,664 5,805
Total Offense (Rank) 354.0 (15) 362.8 (12)
Rush Offense 106,4 (18) 138.9 (3)
Pass Offense 247.6 (8) 223.9 (21)
Points Per Game 26.3 (7) 25.1 (10)
Total Yards Allowed 4,414 5,752
Total Defense (Rank) 275.9 (1) 359.5 (21)
Rush Defense 95.5 (6) 104.5(12)
Pass Defense 180.4 (2) 255.0 (24)
Points Allowed / Game 14.1 (1) 20.7 (12)
Possession Avg. 31.42 28:31
Sacks Allowed / Yards Lost 28/192 56/374
Sacks Made / Yards 47/328 43/276
Passing TD/Int (off.) 25/9 29/8
Passing TD/Int (def.) 13/25 25/14
Total Touchdowns 49 54
Penalties Against/Yards 94/828 99/932
Punts/Avg. 81/44.9 78/47.1
Field Goals Made/Att. 27/34 8/18
Takeaway/Giveaway Ratio +21 (1) +6 (9)

QUARTERBACK COMPARISON

QB TOM BRADY: Passed for 4,057 yards with 24 TDs vs. 8 INTs in 2019, his 11th season with 4,000+ pass yards, tied 3rd-most in NFL history. Is all-time postseason leader in games played (40), wins (30), completions (1,005), pass yards (11,179) & TD passes (73). Has 16 playoff games with 300+ pass yards, most in NFL history. Aims for his 13th postseason game in row with 250+ pass yards. 

QB RYAN TANNEHILL: Passed for 2,742 yards with 22 TDs vs. 6 INTs in 12 games this season & set career highs in comp. pct. (70.3) & league-high rating (117.5), 4th-highest rating in single season among qualified passers in NFL history. Has 19 TDs (16 pass, 3 rush) vs. 2 INTs for 129.8 rating in his past 7. Had 3 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 155.2 rating in his last game vs. NE (12/9/18 with Mia.). Makes 1st-career postseason start.

PASSING PERFORMANCES

Tom Brady will face the Tennessee Titans for the third time in the playoffs and eighth time overall. Overall, Brady is 7-2 against Tennessee and 2-0 in the postseason, with both wins coming at Gillette Stadium.

CONNECTIONS

FORMER TITANS

  • CB Jason McCourty - Cornerback (2009-16).

FORMER PATRIOTS

  • GM Jon Robinson - Personnel and Scouting (2002-13).
  • Head Coach Mike Vrabel - Linebacker (2001-08).
  • Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees - Linebackers/Defensive Coordinator (2004-09).
  • Cornerback Logan Ryan - Defensive Back (2013-16).
  • Cornerback Malcolm Bulter - Defensive Back (2014-17).
  • Running Back Dion Lewis - Running Back (2015-17).
  • Wide Receiver Cody Hollister - (2017-18).
  • Guard Jamil Douglas - Offensive Lineman (2016-17).

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

  • The Patriots seek to become the ninth team since realignment in 2002 to reach the Super Bowl as a No. 3 seed or lower in the playoffs.
  • The Patriots have 37 players on the 53-man roster with playoff experience entering the 2019 postseason. Four Patriots have played in 20 or more postseason contests: Tom Brady (40), Patrick Chung (22), Devin McCourty (22) and Matthew Slater (23).
  • Bill Belichick will coach in his 43rd postseason game in the Wild Card round against Tennessee, extending his NFL record.
  • Tom Brady will compete in his 41st postseason game, most in NFL history.
  • With two passing touchdowns, Brady will register his 75th touchdown in the playoffs, extending his own NFL record. Joe Montana is second with 45 touchdown passes in the playoffs. Brady will also look to extend his NFL record for most total touchdown passes in NFL history.
  • With 250 yards passing, Brady will reach 86,000 passing yards in his career, including the playoffs. He is already the all-time NFL leader in total passing yards.
  • With 100 receiving yards, Julian Edelman will record the seventh postseason 100-yard receiving game of his career. His six are currently tied with Michael Irvin for second all-time, behind the eight 100-yard games by Jerry Rice.

IF THE PATRIOTS WIN...

  • The Patriots will extend their NFL record to nine consecutive seasons with at least one playoff win. They have won at least one game in the postseason from 2011-18, totaling 16 playoff wins over that time.
  • The Patriots will earn their 38th postseason victory in franchise history, the most in NFL record books. Pittsburgh is second with 36 playoff wins.
  • The Patriots will garner their 10th straight home playoff win, third in NFL history to the 13 by Green Bay (1939-2001) and the 11 by New England (1996-08).
  • The Patriots will improve to 24-4 (.857) in home playoff games. The Patriots current .852 winning percentage at home in the postseason is first among teams with at least 15 home playoff games and their 23 wins are the most. The Patriots are one of four teams with at least 20 playoff wins at home. Pittsburgh and Dallas have 21 home wins in the postseason, followed by San Francisco (20).
  • The Patriots will also earn their 140th win at home since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002 and 185th home victory since 1994 when Robert Kraft purchased the team, the most in the NFL during that time.
  • Robert Kraft will earn his 34th postseason victory as owner, tying the Green Bay Packers for second-most postseason wins by an ownership group in NFL history. Pittsburgh's Rooney family is first with 36 postseason wins. Kraft bought the team in 1994. By comparison, the Rooney Family founded the Steelers in 1933, while the Packers were founded in 1919.
  • Bill Belichick will earn his 305th all-time win (regular and postseason) as a head coach, which is third in NFL history behind Don Shula (347) and George Halas (324).
  • Belichick will earn his 32nd win in the playoffs as a head coach, extending his own NFL record.
  • Tom Brady is the winningest quarterback in NFL playoff history among signal callers who have made at least 10 starts, and he will improve his record with his 31st playoff win this week against Tennessee. For perspective, Pittsburgh (36), Dallas (35), Green Bay (34) and San Fransisco (31), are the only other NFL teams that have more playoff wins than Brady in their franchises' histories. 
  • Brady will earn his 250th career win (including postseason), extending his NFL record for a quarterback, and will be 50 wins ahead of Peyton Manning, who is second with 200 career wins. It will also mark the 31st postseason win of his career

ALL-TIME PLAYOFF RESULTS

The Patriots have compiled a 37-20 record in their 57 playoff games and their .649 playoff winning percentage is the best in NFL history among teams that have played at least 15 playoff games.

PATRIOTS PLAYOFF RECORD BY ROUND

Table inside Article
ROUND RECORD
First Round* 0-1
Wild Card Round 4-3
Divisional Round 16-6
AFC Championship 11-4
AFL Championship 0-1
Super Bow 6-5
Total 37-20

*1982 Strike Season

BROADCAST INFO

TELEVISION: This week's game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work from the sidelines. The game will be produced by Jim Rikhoff and directed by Mike Arnold.

NATIONAL RADIO: Saturday's game will be broadcast to a national audience on Westwood One. Mike Tirico will call the game with Tony Boselli providing analysis. Laura Okmin will report from the sidelines.

SATELLITE RADIO: TBA

LOCAL RADIO: 98.5 The Sports Hub is the flagship station for the Patriots Radio Network. A complete listing of the network's 38 stations can be found here. Play-by-play broadcaster Bob Socci will call the action along with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, who will provide color analysis. The games are produced by Marc Cappello.

For information on how to stream the game please visit our Ways to Watch guide.

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