They are a team built on solid coaching, infinite preparation, tough team play, a defense that is dominating at times and efficient offense. While that would be a perfect fit as a description of the 14-2 New England Patriots it is also a rather apt description of their opponents this Saturday night, the 13-4 Tennessee Titans. From top to bottom these two teams have some very similar characteristics and that could make for a very physical, hard-fought battle at a frigid Gillette Stadium.
"The more I look at the Titans the better they look," Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said this week. "They are well coached. They are tough. They are strong. They present a lot of problems in all three phases of the game. They have dropped a couple of games like we all have. They cause everybody problems every week in one-way or another, usually in multiple ways. I just think they are a really good football team. I have a lot of respect for, again, the organization, the coaches and the players and the way that they play. It should be a good football game on Saturday night."
Offensively the Titans come into the game with a few injuries thanks to last week's physical battle with the Ravens. But while both quarterback Steve McNair and running back Eddie George are listed as questionable for the game, Belichick and his team are preparing for their opponent's best effort.
"Eddie George will be there," Belichick said referring to a dislocated shoulder George suffered against Baltimore. "Steve McNair will be there. You hear about that every week and they show up every week. The damn guy started 100 and how many straight games? They are all going to be there. I don't even think about that. They are all going to be there. I am sure they will be at their best and I hope we are at ours too. They will all be there. You can take that injury report and put whatever you want on it – probable, doubtful, questionable, maybe, definitely in, definitely out, they are going to be there.
"You know who looks banged up? The team playing against them. That is the team that looks banged up. When the blows are over, it seems like they are the ones who do more damage than get damaged. They are pretty physical."
And when Tennessee's offensive weapons are on the field the Titans can employ both a pounding ground game and big-play aerial attack.
"They have the MVP quarterback in the league," Belichick said of a Tennessee offense that scored 30 points when the teams met earlier this season. "They have a group of big receivers plus [Derrick] Mason. They have guys that are big that can run and jump. Some of those plays came on short passes that we weren't able to make the tackle on and the receivers then ran for big yardage. It was a combination of things but this is a very good group of skill players. They have big receivers. They have a great quarterback. They have good running backs. They have a good offensive line. It is a good offensive team. They have hung up a lot of points on a lot of people this year. We are going to have to do a better job than we did in the first game or I think it will be a problem. It will definitely be a problem."
Defensively the Titans can cause just as many problems. Between a dominant run defense that ranked first in the NFL and a front seven that does a solid job in pressuring the quarterback, Tennessee has a defense that could make life difficult on Tom Brady and Co.
"They are a very strong defensive team," Belichick said. "They have a great front four. They rotate those guys through. The whole group there, [Kevin] Carter, [Jevon] Kearse, [Albert] Haynesworth, [Robaire] Smith, [James] Atkins, they bring all of their linebackers. They blitz them too. They are good upfront. The corners are good. We saw in the Baltimore game, [Samari] Rolle, [Andre] Dyson, [Lance] Schulters, Tank Williams, those guys come up with a lot of big plays. I think it is a solid defense. They are sound all the way through. They have good players. They are well coached. We have all given up plays from time-to-time during the year. They make you earn it. They don't give up too many of them."
But while Belichick hopes his team doesn't allow the number points it did in the previous meeting with Tennessee, he knows that in reality Saturday's game will probably play out in a much different manner than the first meeting.
"We have seen that plenty of times," Belichick said of the difference in games between two teams the second time around. "One game, one team does one thing good and the next game a couple of weeks later, Denver and Indianapolis to pick an example, those things don't happen the way they happened the time before. Sometimes they are better. Sometimes they are worse. They hardly ever stay the same. It will come down to how well we block them this week, how well they defend it, how well they tackle, how well we run, how the plays match up against different defenses. I don't think there is any comfort level with anybody from one game to the next. At least I don't have any in any area. I think you have to go out there and prove it again each week.
"Like I said, this is the biggest test we have faced all year. They are very worthy of being here."
Game notes and numbers
With temperatures expected to be in the single digits at game time, Saturday night's game could be the coldest in Patriots history. The coldest home game ever played came in December 1977, a 14-10 win over the Dolphins, in which the temperature was 14 degrees with a wind chill of minus-2. The coldest game the franchise ever played in was a 28-10 loss at Pittsburgh in December 1989 when the temperature was 5 degrees with a wind chill of minus-9. … During the regular season the Patriots had the 17th ranked offense in the NFL and the 7th ranked defense. Tennessee had the 8th ranked offense and 12th ranked defense (1st against the run). … New England scored 21.8 points per game while giving up 14.9. Tennessee scored 27.2 points per contest while giving up 20.3. … The Patriots had a plus-17 turnover ratio. The Titans had a plus-13 ratio. … New England has a 4-1 home playoff record, including wins in the last four in a row.