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Streaking Patriots, Titans face off in key AFC battle

Monday night's game between the 8-5 Patriots and the 8-5 Titans in Nashville will be a battle between two of the hottest teams in the AFC.

Monday night's game between the 8-5 Patriots and the 8-5 Titans in Nashville will be a battle between two of the hottest teams in the AFC. The visiting Patriots have won five of their last six games, while the home Titans have come out on top in seven of their last eight. With the tight nature of the AFC playoff picture, neither team can afford a loss.

Interestingly the coaches of the teams, the Titans Jeff Fisher and the Patriots Bill Belichick, have the top two coaching records in December since the 2000 season. Fisher is 9-2 over the time period, while Belichick is 7-2.

The teams also have a number of other parallels as well. Both rank near the middle of the pack in overall offensive and defensive rankings in the NFL. On offense the Titans rank 17th and average 23.2 points a game, while the Patriots rank 16th and average 25.4 points a game. Defensively Tennessee ranks 19th and give up 23.4 points a game, and New England ranks 15th and allows 20.6 points a game.

Tennessee has used a more diverse offensive attack this season, as well as the usual formula of Eddie George running mixed with Steve McNair's versatile play. The team has used more multiple sets and empty backfields this season while McNair is having one of his best seasons. He has completed 269-of-425 passes for 2,988 yards and has tied for a career-best with 21 touchdown passes. His favorite target has been wide receiver Derrick Mason with 67 catches for 870 yards and four scores. While George has rushed for 873 yards and nine touchdowns, he is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry this season.

Defensively the Titans have turned it on over the course of their recent winning ways to help rebound from an early 1-4 start. After giving up 32 points a game over the 1-4 start, the team has given up an average of 18 points a game over their last eight games. Linebacker Keith Bulluck leads the team with 147 tackles, adding a sack and an interception. Defensive ends Kevin Carter and rookie Carlos Hall have pressured opposing quarterbacks on a regular basis with seven and 6.5 sacks respectively. The Tennessee defense could also get a boost from the return of defensive end Jevon "The Freak" Kearse. Kearse hasn't played since the season opener because of a foot injury, but is expected to return Monday night and can be a critical player any time he steps on the field.

In the end the key fact in the game should be turnovers. The Patriots are coming a five takeaway effort against the Bills and are an impressive plus-10 this season. If New England can continue its pattern of early takeaways and jumping out to an early lead, it could be a long night for Tennessee. The Titans aren't a team that is at its best when forced to try to make up a deficit quickly. Conversely, if Tennessee can avoid turnovers and stick to a ball control offense it could be a long night for the Patriots. With these two similar, evenly matched teams, ABC could end up with a highly competitive game for its national television audience.

Game Notes

The game will be the 35th meeting between the two franchises. The Patriots lead the series 18-15-1. … The Patriots won the last meeting between the teams 27-16 at Foxboro Stadium in the 1998 season. … Titans fullback Greg Comella is from Wellesley, Mass. and attended Xaverian Brothers High School. … Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz started his NFL career as a college/pro scout under Bill Belichick with the Cleveland Browns from 1993-95. … The Titans lead the NFL in time of possession averaging 32:15 minutes per game. … Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick was born in Nashville. … Roman Phifer leads the Patriots with 84 tackles. Ty Law leads the team with four interceptions. … Tom Brady leads the NFL with 21 touchdown passes this season and is on pace to break the franchise record of 31 set by Vito "Babe" Parilli in 1964. … The combined record of the Patriots final three opponents, the Titans, Jets and Dolphins, is 23-16, the second toughest remaining schedule in the AFC. … The Patriots have a 7-2 record in December under Bill Belichick and currently have a five-game winning streak in the month. … New England has 28 takeaways this season, the highest number in the AFC. The team currently has a plus-10 turnover ratio, the fourth best in the AFC.

Practice squad addition

The Patriots added cornerback Dyshod Carter to the practice squad late Thursday. The 5-10, 197-pound Carter was originally signed by the Kansas City Chiefs out of Kansas State in April 2001. Carter was released in training camp last season by the Chiefs and then signed with the Cleveland Browns. He spent time on both the active roster and the practice squad in Cleveland. He played in the final five games of the 2001 season with the Browns and totaled two special teams tackles.

Carter fills the spot of fullback Idris Price who was released from the practice squad earlier this week.

Injury report update

The Patriots injury report remained unchanged on Friday. The Titans on the other had one addition, while downgrading another player. Cornerback Samari Rolle was added to the report with an Achilles injury and is listed as Questionable. Guard Zach Piller was downgraded from Doubtful to Out with a calf injury.

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