AFC Divisional Playoffs: Three things to watch in Titans v Patriots

Olive Hawkins
January 13, 2018

Now it's up to Bill Belichick and the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots (13-3) to slow down Henry on Saturday night in their AFC divisional game.

SERIES HISTORY: 42nd all-time meeting. No, he doesn't need any additional motivation with his 35th playoff game on deck, but remember the emotion the Patriots displayed for Brady during the "on to Cincinnati" game in 2014 and his first home game after his Deflategate suspension in 2016. The Titans have never won at Gillette Stadium, with some memorable losses marking their shortcomings.

The Titans allowed 22.3 points per game, which is the worst among remaining playoff teams, and were ranked 25th in pass defense. And then on the other side.

Titans notes: QB MARCUS MARIOTA passed for 2 TDs, incl. deflected pass which he caught for TD, last week. There are plenty of other factors in this melodrama, like Titans running back Derrick Henry, the teams' other Heisman victor, and Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who wreaks havoc in a style reminiscent of an escapee from Jurassic Park.

The Patriots deploy one of the most versatile defensive schemes in the league. The Titans probably would not have defeated the Chiefs if Travis Kelce did not leave with a concussion.

During Brady's tenure the Patriots are 6-1 against the Titans. Gronkowski could be even more of a nightmare matchup. Maybe they're coming together at the right time.

"They're the champs and these are the types of teams you've got to beat if you want to be the champs", says Tennessee coach Mike Mularkey, who is 0-5 against the Patriots. The Patriots' defensive coordinator might employ a spy on a healthy Mariota, who suddenly rediscovered his mobility. The Patriots defense needs to focus on him to make sure that doesn't happen.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Marcus Mariota for the Titans. So he is a dual threat, and a tough guy to cover. One of the main reasons why was that key pieces of the offense have been injured. Marcus Mariota has thrown more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (13), which in this day and age is nearly unheard of. ZERO INTs in the red zone ...

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Derrick Henry is emerging as a feature back for the Tennessee Titans in DeMarco Murray's absence, which has led to some speculation that Murray's time with the team could be over.

The Patriots meanwhile got a full week to rest thanks to locking up top spot in the AFC once again and now they head into the divisional weekend as a massive favourite against the sixth seeded Titans and have their sights set on a potential AFC Championship next weekend. But he showed last week that he's capable of getting hot and carrying the team when it counts, so he needs to be the focus of the defense.

Maybe the Tennessee Titans are coming up for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots at the ideal time.

Dion Lewis had a career season with 1,110 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns, and he'll be important to help ward off that Titans pass rush. Rex Burkhead (six total touchdowns last four games) has been excellent. But it's the man mountain Rob Gronkowski who should be the star. Led by two-time Pro-Bowler Devin McCourty, Super Bowl Hero Malcolm Butler and free agent signing Stephon Gillmore, this grouping has been a disappointment. Had sack in last game vs. NE.

The home of the England national soccer team is where the NFL will be staging another two games after Raiders-Seahawks match-up, giving London three consecutive weeks of American football for the first time.

What makes Mariota potentially unsafe is his running ability.

The Titans are a confident bunch after beating Jacksonville to get into the playoffs and then shocking the Chiefs in Kansas City in the Wild Card game.

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