Pity the poor Tennessee Titans, the latest sacrificial lamb for the New England Patriots in the playoffs.

The Titans come to Gillette Stadium on Saturday night to face the Patriots in an AFC divisional playoff game – and everyone expects this to be an easy one for the home team. New England is favored by 131/2 points.

The Patriots have Tom Brady and his NFL-record 25 career playoff wins. The Titans have Marcus Mariota and his one career playoff win, a 22-21 thriller at Kansas City.

The Patriots have Coach Bill Belichick and his NFL-record 26 postseason wins. The Titans have Mike Mularkey and his one postseason career win.

The Patriots have 41 players with previous playoff experience. Entering the postseason, the Titans had 18 players with previous playoff experience.

But should we dismiss Tennessee so quickly? Not necessarily.

Let me count the ways – four of them – the Titans can pull off one of the biggest upsets in NFL history.


Bill Belichick spent 31/2 minutes the other day going over every facet of the Titans’ playoff win at Kansas City, mentioning just about every player on the roster. Granted, he makes each upcoming opponent seem like the 1960s Green Bay Packers. The Patriots never underestimate anyone, one reason they’re so good. And they certainly think highly of Tennessee.

You rarely go into Arrowhead Stadium and come back from an 18-point halftime deficit to win, as Tennessee did last weekend. Just ask the Patriots how hard it is to win in Arrowhead, where they’re 1-5.

Remember who beat the Patriots – convincingly – in the season opener? Kansas City, which scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter for a 42-27 victory. Yeah, the Titans can play.

Derrick Henry is a 6-foot-3, 247-pound running back who can pound away and keep the Patriots’ offense off the field. He rushed for 156 yards last weekend and is facing a run defense that was 20th in the NFL, giving up 114.8 yards per game.

Mariota may not have playoff experience but he makes things happen, both with his arm and his feet. He’ll put a lot of pressure on a New England defense that gives up a lot of yards. Did you know in his career he’s thrown 39 touchdowns with no interceptions in the red zone? That’s pretty good.

Tennessee’s defense – led by linebackers Derrick Morgan, Avery Williamson, Wesley Woodyard and Brian Orakpo – is physical and can turn a game quickly. The Titans were fourth in the NFL against the run this year, giving up just 88.8 yards per game. And while New England’s offense revolves around Brady, the Patriots need to be able to run the ball effectively to make the play-action passes go.


The Titans have three players who once played for New England: starting right guard Josh Kline, cornerback Logan Ryan and backup quarterback Matt Cassel. Kline won a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots, Ryan won two.

In addition, General Manager Jon Robinson spent 12 years with the Patriots, the last five as the director of college scouting.

Ryan could figure prominently in Tennessee’s coverage of Rob Gronkowski. The Titans have yet to give up 100 receiving yards to a tight end this year and if they’re going to win in New England, they have to somehow limit Gronkowski’s touches. He’s Brady’s go-to receiver these days and the Titans know this.

Ryan was an underrated but highly valuable cornerback for the Patriots, often drawing the toughest receiving matchup. In this game that’s Gronk.


The Patriots looked deep this year, opening up their offense like never before. They completed 59 passes for 20 yards or more, and added another 10 running plays of 20 yards or more.

But the Titans were the NFL masters of limiting big plays this year. They led the league by giving up just 40 plays of over 20 yards or more this year – 37 passes and three runs.

If Tennessee can keep the Patriots from getting big chunks of yardage and turn this into a grind-it-out game, they’ll stay in it.


The Patriots are the kings of blocking out the noise. Whenever something creeps up, whether an NFL investigation or a media report that sheds a bad light on the inner circle in Foxborough, this team bands together better than any other.

Spygate? The Patriots ran through a perfect regular season before losing in the Super Bowl. Deflategate? The Patriots won the Super Bowl.

The latest is an ESPN report last week suggesting these are troubled times for owner Robert Kraft, Belichick and Brady. They don’t get along. They bicker. Jimmy Garoppolo was traded because Brady demanded it from Kraft, who then demanded it from Belichick. The end of the dynasty is upon us.

Believe what you want of the report, but certainly it’s more than plausible that after 17 years, Kraft, Belichick and Brady – three of the NFL’s largest personalities – have disagreed over something, over several things. They’ve all denied there’s a rift, which is what you would expect them to do. Just focused on the Titans.

Beyond that, hanging over their heads is the possibility that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels (to Indianapolis and Andrew Luck?) and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia (to the New York Giants?) are leaving to become head coaches.

Will the distractions finally catch up with the Patriots? We’ll see Saturday night.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH