The Tennessee Titans travel to Foxboro on Saturday to take on the reigning Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. The game will open with the Patriots as the heaviest favorite of any playoff matchup this year. Tennessee, the fifth seed in this year’s field, are objectively the worst team to make it to the Divisional Round across both NFL conferences. At home in Gillette Stadium, the Patriots offense will shine on its way to yet another AFC championship appearance.
New England Patriots Offense Will Shine in Divisional Round
Brady Will Silence the Speculation
The talk about Tom Brady‘s MVP-caliber season has quieted down a little bit in recent weeks for two reasons. First but least, everyone is dialed into the controversial ESPN article, scrutinizing every word that comes out of New England to get a look at the cracks in the foundation. Speculation about politics has replaced the focus on Brady’s performance.
More importantly, Brady hasn’t really looked like Brady lately. Six touchdowns and six interceptions to end the season isn’t a stat line that MVP voters overlooked. His accuracy has wavered. The New York Jets were able to keep New England’s golden boy under a 50 percent completion rate in Brady’s final start of the season. Granted, the Jets defense is among the best in the league in terms of preventing opposing quarterbacks from completing a lot of passes. But Brady against the Jets should have been a raucous fireworks show with the pop and sizzle to keep things cooking in the postseason.
The Titans defense is ranked 25th in passing yards allowed and 24th in passing touchdowns allowed. Admittedly, they stared down the barrels of Ben Roethlisberger, Jared Goff, and Russell Wilson this season, but the Titans defense doesn’t exactly have opposing quarterbacks shaking in their cleats. The most seasoned signal caller in the league should carve up the Titans defense with a rested arm (as long as he stays away from Kevin Byard).
Rob Gronkowski Will Revive His Postseason Dominance
Rob Gronkowski isn’t going to let anyone forget that he missed the playoffs last year. The star tight end is back, and he’s coming for another ring. Gronk plays his best football in the Divisional Round. In five Divisional Round games, he has six career touchdowns, a catch rate of 70 percent, and 10.03 yards per target. Julian Edelman might have more all-time postseason receptions than everyone but Jerry Rice and Reggie Wayne, but Gronkowski has the second-most postseason touchdowns of any active player.
After not recording a single reception in the final game of the year, number 87 is going to be hungry for the ball. Brady is going to feed his favorite pass-catcher with vigor, but it’ll be up to Gronkowski to make the most of his possessions.
Dion Lewis Will Become the Hero Foxborough Needs
Mike Gillislee turned out not to be the answer New England needed and is suffering from a knee injury. Rex Burkhead hasn’t fully recovered from a knee injury of his own suffered against the Pittsburgh Steelers. James White was limited in practice this week with an ankle injury. Brandon Bolden has only seen 13 rushing attempts all season.
In Super Bowl LI, White was the people’s MVP, posting three touchdowns and 139 yards against the Atlanta Falcons. It is time for Dion Lewis to claim his throne atop the Patriots squad of running backs. Josh McDaniels’ offense has relied heavily on pass-catching backs all season, and Lewis has been the Patriots most prolific rusher by far. Lewis recorded seven touchdowns, trailing Gronkowski’s eight and tied with Brandin Cooks.
Brandin Cooks Will Lead the Team in Receiving Yards
Brandin Cooks recorded his third consecutive 1,000-yard season in 2017. There have been times when Cooks’ production was unsatisfactory. In five different games with the Patriots, he failed to reach 50 yards of production. But regardless, Cooks had collected only four fewer receptions than Gronkowski when the season ended and had only two fewer receiving yards than Brady’s top pass-catcher. It’s obvious that Brady trusts Cooks as a top receiver; Cooks saw eight more targets than Gronkowski.
The standout number for the former New Orleans Saints receiver is plays of 20+ yards. In his first season with the Patriots, Cooks has 18 such plays, a distinction he shares only with Gronk. This season tied Cooks career record for the most big plays in a single season. The young speedster’s ability to stretch the field and make huge plays for New England will become a key factor in this year’s Super Bowl hunt. The potential absence of Chris Hogan leaves Cooks as the best option for deep passes against Tennessee.
Barring a dramatic team setback, expect the Patriots offensive quartet to put on a show in Foxboro on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:15 PM ET.