The 2019 New England Patriots are playing wildcard weekend. Wow that’s weird to say. They have only played this weekend of the playoffs in 3 seasons under Bill Belichick and have a 3-3 record with one AFC Championship appearance and zero super bowl berths. If they are going to pull off the impossible, they will need to bottle some magic from their insane run to last year’s improbable 6th championship and fast.
Their first test will be the Tennessee Titans (9-7), who are the AFC’s 6th seed. They are coached by former LB Mike Vrabel, who won 3 super bowls as a player between 2001-2004. They clinched their playoff berth with a 35-17 win over the Houston Texans in week 17. This win was highlighted by RB Derrick Henry who finished with 32 carries for 211 yards and 3 touchdowns. Tennessee is 7-0 when he rushes for 90+ yards this season. He needs to be priority #1 for New England’s front seven, as he’s a physical runner with a good amount of speed and can wreck games by himself.
The Titans also have a strong passing attack as well and after the Patriots gave up 340 yards passing in their stunning 27-24 loss to the Dolphins in week 17, a repeat performance will bounce them out of the playoffs. Defensive player of the year candidate CB Stephon Gilmore giving up 8 catches for 137 yards to DeVante Parker. This was by far his worst performance of the season. Gilmore can’t allow Titans WR Corey Davis to have a big day and I have confidence that he will be better this week.
Plus, there’s the added motivation of revenge to consider. The last time these two teams met, Davis caught seven passes for 125 yards and a score, that came with Gilmore in coverage. This was a key reason why the Titans came away with a 34-10 upset win during week 10 of last season. The rest of the secondary will also need to have air tight coverage to allow their pressure to get home on QB Ryan Tannehill, who’s had a season to remember.
Tannehill took over the starting job in week 6 against the Broncos and hasn’t looked back. He has thrown for 2742 yards, 22 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. He’s also finished the season with a career high passer rating of 116.3. He was traded from Miami this offseason and knows this defense all too well. The difference is he has had far better weapons and coaching than he did with Dolphins and the numbers back it up. Not to mention he has also stayed healthy. Getting in his face and forcing turnovers will be the key to shutting this offense down.
On the other side of the ball, Tennessee bring back old friend CB Logan Ryan, who was an essential part of 2 super bowl wins this decade. During his tenture with New England, he was a reliable corner who snatched 13 interceptions and also was a sound tackler, but more importantly a leader in the secondary. He also knew how to make a timely sack, as Brady knows all too well. The Belichick decided to let him go elsewhere because he wanted to go get Gilmore and as good as Ryan is, Gilmore was absolutely needed more to make the defense better.
Refocusing on this matchup, Julian Edelman will probably see a lot of Logan Ryan, as he’s Brady’s favorite target. Edeleman will need to win that matchup and get back to his old ways, after having a couple of subpar games to end the season. When Brady needs a big conversion on third down or any big play, Jules will be the first place he looks. Which also means that when Edeleman is covered, somebody else needs to get open and quick.
I feel like I’ve said this too many times before, but I’m looking at you N’Keal Harry and Mohammed Sanu. Harry only has 12 receptions, while Sanu ended the season with 26 and they’re going to need to set up to have any chance of advancing past the first round of the playoffs. Also, can this receiving corps stop dropping the ball. I mean seriously it’s like they are trying to give me early grey hairs!
One last area that needs to be focused on is establishing some sort of running game. No running back has rushed for 100 yards in a game all season and they will need to at least have the Titans defense respect the run so that Brady isn’t under pressure all night. The problem is that defense has only allowed two 100 yard rushers this season. I’m not sure the offensive line open up holes for our running game but even so using Rex Burkhead, James White, Sony Michel and even Brandon Bolden out of the backfield will be important when other receivers are covered. They are Brady’s other security blanket.
I’m not going to sit here and predict that this will be Brady’s last game because I’m not Brady and his focus is on winning this game. I hope that the season doesn’t end here and Brady can help write another miracle run to another championship. Execution in clutch moments will be key and there’s nobody in the league who I’d trust more than the GOAT to lead the charge. This game will be low scoring due to how much both teams know each other, but I believe Brady will find away to overcome his offense’s struggles and win this game.
Final score prediction: Patriots 17-14.
By: Whitney Dowds CruelFan.com