By Danny Cox
The Tennessee Titans squeaked into the playoffs. While they’re not a great road team, they were able to mount an incredible comeback this past weekend and take down the Kansas City Chiefs. For the first half of the game, the Titans appeared to be an easy elimination, but they put things together in a big way in the second half. In the end, Tennessee was able to take out the once AFC-leading Chiefs and force them to stay home.
Now, the New England Patriots need to make sure they don’t underestimate the surging Titans.
Tennessee Titans’ Season Record: 9-7 regular season, 1-0 postseason
The Titans lost three of their last four regular season games and almost missed the playoffs, but they were able to nudge themselves in and picked up a huge Wild Card victory over the Chiefs. They’ve had some big victories this season that included wins over the Ravens, Bengals, and twice over the Colts.
Titans On Offense
Obviously, the offense centers around quarterback Marcus Mariota, and he has a number of talented targets in Delanie Walker, Eric Decker, Rishard Matthews, and others. Not only can Mariota throw the ball, but he can also run it well (313 rushing yards this season and five touchdowns) and can even catch touchdowns from himself.
In the backfield with Mariota, the Patriots will have to be prepared for both of the talented running backs on the roster of the Tennessee Titans. DeMarco Murray is still listed as day-to-day with a knee injury and it looks as if the Titans will start Derrick Henry for a third straight game.
Titans On Defense
Tennessee’s defense isn’t one of the elite squads in the NFL, but they have been in the top half of the league for the majority of the season. They allowed less than 23 points-per-game in the regular season and were able to do a great job against the rush and the pass, but facing off with the Patriots is a much different task than anything they’ve come up against so far.
With players like linebackers Brian Orakpo and Wesley Woodyard, along with defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, Tom Brady will need to have his offensive line in full protection force. Those guys are in the offensive backfield a lot and know how to constantly pressure opposing quarterbacks.
The Patriots should be able to pick apart the Titans’ secondary if they take the time and precision to do it, but they will have to be careful in their approach.
Titans Players To Watch: RB Derrick Henry and S Kevin Byard
With the injury to DeMarco Murray, many thought the Titans’ running game was going to struggle, but it has actually improved with second-year back Derrick Henry stepping up. Against the Chiefs last week, Henry had his best game of the season with 156 yards on the ground and one touchdown. He added another 35 yards on two receptions and is a dangerous weapon the Pats will have to watch very closely.
If Tom Brady is going to avoid anyone when passing the ball, it’s going to be second-year safety Kevin Byard, who has eight interceptions this season. To put that number into perspective, only four other players on the Titans’ defense have an interception, and it’s only one each. He’s a true ballhawk who knows how to read the eyes of any quarterback. Byard could cause a lot of problems and keep New England from throwing the deep ball.
The New England Patriots not only have the tools to win the AFC, but they can also defeat any team remaining in the NFL playoffs. Still, they can not afford to underestimate Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans, a team that has a lot of talent and plenty momentum behind them now. The Pats need to make sure to keep any and all off-field distractions out of their mind and play their kind of football—or the Titans could surprise them.