Culture of Hoops

NFL Preview: Patriots vs Titans

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Funny how one week can change conference playoff standings. Last week when I was writing this very article, it looked as if the back-to-back losses the Patriots suffered were going to have a massive affect on their playoff seeding. Suddenly, the same week the Patriots’ defense allowed a season low six points to the Houston Texans, both the Denver Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals lost. Putting both of the teams that were ahead of the Pats at three losses while the Patriots hang at two.

What makes those losses for the Bengals and the Broncos even more interesting is they will be playing each other in Week 16. Therefore guaranteeing one of those teams will end the year with four losses. With the schedule the Patriots have it seems very unlikely that the Pats will drop two out of their remaining three games. Thrusting the New England Patriots right back into the catbird seat of the AFC. To win out would ensure the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC would go through Foxboro.

They will start with the Tennessee Titans.

You know, the Tennessee Titans who boast one of the leagues worst records. The same Titans team that allowed the Jacksonville Jaguars to make a miraculous comeback two weeks ago and last week fell to the New York Jets. Both of those teams got wrecked by the Pats and this week should be no different.

The Patriots have suffered yet another injury on offense, with news breaking that running back LeGarrette Blount will miss the remainder of the season due to a severe hip injury. While backs are a dime-a-doezen nowadays, backs like Blount are few and far between. He is as big as a defensive lineman and he hits like a linebacker, but he is a running back! The mix of size and understanding of his role on this offense made him almost invaluable to what the Patriots try to do. The loss will be felt more in the playoffs as last year, Blount was getting at least 25 carries a game throughout the postseason.

I’ve said this many times this season but it remains true: As is customary in New England, the “next man up” will have to “do his job.”

Key Matchup
Jamie Collins vs Delanie Walker
Since Collins has returned to his team from a mystery illnes, he leads the team in tackles and forced fumbles. Leaving no doubt that he is the most athletic and versatile player on the team. He is the capitan and play caller of the defense and his presence is essential in a deep playoff run for the Patriots. He has done a masterful job this year covering large and mobile tight ends. He will certainly be put to the test this week against one of the top tight ends in the league, Delanie Walker.

Walker went to Tennessee two seasons after playing second fiddle to Vernon Davis on San Francisco for many seasons. Once he was given the chance to be the top tight end in Tennessee, he didn’t waste a moment. Last year with the combination of Jake Locker and Charlie Whitehurst, Walker was fifth overall for receptions by a tight end and third in touchdowns. This season his production has only risen with Marcus Mariota at the helm. Mariota is shorter than most quarterbacks so a big target is extremely valuable to him, like Delanie Walker.

This season alone Walker already has 74 catches, four of those for touchdowns. He is clearly the number one option for the young Mariota. Which means I expect the Patriots to take Delanie Walker away from Mariota on every single play on Sunday. Bill Belichick is famous for covering up a quarterbacks number one choice forcing then to go elsewhere with the play. He will do it yet again this week using the superb size and unbelievable speed of Jamie Collins. He has all the tools to cover an athlete such as Walker and he will do so triumphantly in this game.

Player to Watch
Brandon Bolden

While at first glance the loss Blount is not a big blow to the Patriots offense as it seems, but he was responsible for 82 percent of the carries out of the Patriots backfield. Also last year in the postseason, Blount was averaging 26 carries a game. Although Blount may not be considered a top back in the NFL, he is very important to the Patriots’ offense. With style of running Blount has it would be almost impossible to replicate simply because there are no other backs in the league with size Blount possess.

The Patriots now only have two active running backs on the 53 man roster. With that said, it seems as if Bolden will be taking lead back duties for the time being. In the Patriots’ offense that could mean a number of different things on any given week. One week Bolden could see a heavy dose of carries and the next week he could picking up blitzes all game. Also the Pats have shown their confidence in James White, making it hard to determine who will get the nod every week.

For this game against the Tennessee Titans Bolden is going to start. Next week it could be White. It all comes down to matchups. They also just signed Joey Iosefa. Right, your guess is as good as mine. The way the Patriots use backs you could see him get some reps as well. Bolden better play well or he will find himself losing reps to Iosefa and White.

So confusing…

Game Prediction
This game being the last regular season home game for the New England Patriots fans, I expect a big game out of the team as a whole. With the implications in the playoff standings for the AFC, I expect a huge game out of the Patriots. The opponent is the 3-10 Tennessee Titans. I expect a massive game out of the Patriots!

There is not enough talent on the Titans to beat this Patriots team. With Rob Gronkowski back and clearly firing on all cylinders, the dynamic of this offense has gone back to the way it was earlier in the season. Even missing Julian Edelman will be covered up by the incomparable play of Gronk in this game. Even the injuries in the backfield will hardly be noticed. The Patriots should come out in spread formations and for the Titans to try and matchup with Rob Gronkowski on the outside. There are three options against him, none of which end good. Put a linebacker on him? Roasted. A saftey? Flattened. A cornerback? Someone else will be open and Tom Brady will find whoever that is.

On the other side of the ball, the league’s best defense boasts an intimidating front seven and Mariota will have pressure in his grill all day long. Between Malcolm Butler and the surprising play of Logan Ryan paired with the lack of talent the Titans have at receiver, I don’t see the ball moving much for Tennessee.

The Patriots will be looking to make a statement to the rest of the AFC. They will be the number one seed out of the conference. They will have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They will not falter.

Patriots 31 Titans 6

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