NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans face the New England Patriots on Saturday at Gillette Stadium.The Titans are coming off a dramatic 22-21 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. The team finished the regular season 9-7. The Patriots, meanwhile, are coming off a bye weekend. The Patriots finished the regular season with a 13-3 record.
The two teams will meet in the AFC Divisional Round 7:15 p.m. CST.
This week, I caught up with Ben Volin, who covers the Patriots for the Boston Globe. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenVolin, and join over 71,000 others.The Patriots finished the regular season ranked 1st in the NFL in total offense (10thrun, 2nd pass) and 29th in total defense (20th run, 30th pass).
Tom Brady finished third among NFL quarterbacks with a 102.8 rating, and he threw for 4,577 yards with 32 touchdowns. Running back Dion Lewis led the Patriots with 896 rushing yards, and six touchdowns. Tight end Rob Gronkowski led the team with 69 catches for 1,084 receiving yards and eight scores.
Here’s how our conversation went…
Wyatt: I appreciate you doing this Ben. What’s the mood/mindset around the Patriots heading into the playoffs?
Volin: Well, this ESPN article is out there, and it’s the Patriots, so it will probably galvanize them and sharpen their focus. “Block out the noise and use it as motivation” — I’m sure that is something they will probably never acknowledge publicly, but it probably going on significantly behind the scenes. The biggest thing for them is health. They have to get some key guys healthy. (Running backs) Rex Burkhead and James White missed the last two games. (Receiver) Chris Hogan has missed seven of eight games. Alan Branch in the middle of the defense has missed two or three games in a row, so they were pretty wounded toward the end of the season, especially when you mention guys like (Julian) Edelman and (Don’t’a) Hightower on IR. (Linebacker) Kyle Van Noy is another guy who never comes off the field when he is healthy – he is key, and he’s been out a lot lately. I am interested to see what they look like on Saturday because in theory they are getting healthy, but they are adding all these pieces back to the lineup at once, so I’m curious how it’s going to look.
Wyatt: Well, this is pretty obvious, but what should worry the Titans most about the Patriots?
Volin: I guess Tom Brady and Bill Belichick is a pretty good start. They have the home-field advantage in Foxborough, and the Patriots defense has been a lot better. If you go back, I think they’ve allowed the fewest points in the NFL since Week 5 on. The first four weeks were horrible, but since then they have really clamped down and you look at their points per game, it’s been good. They still give up a bunch of yards, but they have been great in the red zone, and they’ve kept teams out of the end zone. So the defense has been a lot tougher to score on.
Wyatt: Now I’m going to flip it. How could the Titans upset the Patriots? What could their weakness be?
Volin: The offense has been struggling a little bit. You look at the numbers and you might say, ‘Well, if that’s struggling, then that is still pretty look good for a lot of teams.’ With Edelman gone and Burkhead out, and White out, it has really been all Rob Gronkowski and Dion Lewis – they have been solid, but the Patriots don’t have the best depth on offense without Logan and some of the other guys. And maybe they just catch them. This has not been the same dominant Patriots team from last year. They’ve had some injuries, and they’ve had some issues working new guys in like (receiver) Brandin Cooks and (cornerback) Stephon Gilmore at times this year. So they are just not steamrolling like they were last year.
Wyatt: OK, Ben, so how does this one play out in your mind?
Volin: I think the Patriots will win, and I think the Patriots defense will have success keeping the Titans out of the end zone. The Titans will probably run the ball and control the clock, but I just don’t see them hitting on too many plays, and you still have to put up something like 27 to win in Foxborough and I don’t see the Titans being able to do that. I think the Titans keep it close, but I think it will maybe be something like 27-17 Patriots.