The New England Patriots make their 11th straight playoff appearance, but first in a Wild Card round since 2009, while the Tennessee Titans appear in only their second postseason since 2008 when they two teams meet in the opening round of the AFC playoffs in Foxborough on Sunday. For the Patriots, the Wild Card round appearance comes after they were stunned by the last-place Miami Dolphins on the final day the regular season.
For the Titans, the game is also a grudge match. In 2017, the last time Tennessee made the playoffs, it was New England who cut their postseason run short, with a 35-14 victory in the Divisional Round game at Gillette Stadium. This time, however, oddsmakers expect a closer contest.
According to the point spread published by USA Today, the 12-4 Patriots, who are riding a 10-game playoff winning streak at home, are favored by a relatively slim 4.5 points at home this time.
Overall, the Patriots have won 18 of their last 20 games at home, and against the spread have gone 6-1 in their last seven January games, according to USA Today. But a faltering 42-year-old Tom Brady, who threw for just 24 touchdown passes while posting a passer rating of 88.0, combined with a resurgent Titans’ quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, have given Tennessee a legitimate chance to end the Patriots’ season prior to the conference championship for the first time since 2011.
NBC Sports previews the AFC Wild Card matchup, in the video below.
For Brady, his touchdown total in 2019 was his lowest since 2006, when he also threw just 24, according to Pro Football Reference. His passer rating was his lowest since 2013.
Tannehill, on the other hand, led the NFL with a passer rating of 117.5, mainly due to an extraordinary efficiency with his passes. Tannehill averaged 13.6 yards per pass completion, and 9.6 per attempt, both tops in the NFL over the just-completed regular season. He completed 22 TD passes.
The Titans also feature a significant weapon in the NFL’s leading rusher, Derrick Henry, whose 102.7 yards per game average was best in the league, as was his total yardage of 1,540, and rushing touchdown tally of 16. But bringing the NFL’s best rusher into the game might actually be a drawback for the Titans.
As SB Nation writer Ryan Spagnoli reported via Twitter, Patriots Coach Bill Belichick has consistently figured out ways to stifle league-leading running backs.
His Patriot teams have faced the NFL’s leading rusher in the playoffs 11 times — and won 10 of those games, according to the stats posted by Spagnoli. The only defeat came in the last Wild Card game played by the Pats, in 2009, when they faced the Baltimore Ravens and running back Ray Rice.
The second AFC Wild Card game pitting the Tennessee Titans against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots kicks off at 5:15 p.m. ET and will be nationally televised by the CBS network.