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NFL Playoffs Wildcard Preview: Titans at Patriots

Tenessee Titans vs. New England Patriots

Spread: Patriots -5 | Over/Under Odds: : 44

The 12-4 number three seed New England Patriots are playing in the Wildcard round of the NFL playoff for the first time since 2009. They will be hosting the 9-7 number six seed Tennesse Titans. Since the start of the 2014 NFL season, there have been 217 games where the closing line favored the home team by 4 to 6 points. In these games:

  • The team like New England won the game 146 times (67.3%).
  • The team like Tennessee won the game 71 times (32.7%).
  • The team like Tennessee did better against the spread, going 115-100-2 (53.5% ATS) and covering the spread by an average of 0.5 points.

The Titans and Patriots have played each other twice in the past two seasons, with the series being split and the home team coming away victoriously by an average margin of 22.5 points. New England beat the Titans at home in the divisional round in 2017, and the Titans won versus New England in Tennessee in Week 10 of the 2018 season. However, in both of those games, the starting quarterback was Marcus Mariota, who has now been replaced by Ryan Tannehill. The Patriots are very familiar with Tannehill from his days in Miami. Tannehill is 4-7 all-time versus the Patriots with all of his wins coming at home. I know there are a lot who believe the Titans can play spoiler this wildcard weekend, and the odds for the Titans to win at bookies such as comeon are very favorable. Tannehill is 0-6 at New England and has 10 interceptions to four touchdowns thrown at Gillette Stadium in his career.

Keys to the Game: Titans

For the Titans to win this game they will need to establish the run behind the league’s best runner in Derrick Henry. The Patriots defense all season as feasted off turnovers, so by limiting Tannehill’s dropbacks and passing attempts the Titans should be able to play ball control and overwhelm the Patriots’ run defense. The Patriots will dare Tannehill to beat them with his arm and that could prove to be difficult if New England is able to stop Henry and A.J. Brown. The Titans also have an edge when it comes to utilizing tight end Jonnu Smith who like Brown is one of the best in terms of yards after the catch according to head coach Bill Belichick. If the Titans use play-action frequently they should be able to get Smith running in space away from safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty to pick up chunk yardage.

Keys to the Game: Patriots

For the Patriots to win this game they will need to contain the ground game, and force Tannehill to beat their number one ranked defense. They need to be able to force Tennesee to make mistakes and to give their offense short-fields to score. The Titans defense is nothing special, especially in the red zone so the Patriots need to capitalize on each scoring opportunity they get. New England also needs to continue its success and build on the ground game they have established over the past three weeks to take defensive pressure away from Tom Brady.

Fantasy Take: Start’Em Sit’Em

Julian Edelman: Start

Edelman has been dealing with some injuries over the past few weeks, but has already come out and said that he feels good heading into the weekend. Regardless, Edelman is one of the only options on the offense that quarterback Tom Brady trusts, so he is going to find ways to get him the ball. Edelman’s game goes to an even higher level in the postseason; he has double-digit targets in every single playoff game he has played since 2013 (12 games). Edelman is averaging well over 100 yards per game in his last six playoff games and has eight catches in nine of his last 11. Logan Ryan is the primary slot cornerback for the Titans and leads his team in tackles. When a cornerback leads the team in tackles it’s a clear indicator that he is allowing receptions to the guys he covers then tackles them after.

A.J. Brown: Start

Wide Receiver

Understandable the matchup could be difficult for Brown with Stephon Gilmore drawing his coverage. However, head coach Mike Vrabel has already come out and said they are looking for more ways to get Brown the ball because he is so explosive with the ball in his hands. Vrabel even mentioned looking at Brown in the return game. We also saw Gillmore struggle last week versus a physical receiver in DeVante Parker, so Brown is somebody you can still go back to this weekend. He has seven targets in three of his last four games. Patriots rank bottom-six in fantasy points allowed to receivers over the past two weeks.

Sony Michel: Start

Running Back

The Titans on the road this season have allowed 1.1 rushing touchdowns per game and have allowed 1.7 over their last three games. Michel has three straight games with 18 0r more carries and we have seen the Patriots lean on Michel in the postseason before. The emergence of Elandon Roberts at fullback has helped the Patriots rush for 4.8 yards per attempt over the past three weeks. Over the past three weeks, the Patriots rank number four overall in rushing attempts per game (31.3), third in rushing play percentage (50%), and sixth in rushing yards per game (151). Michel is priced down across DFS sites this week but has one of the highest ceilings with a potential for multiple touchdowns against the Titans who have the second-worst rated red zone defense in terms of touchdowns allowed per visit (68%).

Derrick Henry: Sit

Running Back

Derrick HenryThe Titans run one of the slower offenses in the NFL and have been the beneficiary of being extremely efficient. They rank third to last in plays per game which is why outside of Henry, Brown, and Tannehill there have not been many other fantasy factors. That being said Henry is a fade for me this week. He is going to be very popular in DFS after last week where he saw season-highs in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and rushing attempts. But he is far from a lock for me because the Patriots are going to sell out to stop the run, and Henry does not catch passes. So in a format like DraftKings, where receptions are so vital, he should be faded. You are hoping for touchdowns with Henry and the Patriots have allowed just one rushing touchdown to backs this season. They are allowing just 3.6 yards per attempt at home and just 3.6 rushing first downs. The Patriots also have the second-best red zone defense at home.

My Pick:

Despite it feeling like the dynasty is falling apart in New England after their Week 17 loss to the Miami Dolphins, I seriously doubt that it will be the Tennesse Titans led by Ryan Tannehill that brings this team to its demise in 2020. If you look at Tannehill’s games this season he has either been at home (six games) or played on the road versus a bottom-ten defense. Tannehill is an excellent quarterback at home, and that goes back to his Miami days when he won against the Patriots four different times. However, things are different when he has played on the road especially in New England where he is 0-6. Tannehill is averaging just 16.2 fantasy points per game on the road versus 24.1 points at home. Both his sub-18 points games came on the road (at IND, and at HOU), and his two better games on the road were versus Carolina and Oakland. All those teams rank in the bottom half of the league in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. The Patriots rank number one versus the quarterback position and still have the best pass defense based on passing DVOA via FootballOutsiders. For those reasons, I am backing the home favorite Patriots to win and cover the five-point spread. Their defense will step up big in their potential last home game of the 2019 season.

Final score prediction: Patriots 30- 14


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