AFC East

CK’s Patriots@Titans – A Highly Biased Game Preview

CK’s Patriots@Titans – A Highly Biased Game Preview
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The New England Patriots head west to Nashville this Sunday to take on the Tennessee Titans.  This will be the 43rd meeting between these old AFL rivals with the Patriots having the all-time series lead at 25-16-1.  This includes their matchup this past January when New England beat Tennessee 35-14 in the AFC Divisional Round of the playoffs. 
The Titans (4-4) enter this game after snapping a 3 game losing streak last weekend by beating the Dallas Cowboys 28-14 on Monday Night.  In that game, the Titans rebounded after turning over the ball on their first two possessions and shutout the Cowboys in the 2nd Half.
The Patriots (7-2) have won 6 straight games including beating the Green Bay Packers in Foxboro this past Sunday.  While the injury bug has certainly hit the Patriots on both sides of the ball, they have found ways to mask those deficiencies and are currently tied in the AFC for the longest active winning streak. 
Both teams look to build on big Week 9 victories so in yet another futile attempt to be non-bias and analytical, both teams were broken down in key areas to see how they will match up against each other and which one may have the key to a victory.
Quarterback – PATRIOTS:  While the Titans’ Marcus Mariota had a solid game against the Dallas Cowboys, he has struggled with injuries this season which has made his play erratic at best.  For the Patriots, Tom Brady seems to have shaken off the early season rust and has almost a 70% completion percentage during their current winning streak.
Running Backs – TITANS:  With the numerous injuries to Patriots’ backfield, New England has reached deep into their bag of tricks and have deployed wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in the backfield with some surprising success at running back.  However, with the unknown status of Sony Michel, the Titans do have an advantage at running back led by former Patriots star Dion Lewis.
Wide Receivers – PATRIOTS:  With the emergence of Josh Gordon in the passing game, the Patriots wide receiver group has been more and more productive each week.  In only 6 games with the Patriots, Gordon has almost as many yards as Titans’ leading receiver Cory Davis and has more touchdowns.
Tight Ends – PUSH:  A few seasons ago, a matchup featuring Rob Gronkowski and Delanie Walker would have really grabbed some headlines.  Unfortunately the Titans’ Walker is out for the season and it’s questionable that Gronkowski will be available to play on Sunday.
Offensive Line – PATRIOTS:  Statistically the Patriots and Titans have been run blocking relatively equally so far this season.  However, New England has been far superior in protecting their passer than the Titans have been.  Though the first 9 games, the Patriots have allowed 13 sacks while the Titans have allowed 26.
Defensive Front Seven – TITANS:  Both front seven units are nearly identical in rushing yards allowed per game but the Titans get the slightest edge over the Patriots because they are somewhat better at rushing the passer…..The difference here is minimal at best.
Secondary – PUSH:  While the Titans’ secondary is allowing less yardage than the Patriots, New England’s’ secondary is near the top of the NFL in lowest completion percentage allowed (3rd), most interceptions (4th), and lowest quarterback rating allowed (7th).
Special Teams – PATRIOTS:  While both teams are very similar in their return games and punting, the real separation between the teams is with their kicking game where the Patriots Stephen Gostkowski is perfect from inside of the 50 this season.
Coaching – PATRIOTS:  For those too young to remember, Mike Vrabel was one of the key defensive pieces to the Patriots revival in the early 2000s.  He was a key component four AFC Championship teams including three that went on to win the Super Bowl.  His departure from New England, in usual Patriots fashion, was unceremonious but it led to coaching opportunities with the Texans in 2014 and it’s been an upward trajectory since.  Outside of a week 6 blowout loss against the Ravens, Vrabel’s Titans have been in every game and have been within a single score.  While it’s still too early to judge his ability as a head coach, he will be going up against arguably one of the best NFL head coaches of all time in Bill Belichick.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:

Betting Line:  Patriots -7  
Key’s to a Patriots Victory:
1) Stay Committed to Running the Ball:  While the strength of the Patriots offense is their passing attack, New England has done a remarkable job finding ways to run the ball even though their main rushing threat, Sony Michel, has been out because of injury.  While it’s possible Michel could be back this week, the Patriots must stay committed to generating a running game with anyone on the roster that is willing to take a snap. 
2) Disciplined Pass Rush:  While it’s no secret that the Patriots are struggling to get to opposing passers, New England’s defensive front needs to play a well-disciplined game to contain Marcus Mariota in the pocket and not let him get easy yards to keep the chains moving.
3) Get Josh Gordon Involved Early:  The Patriots’ Josh Gordon seems to be getting more and more comfortable within the offense with each week.  It has gotten to the point where there seems to be a lot more trust from Tom Brady to throw the ball out to Gordon and allow him to make a play.  The Patriots need to threaten the Titans downfield early to help open up running lanes for their depleted backfield.
This will be a reunion of sort for Patriots….There are a lot of familiar faces on opposing sideline including Mike Vrabel, Josh Kline, Logan Ryan, Dion Lewis, and Malcolm Butler.  While this type of pre-game hype is something that Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick would adamantly dismiss, it may not be so easy for folks on the Titans’ sideline to do so.
Look for a relatively close game through the first half while both teams feel each other out that will open up offensively more in the 4th quarter.
The Knuckles Prediction:  Patriots 26 – Titans 20 

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