The battered and beaten Tennessee Titans trudge into Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon for a head-to-head showdown with the red-hot New England Patriots. Darth Hoodie, Bill Belichick, has his scowl back again with the Patriots riding a five-game winning streak, including a 25-0 shutout victory over the Atlanta Falcons last week. They covered as 6.5-point favorites in that game, and they’ll be looking to cover as favorites once again against a visiting Titans team that just got upset by the lowly Houston Texans.
Who’s left for the Titans?I’ve always said winning a Super Bowl is part luck.
You can have the most talented team in football, but if the injury gods strike you down, you’ll be in a world of trouble.
Such has been the case for the Titans with Derrick Henry out indefinitely, Julio Jones on injured reserve and A.J. Brown missing practices this week. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has basically been left on an island to fend for himself within an offense that isn’t scaring anybody anymore. He recently threw for one touchdown and four interceptions against a Houston Texans team that only had one win up until that point.
If you watched closely enough, you would have thought he was back in Miami.
1— Matt (Double__Underscore) Weston (@Matt__Weston) November 24, 2021
All four of Ryan Tannehill's interceptions against the Houston Texans pic.twitter.com/i9pQ8DCnMp
And it isn’t just on the offensive side of the ball.
Harold Landry III, the Titans’ leading sack artist, is also listed as questionable for Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury. When it rains, it pours for this Titans team.
It doesn’t help matters that Tannehill will be throwing into the teeth of a Patriots defense that has terrorized opposing quarterbacks in recent weeks. The team is ranked sixth in the league in turnover margin with a secondary full of ball-hawks ready to pounce at a moment’s notice. Tannehill could be left on a field full of backups at the skilled positions with the “Man with the Red Sleeves” breathing down his neck. Patriots star linebacker Matthew Judon could be a problem all day long if he doesn’t get the ball out quickly.
The Titans have to hold up defensively to at least give Tannehill and company a fighting chance. They’ve been great against the run, which is a huge plus when heading on the road against a team hell-bent on bludgeoning opponents on the ground. If they can hold up against the run and generate turnovers, the Titans could come out on top.
Patriots are a legitimate contenderIt’s hard to deny the Patriots as anything less than an AFC contender after watching them run roughshod over teams in the last month.
Mac Jones is throwing with the poise, accuracy and conviction of a young Tom Brady. No, I’m not saying he’s the next Tom Brady because that would be crazy. One guy has been to 10 Super Bowls and won seven of them, and the other hasn’t even completed his first NFL season.
But the similarities early in their careers—at least on the football field—are certainly there.
I’m expecting him to continue to open up the passing game against the Titans this week, but the same game plan of pounding the ball on the ground will remain intact. Sure, the Titans are great at stopping the run, but then again, so were the Cleveland Browns before getting crushed by this Patriots offense for 184 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Both Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson are questionable to play on Sunday, but the running backs have been practicing this week in a limited capacity. Tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith have also been limited this week.
Jones and the offense are clearly ascending, but the true meat and potatoes of this Patriots team is the defense. They currently lead the league in average takeaways through the air, and Ryan Tannehill has thrown plenty of them this season. If Matthew Judon and that vaunted defensive front can put some heat on the Titans quarterback, that secondary is going to have the biggest post-Thanksgiving feast known to man.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
Even if A.J. Brown plays in this game, you might as well grab a red marker and draw a giant X across him. Bill Belichick’s most known defensive philosophy is taking away the opposing offense’s best player. So other receivers are going to have to step up in this game regardless.
But it’s hard to step up when you can’t run the ball.
Not having Derrick Henry on the field has really changed things for the Titans. They’re no longer able to play the physical brand of football they’ve become known for in recent years. Adrian Peterson was recently released from the roster, and both D’Onta Foreman and Jeremy McNichols were on the injury report this week.
This is literally a worst-case scenario for Tannehill, who has already thrown nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns this season.
That Patriots secondary might be the best in football right now. J.C. Jackson is all over the field making plays on a weekly basis, and Kyle Dugger is a downhill thumper laying All-Madden level hit sticks on anyone with the ball in their hands.
It’s going to be a big, big problem for this Titans team.
The Patriots are also coming into this game well-rested after partaking in a Thursday night game where they shut out Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons. All of the momentum is in their favor.
I’m laying the points and rolling with New England to extend their winning streak to six games.
Full-Game Total Pick
The Patriots are averaging 35 points per game over the course of their five-game winning streak. They’ll be at home on Sunday against a struggling Titans team that could be without their top pass-rusher, Harold Landry III. I’m also expecting Mac Jones and company to get a lot of bites at the apple with the way Tennessee’s offense is struggling right now. The Patriots' defense should dominate in third-down situations and get off the field often. And you have to believe the Titans are due a turnover or two in this matchup. Give me the over in this game.