The Spread and Total
Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots (-13.5, O/U 47), courtesy of mybookie.ag.
A berth in the AFC Championship Game is on the line with the Patriots seeking a trip for the seventh straight season. The Titans are coming off their first playoff win since 2003, a 22-21 thriller last Saturday against Kansas City. The Titans last reached the AFC title game in 1999, beating the Jaguars to advance to the Super Bowl. But that’s as close as this franchise has ever come to winning a Lombardi Trophy.
Tennessee Titans: 10-7 SU (9-7-1 ATS); 2nd AFC South (Titans were 9-7 SU, 8-7-1 ATS in the regular season)
New England Patriots: 13-3 SU (11-5 ATS); 1st AFC East
Key Injuries and Absences
RB DeMarco Murray (knee), questionable; G Quinton Spain (back), questionable; CB Logan Ryan (ankle), questionable
New England Patriots
LB Marquis Flowers (illness), questionable; RB Mike Gillislee (knee), questionable; DL Alan Branch (knee), questionable; RB Rex Burkhead (knee), questionable; WR Chris Hogan (shoulder), questionable; DL Eric Lee (ankle/finger), questionable; LB Kyle Van Noy (calf), questionable; RB James White (ankle), questionable
- Dec. 20, 2017 (Gillette Stadium, Foxborough): New England 33, Tennessee 16
- Sept. 9, 2012 (LP Field, Nashville): New England 34, Tennessee 13
- Oct. 18, 2009 (Gillette Stadium, Foxborough): New England 59, Tennessee 0
- Dec. 31, 2006 (LP Field, Nashville): New England 40, Tennessee 23
Significant Betting Trends
- Including the playoff win, Tennessee has covered four straight and six of its last eight games.
- The Titans are 3-2 SU and ATS as underdogs this year.
- Five of the last seven Titans games have gone under the total.
- The Patriots have covered three straight and nine of their last 10 games.
- As a favorite of seven or more this year, the Patriots are 7-5 ATS. As a favorite of 10 or more, they are 3-2 ATS.
- Three of the last four, and nine of the last 12 Patriots games have gone under the total.
- During the last six seasons, the Patriots have won their first playoff game by an average of over 16 points.
Tennessee and New England meet in the postseason for the first time since the Titans featured Steve McNair, Eddie George, and Derrick Mason in their offense. While the Pats were expected to be in this situation, it has taken some work for Tennessee to reach the NFL’s version of the Elite Eight.
The Titans began the year 2-3, but the two wins were impressive romps over the Jaguars and Seahawks. They followed that by winning six of the next seven, and their only loss was a blowout at the hands of Pittsburgh, though the Steelers were also the only playoff team they faced in that stretch of games. The streak positioned Tennessee well to make the playoffs, however, a four-game losing streak ensued and Tennessee needed a 15-10 win over Jacksonville in Week 17 to clinch a playoff berth.
The offense surrendered the only touchdown against Jacksonville on a Marcus Mariota pick-six, and the defense held Blake Bortles and company to just three points. While the Jaguars had nothing to play for in Week 17, they didn’t rest their starters, so give the Titans’ D the credit it deserves. The unit was able to keep the Jags out of the end zone thanks to turnovers, generating four takeaways in the win while holding Jacksonville to just 229 yards of total offense. Tennessee won despite its own offense mustering a paltry 232 yards of offense and going 3/16 on third down.
It appeared the Titans would be one-and-done in the playoffs when they trailed in Kansas City 21-3 at halftime on Saturday. However, three scoring drives of 60-plus yards and a second-half shutout from the defense produced a 22-21 win. The Titans won despite committing the only two turnovers in the game and passing for just 195 yards. Tennessee outgained KC 397-325, went a spectacular 8/13 on third down, and limited the Chiefs to 69 yards on the ground. Running back Derrick Henry rushed 23 times for 156 yards in the victory.
With DeMarco Murray out the last two weeks, Henry has touched the ball 54 times and turned those opportunities into 308 yards and two scores. During the first 15 games of the season, Henry totaled over 100 yards just twice, and Tennessee won both games. In fact, in games where Henry reaches 50 yards this season, the Titans are 8-0.
Interestingly, dual-threat backs have had success recently against New England. In Week 16, Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy turned 22 touches into 147 yards against the Pats. In Week 15, the Steelers Le’Veon Bell managed 165 yards on 29 touches. And in Week 14, Miami’s Kenyan Drake delivered 193 yards on 30 touches 14. Each of the backs caught five passes and managed 48 receiving yards or more.
Though at times the Patriots’ defense has been shaky, they are the top seed in the AFC again. After a 2-2 start, with wins over the Saints and Texans plus losses to the Chiefs and Panthers, New England ran off eight straight victories, including two wins against playoff teams (Atlanta and Buffalo). Following a stumble in Miami, New England refocused and beat the Steelers 27-24 in Week 15, taking control of the AFC for good.
Before their bye last week, the Patriots closed out the regular season with a 26-6 win over New York. New England controlled the contest on the ground; running back Dion Lewis rushed 26 times for 93 yards and a score while adding six catches for 40 yards and another TD. The Pats were able to hold the ball for nearly 35 minutes and managed 28 first downs to the Jets’ 14. Tom Brady was not himself, completing just 18 of 37 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns, but it was more than enough against a New York team playing sans its starting QB.
With injuries to Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, and James White, Lewis has been getting a lot more carries/targets of late and making the most of them. The last two weeks, Lewis has 61 touches for 286 yards and four touchdowns. He’s now received double-digit carries in 10 of the last 11 games, and the only time he didn’t was against the Dolphins, i.e. the Patriots’ only loss in that time.
Bill Belichick likely knows this as well as anybody, so a steady dose of Lewis could be on the menu. However, the Titans possess the fourth-best rushing defense in the NFL, while ranking among the bottom quarter of the league in stopping the pass (as do the Patriots).
Brady’s credentials are well known and, all in all, he had another outstanding season, positioning himself as the MVP-favorite. But recently his numbers are down. Over the last five weeks, he has just six touchdown passes and five interceptions. In terms of yards per attempt, Brady had his worst two games of the season in December. By contrast, he ended last season red-hot before taking the Patriots to another title. Contrast that to 2015, when Brady was mediocre down the stretch and then awful in the AFC Championship against Denver.
Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota was solid as a rookie, took a step forward last year before getting injured, and has been uneven this season. Though he wasn’t great down the stretch, Mariota threw just one interception over the final three weeks of the regular season. Against the Chiefs on Saturday, he went 19 for 31 with 205 yards, two touchdowns (including one to himself) and one interception. He added eight rushes for 46 yards. The Titans are now 3-0 this year when Mariota rushes for at least 40 yards.
On specials teams, the Patriots have the better place kicker, but Tennessee’s Brett Kern leads the NFL in net punting. Both teams are solid but not spectacular in the return game.
The Patriots are one of the great franchises in all of sports. They are very likely to win this game, but by how much? Because Tennessee is solid against the run, it is likely New England will be throwing the ball a lot. There is reason to think Brady will be plenty good enough to win, but make a mistake or two, perhaps keeping the game close. If Tennessee feeds Henry the ball, they should be able to keep the clock moving, shorten the game, and score enough points to cover.
Both teams are consistently going under the game total, and the public will be eager to back Brady to put up plenty of points. Let’s go the other way.
Pick: Titans (+13.5) and UNDER (47)