Tennessee Titans (10-7) at New England Patriots (13-3)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET on CBS
TITANS AT A GLANCE
Key player: As well as quarterback Marcus Mariota has to play, the impetus to a Tennessee upset is actually running back Derrick Henry. The former Heisman winner and second-year man has been marvelous filling in for DeMarco Murray. In two games as a starter, Henry has amassed 308 total yards and two scores, including two back-breaking plays versus Jacksonville, to seal a playoff bid, and again last week versus Kansas City, to seal a playoff win.
Why they’ll win: Mariota plays like he did during the Titans’ 18-point wild-card weekend comeback. The third-year quarterback displayed toughness, accuracy and composure, all amidst the sixth-largest postseason collapse ever. In reality, this has been a very disappointing campaign for Mariota. His 15 interceptions during the regular season were easily a career-high and his 13 touchdown passes easily a career-low. Even worse was the fact that he ranked 27th in passer rating. The good news for him is that New England ranked 30th in the league in total passing defense.
Why they’ll lose: Tom Brady is an ageless wonder who led the NFL in passing yardage, and ranked both third in touchdowns and passer rating. On the flip side, Tennessee will rely heavily on Mariota, whose inconsistency this season has plagued the offense from Week 1. It is about as unfair a matchup as it gets. Giving Bill Belichick and ace defensive coordinator Matt Patricia two weeks to prepare doesn’t help either.
Keep in mind: The Titans’ last win in Foxborough was 1993, back when they were still the Houston Oilers. Hardly anybody wins in Foxborough, not during the postseason at least. Not only will Mariota have to be flawless in this divisional round tilt, but so too will a defense that ranked in the middle of the NFL with 21 takeaways.
PATRIOTS AT A GLANCE
Key player: Let’s not overthink this. Brady is the guy for this team. He has full control to make the audibles he wants. He knows exactly where and how to locate Rob Gronkowski, when to find his quartet of running backs out of the backfield, or when to take a shot deep to Brandin Cooks. If Brady is on target early, this game will be over before it really begins.
Why they’ll win: Mariota’s struggles paired with a road tilt against a motivated Patriots defense is a tall order. Additionally, the New England running game is a huge factor. Rex Burkhead (six total touchdowns last four games) has been excellent. Also, James White and Dion Lewis (5 yards per carry) are extremely dangerous, not just catching the football, but running it as well. As soon as the Pats build a lead, Belichick will pound it and use his ground game to initiate play-action.
Why they’ll lose: Henry goes haywire and becomes an unstoppable moving object. That is the only way the Titans can win this game: run the football, limit Mariota’s opportunities for mistakes and take a few shots down the field to Corey Davis. Remember, the Patriots rank 20th in total run defense, surrendering 4.7 yards a rush, which slots them 31st in pro football.
Keep in mind: Brady is 6-1 for his career against the Titans, having captured six consecutive victories. Additionally, the Patriots are 20-4 (.833) at home in the playoffs. It’s a sensational record made even more impressive by the fact they haven’t lost a home playoff game since 2012.
– – – – – – –
Jordan Schultz is an NFL, NBA and NCAAB insider/analyst for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at Jordan.Schultz@Oath.com.
More NFL coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Why Andy Reid has to go
• Report: Houston QB Kyle Allen to enter NFL draft
• Blake Bortles: ‘There will always be people who always think I suck’