NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It's time to see just how close the Tennessee Titans are to being a true championship contender. Tennessee got the proverbial playoff monkey off its back with a win at Kansas City on Saturday, but beating the New England Patriots would take a next-level kind of performance.
I enlisted the help of ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) to give us a deeper breakdown of what the Titans will face in New England on Saturday night in their divisional playoff game. Here's a look at his scouting report of the defending champions:
Offensive philosophy: The Patriots are a game-plan attack that morphs its approach on a weekly basis to attack what it perceives to be the weakness of the opposing defense. Opponents always have to be prepared for the up-tempo, no-huddle attack, which has the potential to be lethal with quarterback Tom Brady. Under creative coordinator Josh McDaniels, the Patriots will test a defense with a variety of personnel groupings, looking to exploit specific matchups. The team averaged 28.6 points per game in the regular season, which ranked second in the NFL.
Defensive philosophy: Fundamentally sound and a unit whose strong tackling often shows up as more of a factor as the year progresses, the Patriots often give up yards but find a way to stiffen when opponents enter the red zone. Opponents made 48 trips inside the 20-yard line and scored just 21 touchdowns, a percentage that ranked as the fourth-best among NFL defenses in the regular season. Coordinator Matt Patricia has pieced things together in the front seven despite a lot of moving parts this season, which is one reason he’s been a hot candidate for head-coaching openings. The Patriots are a multiple defense in terms of scheme.
What stands out on special teams: Matthew Slater, whose seven Pro Bowl berths as a special teamer ties Steve Tasker for the NFL record, is the leader of a unit that often helps the Patriots win the field-position battle. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski has a strong leg and was 37-of-40 on field goal attempts in the regular season and 45-of-47 on point-after attempts. Meanwhile, Ryan Allen is effective with the team's focus on situational punting. Running back Dion Lewis is the top kickoff returner and a threat to make a big play at any time, while veteran Danny Amendola is the primary punt returner.
Best player no one talks about: Safety Patrick Chung finished second on the team with 79 tackles, in addition to two forced fumbles, one interception and nine passes defended. He played 87.5 percent of the defensive snaps in the regular season and is often asked to match up against opponents' top tight ends, which could make him a key player against Delanie Walker.
Injury situation: Running backs James White (ankle) and Rex Burkhead (knee) appear to be on track to return after missing the past two games of the season, while receiver Chris Hogan (shoulder) missed seven of the final eight games of the season and has a good chance of returning as well. Brady will obviously play, but he's been managing left shoulder and Achilles injuries.
Strengths: Tight end Rob Gronkowski was named first-team All-Pro (69 catches, 1,084 yards, 8 TDs) and is a matchup problem for opposing defenses, while Lewis (896 yards, 180 carries, 6 TDs; 32 catches for 214 yards, 3 TDs) has been a spark after taking over the top running back role on Oct. 15. The Patriots often do a nice job with situational football, as evidenced by the fact that they scored in the final minute of the second quarter in 11 of their 16 regular-season games.
Weaknesses: A personnel shortage on the edge led the team to sign veteran outside linebacker James Harrison on Dec. 26, and he played 27 snaps in his debut five days later. There is a similar personnel situation at their off-the-line linebacker spot. So there have been some vulnerabilities in the defensive front.