Tom Brady said on Saturday night that he was excited to find out who the New England Patriots would host in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs. Now that it has been determined that the Tennessee Titans are coming to town this coming Saturday (CBS, 8:15 p.m. ET), here are some initial thoughts:
Reasons to be excited: Something new. The Patriots had already faced the other two teams that were possibilities -- the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills -- during the regular season. So in the fresh-slate playoffs, they truly start with a fresh slate against a team they don’t know much about. The last time the Patriots played the Titans was Dec. 20, 2015, when New England won 33-16 at home -- a game that was never in doubt. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota left that game early with a knee injury, giving way to Zach Mettenberger. So this will be the first time the Patriots get an extended look at Mariota, and given his athleticism and mobility, the defense should be tested.
Reasons to be concerned: There aren’t many. The Patriots are heavy favorites, and rightfully so. Perhaps the top reason to be concerned is that the Titans will come to town with absolutely nothing to lose (the Patriots open at 13.5-point favorites). When I spoke with Titans cornerback (and former Patriot) Logan Ryan on Saturday night following Tennessee’s upset of the Chiefs, he said, “We were the only people who believed in it. The whole national media picked against us. ... We’ll be heavy underdogs again, but we’ll bring our best effort. This isn’t like the NBA or MLB, where it’s a series. You just have to win one game.”
How far can they go: With home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, the Patriots are in good position to advance to Super Bowl LII. A win over the Titans and then a victory over either the Steelers or Jaguars is the challenge in front of them. When the Patriots play their game, they can beat anyone. But as they showed Dec. 11 in a loss to the Dolphins, when they don’t play with energy and purpose, they are vulnerable regardless of which team is on the opposite sideline. Still, this sets up nicely for them.