Can the Tennessee Titans pull off one of the greatest upsets in NFL postseason history Saturday, or will the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots hold serve and move one step closer to their sixth Super Bowl title?
We'll take a dive into the game below, offering some predictions plus a score pick.
Saturday, January 13, at 8:15 p.m. ET on CBS: Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots
The key to this game is whether the Titans defense can keep the Patriots offense out of the end zone. That is a Captain Obvious statement, but barring an otherworldly performance, the Titans are going to allow chunks of yardage all game to a Pats offense that averaged 28.6 points per game this season, which ranks second in the league.
In other words, the Titans are going to bend, but they can't afford to break and try to win a shootout, which is not what the run-first offense (just 19th in points scored this year) is built to accomplish.
If the Titans can hold the Pats to field goals as opposed to touchdowns, however, then they have a better chance of establishing the run game for four quarters.
Titans running back Derrick Henry was fantastic last time out, as he rushed 23 times for 156 yards and a touchdown to help lead his team to a 22-21 upset victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium.
Part of the reason why he was able to get going was because the Titans defense was able to shut down the Travis Kelce-less Chiefs offense in the second half. Tennessee chipped away at the Chiefs' 21-3 halftime lead until it was no more thanks to a heavy dose of Henry in addition to some Mariota runs and successful short passes.
Henry could rush for 100-plus against the Patriots, who allowed 4.69 running back yards per carry this year, per Football Outsiders. That number ranked second-last in the league behind only the Los Angeles Chargers.
The problem is the game script. If the Titans are forced to play catch-up for four quarters with the Pats and are down multiple scores all game, then they will likely move to the pass more often to keep up. The issue there is the aerial attack has been hit-and-miss all year (quarterback Marcus Mariota, who has battled injuries all season, threw 15 interceptions and 13 touchdowns).
The guess here is that happens. The Pats offense is a nightmare matchup for any team given the amount of weapons they have out of the backfield and in the pass game. In particular, tight end Rob Gronkowski should be a problem for the Tennessee defense, which allowed 59.7 yards per game to tight ends this year (9.1 more yards than the league average, per Football Outsiders).
Also, running back Dion Lewis has been a thorn in every defense's side in the 2017 campaign. He has received more carries in recent weeks with teammate Rex Burkhead recovering from a knee injury, and he delivered by scoring two touchdowns in each of his past two contests.
Wideouts Chris Hogan and Brandin Cooks have a good rapport with quarterback Tom Brady and can break a game open with a deep touchdown on any given play, and wide receiver Danny Amendola is adept at moving the sticks.
It's hard for any defense to keep up with the Pats offense, and the guess is the Titans aren't able to do that Saturday. Look for New England to jump out to a big early lead and never look back in a blowout win.
Pick: Patriots 42, Titans 17