All the New England Patriots needed to do to secure yet another first round bye was defeat the lowly Miami Dolphins in Week 17. But a shocking 27-24 defeat at the hands of the Fins has the Patriots are playing in the wild-card round for the first time since 2009 where they will take on a dangerous Tennessee Titans squad Saturday night in Foxboro.
The loss was the fourth in the Patriots last eight games, while the Titans won seven of their final 10 games (6-3-1 ATS) after making the switch at quarterback from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill. And the results were shocking, as Tannehill excelled and provided the balance the Tennessee offense desperately needed.
While these teams come into this game on the opposite ends of the momentum pendulum, this is still the Patriots, playing at Gillette Stadium in January and oddsmakers are treating it as such. The Pats are currently 5-point home favorites for this matchup despite the fact they are just 2-5-1 ATS in their last eight fames and haven’t covered a spread at home since an October matchup with the Browns.
From the opening kickoff to the final whistle, we break down the best ways to wager the odds for this AFC Wild Card showdown.
TENNESSEE TITANS VS NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (-5, 44.5)
The Patriots have been known for getting off to fast starts this season, ranking second in the league in first quarter scoring at 7.4 per contest, but that has changed pretty drastically in the second half of the season. In the Pats last eight games that number plummets to 3.9 per game.
Tom Brady may or may not be nursing a shoulder injury, but in those eight games, the GOAT is completing just 56.9 percent of his passes, is averaging just over 225 yards per game and has a passer rating of 80.8. To put that into perspective, that rating is worse than Mitchell Trubisky, Sam Darnold and Jameies Winston. Now, this may have something to do with his maybe injury, his paper-thin receiving corps, or that he has an average at best running game to support him. Either way, these are not the Pats you are used to.
Add in the adventure that is the Patriots kicking game (do you really have faith in Nick Folk?), an explosive Titans Offense that can strike at any time, and the fact New England will almost certainly defer to the second half if they win the coin toss and we like the Titans to strike first.
Pick: Team to Score First - Titans (+110)
FIRST HALF BET
Speaking of that Titans Offense, everyone knows about Derrick Henry (more on him later), but Tannehill has been a revelation. Is this really the same guy who was on the Dolphins for all those years? Tannehill actually led the league in passer rating at 117.5, while tossing 22 touchdowns compared to just six picks and has a group of receivers that Brady would kill for.
Rookie A.J. Brown leads the way with 1,051 yards and eight scores, and is averaging over 20 yards per reception. While Stephon Gilmore will likely be assigned to lock up Brown, that leaves Corey Davis and Tajae Sharp to do some damage underneath. The Patriots still rank No. 1 in pass defensive DVOA, but we just saw Ryan Fitzpatrick pick apart the New England pass defense for 320 yards. So, it is possible.
With the Pats giving up 12.1 first half points per game over the last eight games, and giving up 10 or more in seven of those eight contest, we like the Titans to eclipse their first half team total.
Pick: Titans Over 9.5 First Half Team Total (-120)
On to the other key piece to the Titans Offense, Derrick Henry. The bruising 250-pound back has been outstanding and closed the regular season with a jaw dropping 211-yard, three-touchdown masterpiece against the Titans. The performance gave Henry the rushing title as he complied 1,540 yards at 5.1 yards per attempt.
But Henry truly been the King since Tannehill took over at quarterback. Henry rumbled for 1,124 yards and 12 scores in his final nine games (Henry did not play against the Saints in Week 16), running at a clip of nearly 6.0 yards per carry. And if there is a weakness on the Pats defense it comes against the run.
While New England still ranks 6th in rush defense DVOA, they are allowing 4.2 yards per carry this season, putting them in the middle of the pack in that category. And while Bill Belichick is known for taking away a team’s best weapon, he’s had trouble containing star backs this season.
Joe Mixson ran for 136 yards on 25 carries, Ezekiel Elliott ran for 86 yards on 21 carries, Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram combined for 176 yards on 31 carries and Nick Chubb ran for 131 yards on 20 attempts. So good backs can definitely pile up yards. And with the Titans Offense now having some balance thanks to Tannehill, Henry is going to get a chance to run wild in this one and we like him to go Over his rushing total in this one. But we’re doubling up here. We also like Henry to score the goal line on a rush, which is paying out at even money right now.
Pick: Derrick Henry Over 88.5 Rushing Yards (-120) & Over 0.5 Rushing TDs (+100)
FULL GAME TOTAL
We continue to look at the Patriots second half of the season. With Brady and the run game struggling, scoring obviously took a hit. Over that eight-game stretch the Pats have averaged just 21.3 points per game and only score more than 24 points in that span (Week 15 against the Bengals). And while the Titans have some holes on defense, they are mostly against the pass (21st in pass defense DVOA), not exactly an area where the Pats are well equipped to take advantage.
While the Titans are a Top 10 scoring team, the Patriots Defense is the best they have face this year by a wide margin. And you know, despite Brady’s struggles, the Titans know game plan for the Titans on offense will be keeping the ball out of his hands for as much as possible. Which of course means running the ball and in turn the clock. The Titans already run the ball the fourth most in the league, so expect more of the same here.
But speaking of game plans, Bill Belichick always has an edge in coaching, and while he does here, this is an interesting matchup with former player and coach Mike Vrabel on the opposing sidelines. Vrabel knows what it takes to win in the playoffs and should have his team well prepared. We like this to one to sneak Under the total.
Pick: Under 44.5
FULL GAME SIDE
Everything is set up here for the end of the Patriots dynasty. Tom Brady looks human. His skill positions are doing little to help out and Gronk isn’t showing up at halftime. The defense is coming back down to Earth. Meanwhile, the Titans are riding high and are very confident. But haven’t we heard this story before?
The last several years there have been moments where the everyone thought it was all over for the Patriots. Even last year. New England won just four of their final seven games (with three of those wins coming against the Jets and Bills) and the Chargers were a super trendy pick to upset the Pats in Foxboro. Then what happened? The Pats smacked the Chargers around on their way to a sixth Super Bowl championship.
And while we’ve crapped on the Patriots receivers a lot, we still have faith in Mr. Reliable, Julian Edelman. The Pats slot receiver has clearly been banged up lately, but he shows up biggest in the playoffs (Hello reigning Super Bowl MVP). Last year in the playoffs he had receptions totals of 10, 7, and 9 with double digit targets in each. So, expect Brady to lean on him a lot here.
On the other side we, like what Tannehill brings to the Titans, but he is 0-6 in his career at Gillette Stadium, completing just 60.9 percent of his passes with five touchdowns compared to 10 picks. Now, being a member of the Dolphins hurts some of those numbers, but it is noteworthy.
The bottom line: It’s the Patriots. It's Brady. It's Belichick. At home. In January. They are 7-2 ATS in their last nine playoff games. You may look like a genius if you pick the Titans pull off the upset, but you’ll kicking yourself if the Pats do what they do. We’re not fading them until they’re officially dead.
Pick: Patriots -5
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