I realize the Titans receiving corps has been an underachieving bunch, but I never thought it would reach the point where QB Marcus Mariota would have to resort to throwing TDs to himself.
Mariota has the most spectacular play of this young NFL playoffs when his own pass was deflected back into his hands and he dove into the endzone for one of the most unusual TDs in Titans history.
Looking ahead to this weekend’s game, I hope Mariota can throw TDs in a more traditional fashion. Here’s what I see in my trusty crystal ball.
Titans at Patriots
New England fans are calling it the Patriots second bye week before they get to play the Steelers. The oddsmakers agree as the Patriots are favored by 13.5 points. I say not so fast.
Since nobody in this neck of the woods wants to read about how New England is going to steamroll the Titans, allow me to provide a simple formula for Tennessee to win. The Titans need to run the ball and pressure QB Tom Brady.
At least one matchup looks extremely favorable. The Patriots are ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per carry. The Titans have a bulldozer in the backfield in Derrick Henry, who is coming off a 156-yard game against the Chiefs.
They also have Mariota, who has produced some gritty, physical runs the past two weeks against Jacksonville and Kansas City. Mariota even threw a key block to spring Henry for a first down in the play that clinched the game against the Chiefs.
On the flip side of the ball, the Titans D played like Super Bowl contenders in the second half against Kansas City. The Titans didn’t allow a point and held the Chiefs to just three first downs.
The problem is the Titans were manhandled in the first half when the Chiefs had TE Travis Kelce in the game. Kelce suffered a concussion and didn’t play the second half.
New England has a talented TE of its own in Rob Gronkowski so it will be imperative for the Titans to make adjustments to slow him. The Patriots also have a stable of RBs who can run and catch to accompany capable WRs.
A wildcard could be Titans CB Logan Ryan, who played for the Patriots last year during their Super Bowl run. He should be able to provide a little insight about how to prepare.
I believe it will come down to whether the Titans WRs can make plays. WR Eric Decker has four drops the past two games. He also has a 21-yard TD catch. WR Rishard Matthews also needs to stop doing his invisible man impersonation and show up.
As for the Patriots, the team that prides itself on avoiding distractions may have a big one as rumors swirl about the turmoil surrounding Brady, coach Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Craft. On Monday, Bilichick insisted it is absolutely his intention to return next year as coach.
The Patriots have made it to the AFC Championship game for six straight years. All streaks eventually end.
Titans 25, Patriots 24
Falcons at Eagles
With Nick Foles at the helm, most fans are quick to dismiss the No. 1-seeded Eagles as Super Bowl contenders. Atlanta is even favored by 3 points.
It’s easy to like Atlanta’s experience after last year’s Super Bowl run. Falcon RBs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are playing well and WR Julio Jones is one of the best in the game.
The Eagle offense appears to be sputtering without QB Carson Wentz throwing the football. After struggling down the stretch, I don’t think Foles will have the confidence to produce in the clutch if things get tight in the fourth quarter.
Falcons 23, Eagles 16
Saints at Vikings
Looking at the brackets before the playoffs began, I saw this second-round matchup as one of the most intriguing of the postseason. Now that it’s a reality, it’s a game that’s hard to call.
The Panthers were able to contain the Saints explosive RB duo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram in their wildcard game Sunday. Both were held to under 25 yards rushing.
I think Minnesota will be able to follow a similar blueprint with its stout defense and force QB Drew Brees to look downfield. Brees has answered such challenges in the past.
A crucial matchup is expected to be Vikings All-Pro CB Xavier Rhodes against Saints WR Michael Thomas, who is coming off a 131-yard game.
The well-rounded Vikings have shown Super Bowl swagger all season. I don’t look for the Saints to have enough all-around mojo to win.
Vikings 31, Saints 20
Jags at Steelers
The last time these teams met in Week 5, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger threw 5 INTs and said after the game that maybe he didn’t “have it anymore.”
To suggest Pittsburgh will have an easy time three months later against the Jags is foolish. As powerful as the Pittsburgh offense may appear, the Steelers barely squeezed out a 20-17 win against the Colts on Nov. 12, then clung to a 23-20 win against the Bengals on Dec. 4.
Jacksonville has the best defense in the NFL with the best two CBs. But even with that, the Jags are going to need more than 87 yards passing from QB Blake Bortles.
I look for the Jags D to harass Roethlisberger & Co., but I think their offense has become too inept to win on the road against a quality opponent. It would take two defensive TDs for the Jags to win this one.
Steelers 20, Jags 13