A good New Year’s resolution might be to complete the resolutions you made a year ago. Why make new ones if you never did last years?
That may be the attitude of the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs entering this year’s National Football League playoffs. For observers of the two conference championship games last season, it can be argued that the wrong teams advanced to the Super Bowl. For the first time since 1997, both visitors on Championship Sunday advanced with road wins.
In 1997, it was the Denver Broncos beating the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road and the Green Bay Packers downing the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. Last year, the Saints lost at home to the Los Angeles Rams and the Chiefs got clipped at Arrowhead Stadium by the New England Patriots.
The biggest difference between last season and the 1997 finals, was that both home teams could have won last year very easily. The Saints got robbed on a missed pass interference call and the Chiefs gave up a late lead on a New England drive extended by an off-side penalty. The Chiefs then lost the coin toss for overtime and never got their offense on the field in the extra period. Kansas City Quarterback Patrick Mahomes had guided the Chiefs to 24 fourth quarter points, and perhaps would have put up more had the Patriots not won the coin toss, opening the door for a Tom Brady winning touchdown drive.
So, you can understand why the Saints and Chiefs came into this season looking to complete the quest they fell short of accomplishing last year. So far, so good. Both the Saints and Chiefs have earned postseason berths, the Saints open play this week when they host the Minnesota Vikings and the Chiefs got a surprise opening postseason week bye when the New England Patriots were upset in their regular season finale in Foxboro by the Miami Dolphins, 27-24.
That loss, by the Patriots, forced them back to work this week instead of hosting a playoff game next week in the AFC Divisional round.
How did the Patriots lose to the Dolphins? They were favored by 17 points and needed the game … and didn’t get it. It is the first time since Bill Belichick and Tom Brady began their march through the league in 2001 that New England failed to get a regular season win they needed on the last day of the season in order to enhance their postseason seed.
In other words, this Patriots team is different than any other … and that is not good news for those fans in Foxboro rooting for their dynasty to make a fourth straight Super Bowl appearance.
The primary problem with the Patriots is their offense is missing a deep threat from the wideout position. Early in the season, New England took a short flyer on baggage toting Antonio Brown in an effort to rectify this deficiency. But, the problems Brown brought to New England off-field outweighed his on-field production and he was let go quicker than an interim coach at the end of a losing season.
Soon after, the Patriots acquired reliable receiver Mohamed Sanu from the Cincinnati Bengals, who is a capable pass catcher but not a deep threat to stretch a defense.
Couple this with the fact that Tom Brady may just be surrendering to father time, everyone eventually does, and you get a New England offense that is but a shadow of the units that assaulted opposing defenses during Brady’s magnificent career.
Do all these problems add up to New England being able to win, and cover a point spread to boot, when they host the Tennessee Titans this Saturday?
The Titans come to town with a couple obvious advantages.
They run the ball as well as any team in football, and season starting backup Ryan Tannehill looks like this year’s edition of Nick Foles from two years ago. In 2017, Foles took over for an injured Carson Wentz and guided the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl win over the Patriots, the only game New England has lost in their three straight trips to the final leg for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Unlike Foles, Tannehill was not forced into service by injury, but rather by the poor play of opening day starter Marcus Mariota. In his ten starts this season, Tannehill drove the Titans to the playoffs with seven wins which includes last week’s road triumph over the Houston Texans to earn an AFC Wild Card berth. The eight year NFL veteran also spent his first seven season with the Miami Dolphins, which means he has played against Brady and company 14 other times.
Does this give Tannehill an edge in that he knows New England, or the Patriots an edge because they know Tannehill?
You can view this game from pure stats, which shows the Titans rush for more yards per game and allow less yards per game than New England. For this and other reasons, the first move on this game was to the visitors in Foxboro, moving the opening point spread from the Patriots favored by five points to 4½ points. The line has crept back up to 5, but the buzz is much more on Tennessee in this Saturday night special.
While 54% of the public wagers are backing Tannehill and his Titans in this game with the points, I think we get one of those rare opportunities, based on last week’s home loss, where the Patriots are the more motivated team in this spot. Belichick has relied on preparation and talent to build his coaching Hall of Fame resume, on Saturday, he gets an edge he hasn’t enjoyed since his first Super Bowl season in 2001, a clear motivational edge.
Qoxhi Picks: New England Patriots (-5) over Tennessee Titans