As long as the opponent isn’t the New York Giants, the Patriots have fared quite well in the Brady/Belichick era going up against an opponent as inferior – at least on paper – as these Tennessee Titans in the playoffs.
Currently, the Titans are -13.5-point underdogs for Saturday’s divisional round game at Gillette Stadium. Since 2001, they’ll be the sixth team to square off against New England as a double-digit underdog in the postseason and the fourth team the Patriots have faced with a negative regular season point-differential. Tennessee scored 334 points this season but gave up 356, good enough for a minus-22 point-differential.
While not outright in every occasion, New England has won four of its five games under Belichick and Brady as double-digit favorites, Super Bowl XLII vs. the Giants the lone exception. The Patriots survived against the Jaguars and Chargers in the ’07 playoffs, though failed to cover the lofty line, and demolished Tim Tebow’s Broncos in 2011 and Brock Osweiler’s Texans just last season.
The Patriots have won two of their three playoff games since 2001 against negative point-differential teams; once again, it’s the Giants to throw a wrench into the theorem thanks to their win in Super Bowl XLVI. In addition to being double-digit dogs, the Tebow Broncos (minus-81) and Osweiler Texans (minus-49) had ghastly point-differentials in the regular season.
Tom Brady made his lone appearance at the podium in Foxboro this week as he continues to prepare to extend his NFL record of postseason games played. When he takes the field Saturday (8:15 p.m., CBS), Brady will be appearing in his 35th playoff game. Former Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri is the only other player in league history to appear in even 30.
Speaking to reporters for the first time since a story was published on ESPN.com last Friday which detailed an alleged rift between Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft and himself, Brady said that the negative coverage surrounding the team this week hasn’t been a distraction to him or any of the players in the locker room.
“We do what we always do,” Brady said. “We show up to work and try to do the best we can do. We know there’s a lot at stake and I think everyone’s put a lot into it. It doesn’t really matter what happened outside of this facility and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Brady declined to touch on his new documentary series set to drop on Facebook in the coming months, “Tom vs. Time.” When pressed about it, Brady simply noted the importance of the Tennessee game.
“That’s a good question,” Brady told the reporter who asked. “This is about Tennessee. We’re two days from the biggest game of the year.”
“But the trailer just came out,” the reporter said. “I’m just wondering why you’re doing it and what message you’re trying to convey?”
“We’ll see,” Brady said. “We’ll see after the Tennessee game.”
Perfect Attendance at Practice
Finally, the Patriots have achieved perfection. Sort of.
As Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald pointed out, the Patriots had perfect attendance at practice today for the first time since Sept. 29.
Running back Mike Gillislee returned after missing Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s sessions with a knee injury, while linebacker Marquis Flowers was back after being absent yesterday with an illness.
Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who missed the entire regular season with a knee injury, was again seen at the media portion of today’s practice.
Mitchell is on injured reserve with a designation to return and must be activated by Tuesday if he’s to return for the AFC Championship Game and/or the Super Bowl. Since Mitchell is still on IR, he is not listed on the Patriots’ practice report.
Chris Hogan and Kyle Van Noy were removed from the injury report issued after practice, meaning they are good to go for Saturday. Six players are listed as questionable for New England: Gillislee, Marquis Flowers, Alan Branch, Rex Burkhead, Eric Lee and James White.
Titans running back DeMarco Murray has already been ruled out for the game.
Surprisingly, over 20 percent of New England’s 53-man roster has never appeared in a playoff game.
Twelve players could make their postseason debuts vs. the Titans on Saturday night, including Stephon Gilmore, Brandin Cooks, Mike Gillislee, Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett, LaAdrian Waddle, Deatrich Wise Jr., Adam Butler, Eric Lee, Jacob Hollister, Cole Croston and Nic Grigsby.
The last six players listed are rookies, including Wise, who is the lone Patriots’ draft pick from last April that is on the active roster. Wise played in bowl games each of his final three years at the University of Arkansas, but this will be his first true win-or-go-home endeavor.
“To me, it’s just like prepping for another regular season game, but I know it’s not,” Wise said, acknowledging the differences between the regular and postseasons. “This week has been intense.”
Wise has had a solid rookie season for New England, registering 5.0 sacks – third on the team behind Trey Flowers and Kyle Van Noy.
“[I’m] looking forward to it,” Wise said of playing in his first NFL postseason game. “I’ve just been studying the film day in, day out. “I’m just trying to improve daily. I started scouting them [the Titans] once we found out who we were playing.”
Britt has waited the longest out of any of the players to appear in a postseason game. Originally drafted in 2009 by the Titans, Britt has bounced around from one bleak situation to the next – Tennessee, St. Louis and Cleveland – before landing in Foxboro and launching on to the postseason stage.