The minute the Titans were named to play the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in the NFL playoffs, the Titans were widely pronounced as a heavy road underdog.
The Titans didn’t even have a chance to enjoy upsetting Kansas City on the road.
The Vegas betting line made the Patriots a 13½-point favorite. That number was out Monday and it has not budged 24 hours before Saturday’s game.
Everyone that I have heard agree the Titans have their work cut out for them if they want to shock the world.
When I started this column, my wife Sharon quickly said, “They’re going to get killed.’’
This is from someone who has never been to a Titans game. She thinks Tom Brady was one of TV’s Brady Bunch. So don’t take her word for gospel.
Frankly, there are a large number of people around town just like her, even hardcore Titans fans.
Now at Saint Thomas Sports Park, the people who will have a hand in the outcome are the Titans players and coaches.
They are the ones that matter and you won’t find one player or coach that will agree with those on sports talk radio, TV sportscasters and any other columnists and talking heads.
The first, and I promised the last time, I covered the Patriots-Titans in a divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium was on Jan. 10, 2004. It was a Saturday night game. The high temperature reached a sultry 4 degrees. The wind chill was 7 degrees short of zero.
Tailgaters’ beer froze solid. I couldn’t feel my feet. The Titans gave the home team Patriots a scare.
It was tied 14-all when wide receiver Derrick Mason caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Steve McNair.
On a fourth-and-12, McNair hit Drew Bennett from the Pats’ 33-yard line in stride down the left sideline. It was perfect, yet somehow the ball eluded Bennett’s hands.
I talked to current Titans radio analyst Dave McGinnis this week about the game. He was an assistant coach on Jeff Fisher’s staff that game.
“All (Bennett) had to do was catch the ball,’’ McGinnis sighed.
The frozen home crowd of 68,000 exhaled icicles and the Patriots went on to win their second Super Bowl in three years.
So fast forward to Saturday’s game.
Titans Coach Mike Mularkey is 0-6 against Pats’ coach Bill Belichick. Belichick is 6-1 against the Titans.
New England fans are typically confident and believe their team is bulletproof. They are treating this game as a bye week.
To pull an upset, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota must be at his best. He has to avoid interceptions and fumbles. Second year running back Derrick Henry is coming off the best game (156 yards) in his short NFL career in the win at Kansas City. Veteran running back DeMarco Murray is out for the second straight game, leaving the load to Henry.
The offensive line has to have its most productive game and the receivers have to hold on to the football.
Defensively, it is going to be interesting to see how they fare against Brady and man-child tight end Rob Gronkowski.
In this regular season the Titans ranked No. 23 in NFL overall total offense. They were 15 in rushing, 23 in passing. Defensively the Titans ranked No. 13 in total defense, 4th against the run and 25 in pass defense.
Brady is 40 years old and has 25 playoff wins. By comparison, Mariota is 24 years old and has one playoff win.
“He’s the best,’’ Mariota said of Brady this week. “He’s been that a long time.’’
Will youth be served on foreign turf?
Or will the curse of Drew Bennett prevail?
Joe Biddle is a WKRN.com sports columnist. He is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.