Tennessee Titans (3-10 SU, 4-8-1 ATS) vs. New England Patriots (11-2 SU, 6-4-3 ATS)
Pro Football Week 15
Date/Time: Sunday, December 20th, 1:00 PM EST
Where: Gillette Stadium
By Mike M., NFL Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: TENN +14 / NE -14
Over/Under Total: 47
Marcus Mariotta and the 3-10 Tennessee Titans travel to Massachusetts to take on the 11-2 New England Patriots in a week 14 battle of teams at opposite ends of the NFL spectrum. The Patriots have dominated the Titans since they changed identities from the Houston Oilers, sporting a 6-1 record against the team after they moved to Tennessee which includes a current five game winning streak with their only loss coming to a Steve McNair/Eddie George led team in Tom Bradys first season as starter. The Patriots have also wrecked havoc on the Titans division the AFC North, going 34-8 against the North members since the divisions inception in 2002, and their superiority has become more evident in recent years as New England has now gone undefeated at 14-0 since 2010 against the opposite-of-the-Four-Horseman grouping of Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Tennessee.
The Titans are coming off of a 30-8 against the New York Jets that saw them get thoroughly outplayed in every facet of the game and had interim head coach Mike Mularkey and star tight end Delanie Walker questioning the teams effort and desire after the shellacking was over. Tennessee was 1-6 when Ken Whisenhut was fired and Mularkey had done reasonably well all things considered since inheriting the team as the interlude leader up until the Jets loss, guiding his squad to a 2-3 record with two of the losses coming in one possession games that they had a chance to win in the fourth quarter. How the team responds to last weeks defeat will go a long way in deciding whether Mularkey is signed on as full time head coach at seasons end.
Tennessee rookie quarterback Marcus Mariotta has performed better than expected in his first year in the NFL, throwing for 2786 yards and nineteen touchdowns while also running for 252 yards and two scores through thirteen games. Last week he became the first player since the legendary Walter Payton in 1983 to have a 40+ yard touchdown pass, run and reception in the season when he caught a 41 yard touchdown pass from running back Antonio Andrews to avoid the shutout against New York last week. While the Titans offense has struggled for the most part on the year, ranking 27th in yards per game and 29th in points per game, Mariotta has done well with little help surrounding him. Tight end Delanie Walker has been the lone bright spot amongst the teams receiving threats, ranking first in catches with 74 (which more than doubles the next highest player on the team) and touchdowns with four. Supposed top wide receiver Kendall Wright has battled injuries all season while no one has come close to stepping up and taking the reigns to lead a shoddy Titans backfield that averages less a 100 yards per game as a team and had only 24 total rushing yards against the Jets last week. With playmaker RB/WR Dexter McCluster now lost for the year to injury due to a broken wrist, the question remains as to how an offense already severely lacking in firepower can somehow keep up with up with the Patriots this weekend in Foxboro.
Last weeks 27-6 New England victory against Houston coupled with Miamis loss on Monday night clinched the Patriots seventh straight AFC East title and the team has now won the division in twelve out of the past thirteen seasons (in comparison, their week 16 opponent New York Jets has won just two divisional titles since the 1970 league merger, which is tied for lowest amongst the 32 teams in the NFL). Their continued success is a testament to Robert Kraft, who has now seen his Patriots make the playoffs in 17 of the 22 seasons he has owned the team, which is remarkable improvement over the 6 appearance in the previous 34 seasons before he arrived to save the team from a move to Connecticut and fully invest in making them the most consistently successful team in all of sports since the turn of the century.
Unfortunately for Krafts Patriots their victory last week came with a price as they were again hit hard by injuries, this time losing running back LeGarrette Blount and defensive lineman Dominique Easley for the year due to maladies they suffered against the Texans. To offset the loss of Blount at running back the Patriots signed former Denver Broncos 2013 second round pick Montee Ball to their practice squad this week. Ball entered the 2014 season entrenched as the Bronco backfield leader and ranked in the top 10 of many a preseason fantasy football ranking but fell disastrously short of expectations, ending the season with just 172 yards rushing and one touchdown.
Defensive captain Devin McCourty and lineman Jonathan Freeny were also hurt during the game and are expected to miss the remainder of the regular season but thankfully for New England should return for the Patriots first playoff game when they host a divisional round playoff game in mid-January. They are currently the top seed in the AFC with Denver and Cincinnati, who play each other next week, one game behind them. The Patriots will be favored in their remaining three games and if they can hold serve for the rest of the regular season will have home field throughout the AFC portion of the playoffs. With Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton now lost for the season and the Broncos dealing with inconsistencies from their signal caller Brock Osweiller, New England has a great opportunity to set themselves up for a strong run at back-to-back Super Bowl championships by closing out their season with authority.
The line for this weeks game opened with New England installed as a thirteen point and quickly jumped up to fourteen which it has settled in at since. Giving double digit points in the NFL is never easy, especially this season with underdogs getting ten points or more sporting a 11-6 mark against the spread and winning five of those games outright, which as any of you involved in knockout pools know has wrecked havoc on many an entry during the season. Despite all of that, its difficult to come up with reasons not to take the Patriots. Their success in December has been well documented and they are going against a team that cant come close to matching them offensively and doesnt have the defensive personnel to stop a New England offense no matter how beaten up it is, especially with Rob Gronkowski returning to action after missing time due to injury and instantly creating matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. The Titans/Oilers havent won in Foxboro in 36 years and that streak will continue on after Sunday with the Patriots getting a blowout win in cover at home.
Mikes Pick to Cover the Point Spread: New England -14
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