Patriots heavy favorites tonight
Two things, among many, have been consistent for the Patriots the past decade: Tom Brady at quarterback and New England in the AFC championship game.
Brady will try to lead his team to its seventh straight conference title game tonight when it hosts the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round.
It has been a challenging week off the field for the Patriots following reports of turmoil involving Brady, coach Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft. But Brady says he’s never doubted his team’s ability to compartmentalize potential distractions.
“I think we have a job to do and we know what our job is and that’s to go out and play football at a high level and play well,” he said. “Nothing really should get in the way of that.”
Tennessee hasn’t been to a conference championship game since the 2002 season, but has been invigorated coming off its first playoff win in 14 years.
The Titans enter as 13-point underdog, but linebacker Derrick Morgan said it’s a role they happily embrace .
“Nobody respects us. Nobody really expects a lot from us. That’s fine,” he said. “We haven’t been a very successful team in the last 10 years. So it’s easy for people to overlook us. So we’ve got to take care of business and start winning games like this to get the respect that we desire.”
To get it, they’ll have to stop a quarterback that has been nearly unbeatable in this round of the postseason.
Brady is 11-2 in 13 divisional-round games since 2002 , passing for 3,700 yards and 28 touchdowns.
He also has a 6-1 career record against the Titans with 13 touchdowns and just one interception.
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota was mostly unflappable in leading his team back from an 18-point halftime deficit to beat Kansas City — the largest comeback on road in Super Bowl era.
But since 2001, quarterbacks making their first or second career playoff start are 0-7 against New England.
“When it comes down to it, it’s all about us,” Mariota said. “I think that’s kind of been the mindset through this entire season. Ups and downs come and go, you just want to try and make the most of this opportunity.”
Some things to watch on tonight:
MOVING ON UP
It will be Bill Belichick’s 37th career playoff game as a head coach, breaking a tie with Tom Landry and Don Shula for the most in NFL history.
Mariota, the 2014 Heisman winner, and Derrick Henry, the 2015 Heisman winner, combined to turn in the best rushing performance in franchise history in the wild-card round. Henry ran for a career-high 156 yards, and Mariota added 46 yards. Henry will be starting his third straight game with DeMarco Murray already out (right knee).