Tennessee Titans: Previewing the 2018 Schedule – Week 9

FOXBOROUGH, MA - AUGUST 9 : Ralph Webb #22 of the New England Patriots celebrates with Brandon Bolden #38 and Brian Hoyer #2 after scoring a two point conversion during the preseason game between the New England Patriots and the Washington Redskins at Gillette Stadium on August 9, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - AUGUST 9 : Ralph Webb #22 of the New England Patriots celebrates with Brandon Bolden #38 and Brian Hoyer #2 after scoring a two point conversion during the preseason game between the New England Patriots and the Washington Redskins at Gillette Stadium on August 9, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Continuing to examine the 2018 Tennessee Titans Opponents by taking a look at their Week 9 matchup against the New England Patriots.

Now that most rosters are largely set in stone following free agency and the draft, we can finally begin to look ahead to next season and gauge how the Tennessee Titans’ roster will match up with opponents’, as well as start to put together a rough estimate for wins and losses. With one preseason game in the bag, let’s take some time to preview how each team the Titans will face has changed over the offseason and whether that team is trending up or down in 2018.

Not much can be said about the New England Patriots that hasn’t been said thousands of times before. The Patriots yet again won the AFC East last season. They yet again earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC on the way to another Super Bowl appearance. Tom Brady earned the MVP award in his age 40 season. However, cracks began to appear in what has always been a united front sported by the Patriots. Rumors about Jimmy Garoppolo and Alex Guerrero, among others creating a rift between Brady, Bill Belichick, and Robert Kraft had some fans hoping that an end was in sight for the Patriots dynasty.

However, these rumors were never substantiated and had no ramifications for the Patriots as they dominated once again in 2017. Brady, Belichick, and Kraft remained extremely tight-lipped about the situation as they sent a strong message to the rest of the league: Even if we don’t like each other, we aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Even after losing key pieces like Julian Edelman and Dont’a Hightower, New England still fielded the No. 1 offense in football and a top five scoring defense.

In the postseason, the Patriots made short work of the Tennessee Titans in the divisional playoff round. The Titans were clearly outmatched after the first couple of drives. A more experienced and well-coached Patriots roster got into a groove and the Titans couldn’t keep up. Corey Davis had a breakout performance with two touchdown grabs, but the Patriots stymied other Tennessee playmakers, most notably Derrick Henry. When the game started to get out of hand, the Patriots started to pile up sacks (eight total) as Mariota held onto the ball longer.

Meanwhile, on offense, Brady picked Tennessee apart as Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis, and Rob Gronkowski ran roughshod over the Titans secondary. Brandon Bolden and James White chipped in with touchdowns on the ground, and the game was out of reach by the end of the second quarter.

The Titans are hoping to eventually reach a high enough level to not merely be another punching bag for New England en route to a championship bid, but rather become a legitimate contender to defeat the Patriots and win a Super Bowl title of their own.

New England’s roster looks vastly different in 2018 than the one that brought them an AFC Championship in 2017. Gone are key contributors like LT Nate Solder, RB Dion Lewis, CB Malcolm Butler, and WR Danny Amendola, who all received large contracts in free agency. The Patriots refrained from spending big in free agency, with some modest contracts handed out to players like RB Jeremy Hill, DE Adrian Clayborn, and WR Eric Decker, but if any team knows how to turn these bargain bin players into centerpieces, it’s the Patriots.

In the draft, the Patriots were relatively top-heavy with two first rounders, a second rounder, and several Day 3 picks. The obvious theme of the draft was replacing free agency departures. OL Isaiah Wynn will get an opportunity to earn Solder’s vacated LT spot or settle into a guard spot. RB Sony Michel figures to be Belichick’s replacement for Lewis, joining an already talented running back room. Michel has the potential to be a superstar for an offense that will draw a ton of attention away from him with established stars like Brady, Edelman, and TE Rob Gronkowski.

Second round CB Duke Dawson hopes to break New England’s poor draft history in the secondary after Butler fled for Tennessee following a mysterious benching in the Super Bowl. The remainder of the draft class will work to make the roster, but barring any surprises, will not make a big impact in year one for a roster that is already solidified.

New England suffered yet another loss when DC Matt Patricia left to coach the Detroit Lions. One of the defining characteristics of their extended run of dominance has been a bend-but-don’t-break defense that keeps them in a lot of games until the offense gets rolling. The Patriots didn’t rank outside of the top 10 in scoring defense in all of Patricia’s tenure from 2012 to 2017. The Patriots need new defensive play caller and LB coach Brian Flores to hold the Patriots defense to the same level of excellence in 2018 and moving forwards.

This is the major theme for the Patriots this season. They need to replace important contributors like Solder, Lewis, Butler, Amendola, and Patricia. If New England does not fill these talent voids, it opens the door for other teams in the AFC to push for a championship bid during the 2018 season.

In regards to their Week 9 bout with the Titans, the Patriots would be foolish to dismiss Tennessee after their convincing playoff victory last season. This Week 9 matchup pits former Patriots LB Mike Vrabel, now Titans HC, against Belichick and Brady for the first time. Vrabel has brought in a new coaching staff that won’t be out-coached so easily. New OC Matt LaFleur has crafted a new offense that will highlight the skills of playmakers like Mariota, Henry, newcomer Lewis, and Davis. DC Dean Pees, also formerly of the Patriots, welcomes new defensive playmakers like Butler, Kenny Vaccaro, Rashaan Evans, and Harold Landry, as the Titans attempt to transform a solid defense into a scary one.

This will be a homecoming game for several people in the Titans organization, from Vrabel to Butler to GM Jon Robinson. The Titans will not be dominated as they were in the AFC Divisional Round. They are more experienced and more talented than last season. That said, it’s extremely difficult to pick against Brady and the Patriots, regardless of their opponent. Until the Titans have proven that they can hang with elite AFC teams like the Steelers and Patriots, I can’t pick them to win in this Week 9 game.

Predicted Outcome:  Loss

Current Predicted Record (Updated Each Installment): 6-3

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