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The Patriots Will Face a Young Titans Team With Something to Prove

The Titans may be 3-10 and on pace for the #1 overall pick, but that doesn't mean they won't punt this game.

"We're on to Tennessee" - Bill Belichick, probably.
"We're on to Tennessee" - Bill Belichick, probably.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Titans are certainly at a crossroads right now. After a miserable 2-14 season, the Titans haven't improved much in the W-L column despite some infusion of talent at the QB position after picking Marcus Mariota 2nd overall in the draft. That resulted in them firing their coach, Ken Whisenhunt, after a 1-7 start. The Titans will be picking likely in the Top 5 and will certainly have a new coach next season. Even with the impending changes coming forth, there is no reason that the Titans will punt this game. If the Patriots believe that the Titans will just roll over, they are in for a rude awakening on Sunday.

Even though the Titans aren't playing for postseason aspirations, there are still plenty of reasons for them to give it everything they got. For many of the players, it's a chance to for them to play into a job for the next season. For impending free agents and fringe roster players, it's a chance to audition for 31 other teams. These teams look at what the players can offer on the football field and figure out whether they are worth signing or trading for. That includes the Patriots, who have offseason holes to fill when their season ends. Instead of playing to win, the Titans players are playing for a job for any of the 32 teams. There are a finite number of roster spots open and about 500+ rookies expected to join the NFL in the offseason.

The Patriots cannot afford to take the Titans lightly on Sunday. Bill Belichick will complement the Titans and make it sound like they're a Super Bowl caliber team in the press conferences, but that doesn't mean much to the players. The season is winding down and the Patriots have already clinched a playoff spot and essentially the division even though it's not mathematically clinched. The Patriots must treat this game as a Hats and T-Shirts game, because a win against Tennessee gives them the division title and better than 50% odds to clinch a playoff bye as well. As the games against the Broncos and Eagles have proved, this Patriots team is very beatable if they are not careful. If the regular season goal is to clinch Home Field Advantage for the AFC Playoffs, this is a must win.

The Patriots certainly have more battle-tested talent on their team than the Titans, but the difference in talent between the two teams is very small and the margin of error for the Patriots is not that big. The Titans are a 3-10 team likely headed towards a 3-13 or 4-12 season record, but the Patriots cannot treated this as a roll over game and hope that showing up is enough to beat the Titans. Everyone but the Titans players are expecting this game to be a cakewalk for the Patriots, which means the Titans have nothing to lose. The Patriots likely need 2 wins to clinch HFA in the playoffs, but I prefer they win their next two games and be able to rest their key players for Week 17, assuming the Steelers still care about their season and beat Denver on Sunday.