Once again the Patriots control their destiny for the top seed in the AFC and can clinch by winning out. However, I would prefer that they clinch in Week 16 and rest in Week 17 instead. Either way, the Patriots need this game in order to get Home Field Advantage in the playoffs to force teams to come to Foxboro. The Titans are a speed bump in the Patriots hype train, but it's also an opportunity to clean up some of the mistakes that's affected them on Special Teams and Offense. This may turn out to be a glorified practice game or it will a close game that the Patriots don't want to be in. If the Patriots get out to an early and comfortable lead, they can use the rest of the game as essentially a practice for the Jets and to get their guys ready for the postseason.
Find Your RB: The Patriots have lost both Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount for the year. Right now, only Brandon Bolden and James White are the RBs on the roster with Montee Ball on the practice squad. We don't know who will be the go-to-guy when it comes to running the ball between the tackles. The Patriots are in talks with Steven Jackson, but the discussion hasn't gotten further than preliminary talks. The Titans still boast a solid front 7, which means running the ball won't be easy. Bolden may wind up as the guy with James White playing a 3rd down role. We saw that against Houston and unless someone else enters the discussion, that's the likely plan moving forward. Patriots will sign someone to play RB at some point before the postseason.
Attack the Titans On the Perimeter: The Patriots also need to work on the perimeter passing game. The Patriots have Keshawn Martin and Brandon LaFell as their primary outside guys. LaFell is struggling to catch the ball and Martin posted a solid effort against his former team last week. While Martin probably won't be starting in January due to the return of Julian Edelman, this is a chance for him to earn the 4th WR job and get playing time when the Patriots want to go 10 personnel although that's unlikely when you have Rob Gronkowski. Everyone knows that Gronk is the primary threat, but any additional weapons that the defense has to account for can make a difference in January. I predict that Martin will post season high totals in catches and yards.
Keep Marcus Mariota in the Pocket: The theme with mobile QBs is to make them throw from the pocket. Mariota is the most gifted mobile QB in the NFL, although he is a rookie. The Patriots must rush controlled, which means the secondary will have to cover for an extra half second. The Patriots cannot afford for Mariota to be able to scramble and play backyard football, even with the Titans inexperienced receiving corps. Mariota is a lot taller than Tyrod Taylor, but the game plan should remain the same to keep him from making plays with his feet or buying time for his receivers to uncover in the scramble drill. If the Patriots can keep Mariota in the pocket, that's where the pass rush and the secondary can get him.
Take Away Delanie Walker: The Titans have some young talent in their receiving corps, but their most reliable receiver is their TE Delanie Walker. Patrick Chung will be the primary coverage guy against Walker, but I would not be surprised if they have their edge rusher delay his rush to slow down Walker's release. All three of the Patriots top DEs are very capable and willing to chip the TE on his release, even if that means losing a half-second on the rush. It's no different than how defenses are trying to limit Gronk. The Titans will certainly try to move Walker around the formation, so that means he could line up as a split-end, tight-end, or H-back and will use him to force the defense to reveal coverage when they do. If the Patriots can force him to throw to less reliable targets, they have a chance to make stops.