NFL Playoffs: All Eyes On Marcus Mariota vs New England Patriots


THE REIGNING SUPER Bowl champions reached a seventh consecutive AFC Championship Game in the early hours of Sunday morning with a comfortable victory over the Tennessee Titans.

Both New England and Atlanta reached the conference championship round in 2017.

Regardless, NFL playoff games generally come down to the quarterback play, and the discrepancy between the haves and have-nots in each of the four divisional games is stark - and likely the reason the teams considered the "haves" will advance to the championship round.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota was the beneficiary of a couple of dubious calls last week but did make some spectacular plays, nearly reminding one that he won the Heisman Trophy with the Oregon Ducks, but he has been even more inconsistent than Henry during his three-year professional career. The best thing to happen to the Patriots was all the outside noise.

Chris Hogan should be back to team up with Tom Brady on Saturday.

"Embarrassed", Mariota said. "You don't play to come and lose in the divisional playoffs".

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But should we dismiss Tennessee so quickly? The Pats are favored by two touchdowns as they look to advance to an unbelievable seventh consecutive AFC championship game, but as the Titans proved last week after they were given a 0.6 percent chance of winning at one point in the third quarter, they know how to defy the odds.

If Mariota, Henry and Casey dominate and the Titans avoid big mistakes (Mariota threw a career-high 15 interceptions during the regular season), they'll have a small shot. And they certainly think highly of Tennessee. The Titans won in impressive fashion when they overcame a 21-3 deficit at halftime and outscored the Chiefs 19-0 after the half.

Tennessee's pride are 13.5 point dogs in this one which seems a lot but again, NOBODY wins in Foxborough in January unless they are wearing silver and blue.

Remember who beat the Patriots - convincingly - in the season opener? Yeah, the Titans can play. Like the Patriots, the Titans were towards the bottom of the league in pass defense, and have improved to the point where they've finished in the middle of the pack numbers-wise. The Patriots put up a late touchdown to complete the scoring.

"Whether you are pressuring or whether you are going coverage, if he knows where you are going, then he is going to be pretty effective", LeBeau said. Three-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey had six from his interior spot, while Morgan led the Titans with 7 ½ sacks. However, they managed just 159 yards the rest of the way as the Patriots' defence kept the Tennessee ground game in check.

The Titans have three players who once played for New England: starting right guard Josh Kline, cornerback Logan Ryan and backup quarterback Matt Cassel. The Titans have yet to give up 100 receiving yards to a tight end this year and if they're going to win in New England, they have to somehow limit Gronkowski's touches.