Although NFL watchers have been expecting the end of the Bill Belichick / Tom Brady era in New England for years, it never felt more imminent than after the shocking home defeat against a Dolphins team that was in a row against the Jets and the Giants lost.
The debacle brought the patriots from second on the grid, which had more peace and home advantage in the division round, to third on the grid, which had to survive the wildcard weekend before having to win the hard-fought Kansas City and the USA street games, probably Baltimore just to reach the Super Bowl.
One step at a time. Let's see how the patriots compete with the titans in the second game of the AFC double playoff on Saturday:
Tennessee: (+5) in New England, 8:15 p.m., CBS
Tennessee 12th attack, 21st defense, 23rd schedule, +6 sales margin
New England: 15th attack, first defense, 30th schedule, +21 sales margin
A couple of red flags for the patriots. They had a very slow schedule, as shown by USA Today's Jeff Sagarin leaderboard. The offense may not have hit the top 20 against a league average slate. And a sales margin of plus 21 is much easier to achieve on a soft schedule than on playoff opponents – especially when the two toughest challenges are street games.
The patriots opened as favorites from -5¹ / ₂. Early money was on the Underdog Titans. The line went back to five by the middle of the week and has been jumping back and forth ever since. It is significant that Sharps did not wait for the public to increase the number to six. Professional weather doesn't feel any real enthusiasm after last week's madness.
- The case for New England: Although the offensive was a big disappointment compared to previous standards, the defense could easily win a one-sided victory. In the few yards of the regular season, it took first place in the league. And it could force failures from Ryan Tannehill, a high-risk, high-reward quarterback. This creates potential for cheap Patriots takeaway points. Experience things in the playoffs. The basics speak clearly for New England.
- The case for Tennessee: Obviously, the patriots are not in great shape. Tennessee has played its best ball of the season since handing over the offensive reins to Tannehill. The Titans come with nothing to lose and would love to set a tone for the future direction of the franchise with a huge road playoff victory over a legendary franchise.
Nobody would be shocked if New England was knocked off. Much of the country said the chargers came to visit last January. New England led 35-7 at halftime.
Bettors will have to decide whether the Belichick / Brady combo still has this extra equipment, or we've already gone from the beginning to the most dominant era in NFL history.