The local New England media — ourselves included — is writing off the Tennessee Titans. We’re on to the AFC Championship Game and pre-planning our trips to the Super Bowl for the Patriots’ inevitable trip.
Don’t be mistaken, though. The Patriots themselves aren’t looking past the Titans in their divisional-round matchup Saturday night. And they shouldn’t. Bill Belichick delivered 400 words Tuesday pumping up the Patriots’ opponents like the Titans are the 2017 equivalent of the 1980s San Francisco 49ers.
You could have come away wondering how the Patriots could possibly win Saturday. Quarterback Marcus Mariota has done “a great job for them running the ball, throwing the ball, managing the team,” tight end Delanie Walker is “outstanding,” the wide receivers are “explosive,” defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is “as good as there is,” defensive tackle Jurrell Casey is a “great player” and safety Kevin Byard has had a “tremendous year.” Throw in punter Brett Kern, who’s “as good as any” and kicker Ryan Succop, who had “another great year kicking the ball” and you might think the Patriots don’t stand a chance.
“We prepare for everybody,” Belichick said Thursday. “We prepare for everybody’s best game.”
This is a weekly tradition. Belichick hypes up the opposing team, reporters kind of chuckle about how overboard he goes, but the team buys in. The apex of absurdity came when he called New York Jets quarterback Bryce Petty “impressive” two weeks ago. But it works.
The Patriots went 13-3 this season, and by all appearances in the locker room, the Patriots are taking the Titans very, very seriously, despite their 9-7 record and negative point differential this season.
“I know people are counting us out, but I think this is the kind of team people make movies about,” offensive tackle Taylor Lewan told reporters this week in Tennessee.
Later, he got a bit fired up when asked about the Titans’ betting odds. The Titans are 14-point underdogs Saturday and 80-to-1 to win the Super Bowl.
“I don’t give two f—s one way or the other,” Lewan said. “It was an eight-point spread last week. This week it’s more. So what?”
The Titans absolutely have been overlooked by the media this week. They’ve also been disrespected by Las Vegas, so it’s not as if this confidence the Patriots will win handily is coming from nowhere. It has been described as “bulletin board material.” But is it really bulletin board material if it’s not coming from the opposing locker room? The Patriots have been nothing but respectful to the Titans.
Meanwhile, Byard said he wants to make Patriots quarterback Tom Brady look like beleaguered Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blake Bortles. That’s actual bulletin board material.
All of this is to say if the Patriots lose Saturday (it ain’t happening), it will be because they played terribly. It won’t be because the Titans came in extra motivated because bunch of nerds on laptops thought they’d get drubbed.