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Patriots dynasty must come to an end but Titans challenge likely to come up short

Paul Hosford takes a look at the NFL wildcard games coming up this weekend.

TIME, THEY SAY comes for all men.

upi-20191229 Tom Brady in action for the New England Patriots. Source: UPI/PA Images

Father Time in sport, as in life, is undefeated.

This Saturday in the frigid cold and rain, Time may come for the greatest quarterback in NFL history.

To believe the narrative pushed by smugly smiling sportscasters across the US media: Derrick Henry comin’. The NFL’s rushing leader will swagger into Gilette Stadium like Omar arriving into Hamsterdam and he and his Tennessee Titans will only need whistle and the greatest dynasty in the 100-year history of the NFL will come tumbling down.

And maybe it will happen. Maybe the Titans, who finished the season 9-7 and made it to the playoffs by beating a second-string Texans team, will topple the 12-4 reigning champions. Maybe Ryan Tannehill’s resurgence will see him win in his first playoff start and Mike Vrabel will go back to the place where he won three Super Bowl rings and be the apprentice who strikes down the old master.

There are reasons to back the Nashville team – the Titans boast the league’s leading rusher in Henry, the aforementioned Tannehill is a shoo-in for Comeback Player of the Year and AJ Brown is one of the leading contenders for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Meanwhile, their defense is full of capable, if unheralded, playmakers like Jurrell Casey, Jayon Brown and Logan Ryan.

So this Saturday night/Sunday morning may see something major happen.

And if it does, Sunday will be unbearable.

Because on Sunday in the event of a Titans win, the usual suspects of NFL media will throw a parade. They will tell us that it was they alone who told us so. That Nero-in-a-sleeveless-sweater fiddled as Tom Brady threw to whichever guy off the street fit in a navy blue uniform that weekend. They knew that the empire would come crumbling down for they are the seers of truth.

But these guys will crow only because it means they were finally right. They will wheel out the “I-told-you-sos” and they will dance on the grave of a team that has had an unprecedented and possibly unrepeatable stranglehold on the AFC for nearly two decades.

These talking heads will gloat despite the obvious fact that they have all, without fail, predicted the end for the Patriots in the last six years, a timespan which has seen New England rack up three Super Bowl wins in four appearances.

Year on year, a Shannon Sharpe or Max Kellerman, or both, has told the viewing public that this is it, the emperor will be struck down this time and time and again, Brady and co find a way not just to win, but to make the entire industry of football punditry feel obsolete.

But the prophesying about the death of the dynasty has moved to a point where now there are no rewards for being right.

If your big analytical take is that Brady is going to decline, well done, you pointed out that a 42-year-old won’t be able to play the most demanding position in sports as well as he had previously.

That isn’t insight, it’s being aware of the degrading effects time has on the human body. I feel the same every time my knee locks up while sitting down, pay me millions to spout nonsense on TV.

nfl-cleveland-browns-at-new-england-patriots Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

All good things

The other thing that these pundits miss is that the Patriots dynasty has to end – but never had to start in the first place. A coach who burned bridges with a divisional rival, a quarterback who came out of nowhere to become the greatest of all time, a slew of players turned from also-rans to champions – all in a sport designed not to have extended periods of dominance.

The Pats’ dynasty is a combination of talent, excruciatingly high standards and of execution. But it is also as much a combination of luck, serendipity and timing – the right owner found the right coach who found the right quarterback by way of his starter being injured on a freak hit as he jogged out of bounds.

In a league which is weighted against the creation of long-term success, the Patriots in the Brady/Belichick era have appeared in nine Super Bowls. Only twice since the hoodied one took over in 2000 have the Patiots won fewer than 10 games and one of those seasons they finished 9-7.

For perspective, the whole Cleveland Browns franchise has achieved a 10-game winning season once in the same timeframe.

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Belichick has amassed 30 playoff wins in New England, if Vrabel’s Titans do win on Saturday, it will be the franchise’s 16th since 1960 – the year Belichick turned 8.

Patriots fans don’t want to hear this, but of course the dynasty must end. The wheel must spin and a rebuild commence. There will come a time where they go to turn on the switch in the playoffs and it doesn’t work. There is a near future where Tom Brady isn’t the man under centre. There will be a time when, brace yourselves, the Bills or the Dolphins or the Jets win the AFC East. Probably not the Jets, actually.

But that doesn’t mean that what has been achieved by New England doesn’t stand alone as the greatest dynasty in the sport’s history and its end should not come with smug mocking, it should come with a wonder that it ever existed in the first place.

Calling it

As for the game itself, the key duels will come between the Patriots defense, which is the best in the league this year, and the Titans offense which has jumped into the top 10 in the league and has been ruthlessly efficient in the redzone all season. For a Pats D that prides itself on bending but never breaking, the plays inside the New England 20 will be key to who advances.

On the other side, the Patriots need an answer for their own woeful redzone numbers. The Patriots hit paydirt on just 50% of their trips inside the 20 – the seventh worst in the league. But as Patriots fans will tell you – this is New England in the playoffs. All stones will be unturned, all avenues to victory exhausted.

While it is easy to make a case for Tennessee to win this one, it may be a step too far for Tannehill and the boys. Home advantage, a Josh McDaniels playoff-scheme and the best D in football get the job done for me.

Pick: New England 27-21

 

The other games:

bills-allen-football Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen. Source: AP/PA Images

Buffalo (10-6) at Houston (10-6) 9.35 p.m, Saturday

Houston has the league’s 27th best run defense and if JJ Watt is healthy, he won’t be full speed. Playing a quarterback in Josh Allen who has amassed over 1,000 rushing yards in two seasons and a running back in Devin Singletary who is averaging over five yards per attempt, that could be a problem.

Pick: Buffalo 23-14

Minnesota (10-6) at New Orleans (13-3), 6.05pm, Sunday

Kirk Cousins is 0-2 as a playoff quarterback. He has also never won a Monday Night Football game in nine attempts. Can he break his big game hoodoo against a Saints team with a high-flying offense and an above average defense? Probably not, but having Dalvin Cook healthy will help.

Pick: New Orleans 31-20

Seattle (11-5) at Philadelphia (9-7), 9.40pm, Sunday

As a contest, this is the game of the weekend, with the resurgent Eagles facing a Seahawks team which went 1-3 in its last four games. This game will see two banged-up teams face off with huge pressure on both Russell Wilson and Carson Wentz to carry their teams to the Divisional weekend.

Without a running attack, Seattle has relied too heavily on the playmaking ability of Wilson and eventually that will stop working. For me, that happens on Sunday in the Linc.

Pick: Philadelphia 28-24

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