Live Free Picks
Home Of 500 Handicappers
The Patriots can officially put the sour taste of last season’s Super Bowl loss behind them on Sunday afternoon as they face a Tennessee team led by Jake Locker, who makes his first career start at QB after beating out Matt Hasselbeck in training camp.
Now the Titans clearly belong to Locker, a first-round pick last season. But can the athletic passer keep it that way? He’ll be tested immediately by last year’s AFC Super Bowl representatives, who boast a retooled defense that has been shored up on the back end. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly the Pats can make us forget about the leaky unit from last year.
Pats coach Bill Belichick has made a living toying with the confidence of young quarterbacks, and it will be no surprise when he pulls something out of his bag of tricks for Locker. The second-year Titans signal-caller will be a bundle of nerves, and Belichick will likely disguise defenses to prevent him from settling in. However, the fact that Locker can rely on the speedy Chris Johnson should give him some comfort.
The interior of the Titans’ offensive line gets far weaker as you go from the outside in. Running up the middle right at Vince Wilfork is never a good recipe for success. Compounding matters, New England features three big run stuffers on the second level behind Wilfork and company — Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower. But Johnson’s rare speed might allow the Titans to attack the outside successfully. Given Locker’s running ability, Tennessee might be wise to have the second-year quarterback keep a handoff or two for himself and dash off tackle.
The Patriots’ offensive line was very poor through the preseason; Tennessee’s young defensive line was quite impressive. Karl Klug is a vastly underrated interior pass-rusher, and Kamerion Wimbley adds a speed dimension off the edge that Tennessee missed dramatically in 2011.
New England leads the all-time series 21-15-1 and has won six of the past eight. The clubs haven’t met the Pats won 59-0 in 2009 when Brady threw a career-high-tying six touchdown passes.
PATRIOTS NOTES: NE has won 8 straight games on Kickoff Weekend, longest active streak in NFL … For career, Brady is 124-35 (.780), best regular-season record in SB era (min. 100 starts). Brady (300) needs TD pass to surpass HOFer John Elway (300) for 5th-most TD passes in NFL history. Has thrown at least 1 TD pass in 32 straight games. In past 3 vs. Ten., Brady has completed 61 of 89 passes (68.5 pct.) for 824 yards with 8 TDs vs. 0 INTs & 127.7 passer rating … RB Stevan Ridley averaged 5.1 yards per carry (87 att., 441 rush yards) as rookie last season …WR Wes Welker (554) needs 4 catches to surpass TROY BROWN (557) for most in franchise history. Had 10 receptions for 150 yards with 2 TDs in last game vs. Titans … Since ’10, TE Rob Gronkowski ranks 2nd in NFL with 27 TD catches (Calvin Johnson, 28). Gronkowski (90 catches, 1,327 yards) & TE Aaron Hernandez (79 catches, 910 yards) combined for most catches (169) & receiving yards (2,237) by pair of TEs in season in NFL history … DT Vince Wilfork had career-high 3.5 sacks last season … CB Devin McCourty is twin brother of Titans CB Jason McCourty
TITANS NOTES: Selected No. 8 overall in 2011 NFL Draft, Locker will make 1st career start … Since ’08, RB Johnson has NFL-best 5,645 rush yards. Johnson (38) needs 2 rush TDs to join HOFer Earl Campbell (73) & Eddie George (64) as only players to reach 40 career in club annals. In only career meeting against Patriots (10/18/09), Johnson rushed for 128 yards on 17 carries (7.5 avg.). Johnson had career-high 57 catches in ’11 … WR Nate Washington led team in catches (74) & receiving yards (1,023) in ’11, both career-highs. Rookie WR Kendall Wright (No. 20 overall) will make NFL debut …TE Jared Cook had career-best in receptions (49), receiving yards (759) & TD rec. (3) last season …T Michael Roos has made 112 consecutive starts since entering NFL in ’05 … DE Kamerion Wimbley will make Titans debut. In past 2 seasons (w/Oak.), Wimbley has totaled 16 sacks. DT Karl Klug registered team-high 7 sacks as rookie in ’11… S Jordan Babineaux led Titans with 117 tackles last season.
WAGERWEB.COM TRENDS: Patriots are 6-2 ATS in their last 8 games on grass. Patriots are 49-24-3 ATS in their last 76 road games. Titans are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games in Week 1. Titans are 12-5 ATS in their last 17 games in September. Titans are 2-5 ATS in their last 7 home games. Titans are 1-3-1 ATS in their last 5 vs. AFC. Titans are 0-3-1 ATS in their last 4 games overall.
INJURY REPORT: PATRIOTS: DNP: G Nick McDonald (shoulder), RB Shane Vereen (foot). LIMITED: TE Daniel Fells (shin), S Sterling Moore (knee), T Sebastian Vollmer (back). FULL: S Patrick Chung (shoulder). TITANS: DNP: DT Sen’Derrick Marks (knee), T Mike Otto (finger/knee), DE Scott Solomon (knee). FULL: DT Jurrell Casey (elbow), LB Zac Diles (hamstring).