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Where: LP Field, Nashville, Tennessee
The New England Patriots bring an eight-game winning streak on season openers as it heads to Tennessee for a 1 p.m kickoff on Sunday. Led by Tom Brady, the Patriots are once again the consensus pick to win the AFC title and return to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the New York Giants last season. The Tennessee Titans, on the other hand, are turning the reins over to second-year QB Jake Locker in the hopes of reviving a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2009.
Running back Chris Johnson will be a key to Tennessee’s success. Johnson held out of training camp last season in a contract squabble, and once the bell rang he fizzled out of the gate, gaining just over 1,000 yards in a dismal season. Johnson, however, looked sharp at times in the preseason and will need a big game for the upset-minded Titans. The last time these two teams met, the Patriots won 59-0 in 2009.
ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (2011: 13-3): Brady has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 32 straight games and has eight scoring passes and no interceptions in his last three games vs. the Titans. New England is once again unproven at running back as Stevan Ridley will replace BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who signed with Cincinnati in the offseason. Ridley averaged 5.1 yards a carry in limited action last season, but the Patriots rely on the arm of Brady and they added WR Brandon Lloyd to his aerial arsenal that already included All-Pro Wes Welker and tight end sensations Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. New England finished third in the NFL in scoring last season and anything less than a return to the Super Bowl will be deemed a disappointment for Bill Belichick’s squad.
ABOUT THE TITANS (2011: 9-7): Locker will make his first career start. The second-year QB out of Washington completed 34 of 66 passes for 542 yards last season with four touchdowns and was solid in his most extensive action, a 22-17 loss vs. New Orleans. Locker will have to go without the Titans’ top deep receiver, Kenny Britt, who was suspended one game by the NFL for a DUI, but Johnson appears poised to return to the upper echelon of NFL running backs. He scored a pair of touchdowns in limited time as the Titans went 3-1 in the preseason. Tennessee was surprisingly 31st in the NFL in rushing last season and placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of Johnson, who went over 100 yards in a game only four times. The Titans are 5-2 in season openers at LP Field since 1999.
1. The Patriots have won six of the last eight games in the series.
2. New England’s porous defense ranked 31st in the NFL last season.
3. Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer installed more run-’n-shoot concepts in the offseason.