Hannable: In case you forgot, Patriots have a divisional game this weekend and aren’t entering postseason playing their best

Ryan Hannable
January 10, 2018 - 11:19 pm

Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

FOXBORO — With all the drama that has gone on in and around One Patriot Place the last week or so, it’s easy to forget the Patriots are actually playing a meaningful football game Saturday night.

New England will host Tennessee in the divisional round with a trip to the AFC title game on the line. 

While the off-field stuff has overtaken talk about the actual game, the opponent has something to do with that as well. The Titans don’t appear to pose much of a threat.

The Patriots have beaten the Titans the last six times they have played, including one postseason game, and Tennessee was aided by the Chiefs blowing a 18-point lead last week in its wild card matchup. Like some past divisional round games, it’s hard to get excited, especially considering the Patriots are 13-point favorites.

Just because the Patriots are so heavily favored, it shouldn’t discount the fact that the Patriots aren’t exactly going into the postseason playing their best football of the season, especially on offense.

Sure, the Patriots won 11 of their last 12 games, but did the performances down the stretch give off confidence entering the postseason?

In Week 17, the Patriots beat the helpless Jets 26-6, but didn’t take complete control of the game until near halftime because of some sloppy offensive play.

Same thing goes for Week 16 against the Bills. Yes, the Patriots came away with a 21-point win, but they actually trailed until the end of the third quarter.

Top receiver Brandin Cooks doesn’t appear to completely be on the same page as Tom Brady. Brady was just 12-for-30 targeting him in the final four games, and for the year, when targeting him on third down, Brady was just 7-for-26. In the postseason it seems teams will make sure Rob Gronkowski doesn’t beat them, so Cooks will be asked to make a few plays down the field and be on the same page as Brady.

Speaking of Brady, despite being the heavy favorite to win the MVP, he isn’t at the top of his game as well.

The 40-year-old hasn’t thrown for more than 300 yards in a game since Week 11. He also closed the year by throwing six interceptions in his final six games, including in five straight for just the second time in his career. His 48.6 completion percentage against the Jets to close out the season was his worst since Week 1 (44.4 percent).

Certainly his struggles down the stretch can be attributed to an offense that was missing Chris Hogan (played in one game since bye), James White (missed final two games), Rex Burkhead (missed final two games) and then Gronkowski wasn’t targeted the final week. It’s also worth noting Brady has been battling multiple injuries over the course of the season. 

So while it doesn’t appear the Patriots are in serious danger of falling to the Titans, it is the playoffs and one mistake could potentially be the end of the season. 

This is the message Bill Belichick is preaching to his team this week.

“It’s a one-game season,” he said Tuesday. “This is what you work for, is to get to this position. Now we’re in it. Now you put everything that you have into this one-game season. We have one game left against the Titans. We have to play better than they do to be able to continue playing. That’s a huge challenge. Obviously, every team that’s playing, I mean, there are eight teams left. All eight of them are good teams. Every team is good at this time of year. There’s a reason why they’re here. 

“They’ve earned their way here. There’s no other reason why you’re playing this weekend unless you’ve earned it. We’ve earned it, the Titans have earned it and I’m sure it’ll be a very competitive game. They got a great football team. I can see why they’re here. They’re good, as I said, in all three phases of the game. They’re well coached. They’re a solid team. They’ve played under pressure. They’ve won under pressure. They’ve won on the road. They’ve had a good year and they’ve got a good team, so we’re going to have to be at our best. We know that.”

This isn’t meant to send alarms across New England that the season could end Saturday night, it’s just a reminder this isn’t Week 7, this is the postseason and not the time to get caught up in the outside noise.

It’s time to turn the focus towards the game and away from the off-field drama.

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