Clint's Corner Archive

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The source for back issues of Clint's Corner. Forget a trade? Were Clint's predictions correct? Here's every edition, verbatim.

For 1/7/2004

Short straw...

So much for hosting the "lowest advancing seed." Is this what the Patriots reward is for going 14-2 and earning the #1 seed in the conference? Hosting the Titans?

I know that the Titans are in fact the lowest advancing seed, but the Titans are not the 5th best team in the AFC, nor were the Ravens the 4th best. While in Indy, Kansas City, Tennessee, and New England the four best teams in the conference are still standing, I think the Pats drew the best of 'em. The Titans did lose to the Colts twice this season, but it matters little how your opponent matches up against some other team. It only matters how a team matches up against you, and I'd feel a heck of a lot better right now if Indy or Kansas City were on their way into town.

In the Colts 29-27 victory over Tennessee in week 14, the Colts scored a touchdown and three field goals in four consecutive possessions without the Titans offense even stepping foot on the field thanks to two critical turnovers in the kicking game. This permitted the Colts turn a 10-6 deficit into a 22-10 lead early in the 3rd quarter while Steve McNair, Eddie George and Derek Mason sat and watched from the sidelines.

The Titans, of course, came roaring back. On the Colts final two possessions they went 3-and-out, putting the Titans back on the field where McNair first engineered a touchdown drive to close the score to 29-27 with just under two minutes to play. Following their 2nd 3-and-out, the Colts found themselves punting from deep in their own territory with the Titans only needing a field goal to win it. Tennessee's 3rd special teams turnover of the day prevented that from happening (and some folks have the nerve to say the Pats were "lucky" to win in Indy). The Titans have not lost a game since.

The Colts and Chiefs are certainly great teams, each capable of advancing to and winning the Super Bowl, but the Pats and Titans are the most complete teams in the conference. The Titans do not care that they're going on the road. The Titans do not care that it will be 5 degrees outside. The team and their coach are seasoned in what it takes to win in the playoffs. More or less, the Titans from the coaching staff on down to the players are as close to a mirror image of the Patriots you're going to get in the NFL. Not sure you could say all of those things about the Colts or Chiefs.

I did not write a column last week, but had I done so I'd have told you I was pulling for either Baltimore or Denver to pay the Pats a visit. The Ravens have a great defense, but I'm not so sure the Anthony Wright-led Ravens offense would have fared any better than the Dolphins or Cowboys did in Gillette Stadium. Jake Plummer? I'd take my chances with him all day long over Steve McNair, even an injured Steve McNair. The Broncos defense is also not nearly as formidable as the Titans.

Forget the Pats 38-30 win over Tennessee back in week 5. Irrelevant is not a strong enough word. Each team was missing key personnel, with the Pats more banged up without the services of Mike Vrabel, Ted Washington, Willie McGinest, Kevin Faulk and Daniel Graham. Ty Law played sparingly that day on a very hobbled ankle. While the Titans are still nicked and bruised, their missing starters are back. The Patriots released their injury report on Wednesday and there isn't so much as a punctuation mark to be found on it.

The early line has the Patriots established as 5.5-point favorites. The Pats were double-digit underdogs in their previous two playoff contests in Pittsburgh and Super Bowl XXXVI. How will they respond to being favored? Not only are the Pats favored, they are almost expected to advance to and win the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. Had the '01 team lost in Pittsburgh or to the Rams, it would still have been a storybook season. Should the '03 edition lose to the Titans on Saturday, they'll join the ranks of the '01 Bears, '00 Titans, and '96 Broncos, all teams who had spectacular regular seasons yet failed to win their first playoff game at home. Anyone care that the Broncos '97 Super Bowl Championship team didn't even win the AFC West? How does that '97 wildcard team compare to the #1 seeded '96 edition historically? Essentially the '96 squad was just another team.

On our side...

Speaking of history, it's certainly on the Patriots side. The Pats are 4-0 at home in the playoffs since 1978. They have won 12 consecutive games this season with half of those victories coming against teams finishing with 10 or more wins. The Patriots are undefeated at home this season, winning 11 consecutive home games overall going back to last season (including the '03 preseason). Since the depleted defense surrendered 30 points to the Titans on October 5th, the Patriots have allowed just one touchdown and five field goals at home in a 6-game span which included shutouts of the Cowboys, Dolphins and Bills. The one TD was a meaningless garbage time desperation heave by the Jaguars' Byron Leftwich.

In the past 5 years, the "bye" teams in the NFL are a collective 17-3, and 32-8 in the past 10. Granted the Titans are coming off a very impressive win in round 1, but that's nothing new either. The Raiders in '01 were fresh off a drubbing of the New York Jets the prior week. The Steelers in '96 had dismantled the Colts at home prior to losing 28-3 in the Foxboro "Fog Bowl." Even last season, the AFC East champion Jets were readily handled by the Raiders in Oakland one week after opening the playoffs with a 41-0 shutout of Peyton Manning's Colts in the Meadowlands.

Plain and simple, the Titans were the better team last week and deserved to win the game. While they are getting a lot of credit for beating the Ravens in Baltimore, be reminded that the 12-4 Titans were 1-point favorites over the 10-6 Ravens, hence the outcome was not an "upset." All four favorites, in fact, won last weekend.

The Ravens defense may be ranked statistically higher than the Pats, but the Titans offense will definitely find the going much tougher against the Patriots defense at Gillette Stadium. Defensive rankings, as I mentioned in last week's columns, are based on yardage allowed. The Patriots scored 28 points in one half against the AFC's #1 defense two weeks ago. What counts is points and turnovers, and the Pats are #1 in both departments allowing an average of 15.9 points per game (8.5 at home) while totaling 29 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries. Tennessee will not rush for over 100 yards this Saturday, and McNair will find the pocket even less desirable than it was last Saturday when he threw 3 interceptions.

On defense, the Titans last week knew that if they shut down Jamal Lewis, the Ravens offense would be grounded. It's the same game plan many a team threw at the Ravens unsuccessfully, but give the Titans a ton of credit in limiting Lewis to just 7 first half carries and 35 rushing yards overall. The Titans will likely be successful in limiting the Patriots 30th ranked rushing attack, but unlike last week, there's a small matter of an MVP candidate quarterback to contend with as well. Which receiver do you focus on shutting down if you're the Titans' defensive coordinator? Givens? Branch? Brown? Fauria? Graham? The backs? Brady and the passing attack are not dependent on any one guy, and that's a good thing.

With temps expected to be in the single digits playing on newly "planted" turf, the conditions are not ripe for offense, although Green Bay and Seattle put up 54 points in regulation last week under similar conditions. I expect history to hold to form. The Titans are a great team and are coming off an impressive win, but all of the intangibles point to the Patriots in this one.

My one fear: the cardiac Patriots have too often this season found themselves with a slim lead late in the game with the ball in the hands of the opposing quarterback. They thwarted late attempts at heroics on the part of Chad Pennington, Jay Fiedler, Peyton Manning, Tony Banks and Danny Kanell, but I'd hate to see the ball in Steve McNair's hands in a similar situation with the clock winding down.

Being raised as New England sports fans, we're all conditioned to taking the glass half empty approach, and for good reason. This team is different. They have a championship trophy in the stadium that's 6 weeks younger than my 2-year old son, Bill Belichick is no Grady Little, and Tom Brady is no Bill Buckner. What can I say? I'm already booked on American Airlines to Texas.

No matter what, we'll see you next week. Go Pats!