SERIES HISTORY: New England leads the all-time series with Tennessee 20-16, although most of the games between the two teams took place when the Titans franchise was still in Houston. Their last meeting was a tough, physical playoff battle played in bone-chilling temperatures at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots prevailed 17-14 when Titans receiver Drew Bennett dropped a fourth down pass inside the 20-yard line. New England dominated this series early on, winning eight of nine contests between 1963-1967. The teams have met four times since the Titans moved to Tennessee, with the Patriots winning three of the four. Since 1981, the Patriots have taken eight of 11 games from their old AFL rivals.
2006 RANKINGS: Patriots: offense 11th (12th rush, 12th pass); defense 6th (5th rush, 13th pass). Titans: offense 27th (5th rush, 30th pass); defense 32nd (28th rush, 26th pass)
PREDICTION: Patriots 28-20
KEYS TO THE GAME: As impressive as Titans rookie QB Vince Young has been, he remains very sporadic in the passing game. He continues to struggle with his accuracy and doesn't have a stellar receiving corps. No one is better at exploiting a young quarterback than Patriots coach Bill Belichick, and he will feature a variety of looks and blitz packages that Young has never seen before. That makes it more imperative than ever that RB Travis Henry takes control of the ground game and keeps Young out of third-and-long situations in which he'll be forced to go to the air. But there is no denying Young's resiliency, and New England knows jumping out to an early lead isn't enough. The Patriots' running game has been more miss than hit lately, and New England would be wise to take the opportunity to get its ground game untracked against the Titans' poor run defense.
FAST FACTS: Patriots: Are 6-1 on the road this season. ... QB Tom Brady is 25-4 in games decided by seven points or less. Titans: Young has engineered four comebacks in the fourth quarter or overtime. ... Are 6-2 when Henry rushes for at least 70 yards.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS
In the Patriots' biggest game of the season at Jacksonville, the Jaguars had both the ball and momentum late in the fourth quarter trailing by only three points. The Patriots needed someone to make a play, and that someone was defensive end Jarvis Green. On Jacksonville's first offensive snap, Green hit Jaguars quarterback David Garrard from behind, forcing him to lose the football. Rodney Harrison recovered the fumble, securing New England's fourth consecutive division title and another postseason berth.
Late-game heroics are nothing new for Green. While he doesn't start, Green is one of the Patriots' top pass rushers and almost always is on the field late in the game when the Patriots are protecting a lead. Entering Week 17, Green has 6.5 sacks on the year, with four of them coming in the fourth quarter when the defensive end can just pin his ears back and get after the quarterback.
"If we have a big lead, usually a team's going to be passing more, trying to catch up, so we all know that," Green said. "I think if you start a game off, you don't know what you're going to get, but when (we've) got the lead, you know they're going to pass more."
In New England, Green is a situational player who has a specific role on the team. Playing with the likes of Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork on the defensive line, Green can get lost in the shuffle at times. While he's learned to accept and excel in his role with the Patriots, it was something Green had to get used to when New England selected him in the fourth round of the 2002 draft.
"No, it really wasn't difficult for me," Green said about not being a starter. "I'm not a selfish guy. I never was. I think things happen for a reason when it comes to the positions we're put in. And just try to take advantage of it. I mean, I wish I were out there a lot more in game-time conditions all the time no matter what happens. But I mean, it's a role I'm playing. When I go out there, I've just got to take advantage of the opportunity and just do well."
Green has certainly taken advantage of his opportunities. Entering 2006, he had 11 sacks in his four seasons with the Patriots. This year, however, Green already has more than half his career total with one game to go. That includes a three-sack performance in Cincinnati and the game-clincher in Jacksonville. Green is having his best season on a defense that's been dominating up front and is on a record-setting pace when it comes to total points allowed.
Green believes the defensive line's success has a lot to with the fact that the unit plays together and believes in one another on the football field.
"We have a lot of guys in here that play hard," he said. "Everybody has specific responsibilities. We play together well ... because guys are playing for each other out there. We know that and we know this is all we have. We trust in one another that each guy is going to do their job, and when you have that kind of trust on defense, good things can happen."
By The Numbers: Plus-5 -- Both the Patriots and Titans are +5 in turnover differential this season. That's tied for ninth in the NFL.
They Said It: "This was a t-shirt and hat game. Any time you have a chance to clinch the division, it's a t-shirt and hat game." -- Tedy Bruschi, talking about receiving his AFC East Champion shirt and hat after the Patriots wrapped up the division title in Jacksonville on Sunday.
Vince Young has talked plenty this season about how his confidence in his ability to play in the NFL never wavered.
But this week he admitted he had some doubts about making the jump from the University of Texas a year early while the Titans struggled to an 0-5 start. He's only talking about that now because after a remarkable turnaround, the Titans are 8-7 and could get into the playoffs this weekend with a win and three other favorable results.
"I was wondering if I should have stayed in college because of all the stuff going on," Young said. "It was to the point that we were getting our butts whipped and all the stuff that was going on on the sideline.
"I was like, 'What is going on? What have I gotten myself into?' But at the same time it was a learning process for me and a learning process for the rest of the guys."
Once the Titans started winning and building some confidence, he felt things change.
"Now you see the leaders ... and you don't see what you saw at the beginning of the season," he said. "Basically we are having more fun as a team."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick didn't sound anxious about designing a game plan that could slow Young.
"He's hard to deal with," Belichick said. "He does a lot of things well, and he's difficult for any defense to stop. We've seen that from some of the best defenses in this league already. Baltimore is a good example. All the teams have had trouble with him."
By The Numbers: 6 -- Wins in a row for Tennessee. Only San Diego (9) carries a longer streak. Chicago and Philadelphia have each won four in a row.
They Said It: "Accurate, great decision-maker, the key to the whole offense. He's the quintessential triggerman in the NFL. It all revolves around him." -- Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
--QB Tom Brady was the lone player not present Thursday at the media-access portion for the second day in a row. He's probable on the team's injury report with a right shoulder injury.
--DB Chad Scott hasn't been playing as much recently in favor of Ellis Hobbs. Scott is questionable (back) and Hobbs probable (wrist) for Sunday.
--TE Ben Watson (knee) has missed the Patriots' past two games, as has NT Vince Wilfork (ankle). However, both players returned to practice Wednesday, and both are questionable for Sunday.
--S Rodney Harrison (shoulder) made his return last week after suffering a broken shoulder in early November. He is listed as probable for this week's game against the Titans.
--RB Kevin Faulk (knee) played last week in Jacksonville but is questionable for Sunday's game.
--QB Vince Young admitted this week he was dealing with some doubts early this season when the Titans were struggling about whether he should have stayed in school for his senior year at Texas. He's not doubting much these days, with an 8-4 record as a starter and a six-game winning streak.
--RB Travis Henry (ankle) practiced Thursday and looked quick. The Patriots know him well from his time in the same division with Buffalo. He's never rushed for 100 yards against New England, but he has totaled 89 and 98 yards in games against the Patriots.
--TE Bo Scaife (ankle) returned to practice Wednesday after missing two weeks and is optimistic he will be ready to play Sunday against the Patriots.
--WR Drew Bennett has traditionally finished slowly, and he's gone without a catch the last two weeks. He's set to become a free agent in March.
--WR Bobby Wade (ankle) missed his second consecutive practice Thursday but expects to be fine Sunday against New England.
--DE Travis LaBoy (knee) missed his second consecutive practice Thursday but should be able to play against New England on Sunday.
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