With a bye week coming up for the Patriots, it’s safe to say that every fan in New England will be waiting with anticipation to find out who the first opponent will be one week from Saturday when they next take the field.
Looking at the two games in play for the AFC next weekend, it presents a couple of good match-ups that should set up an interesting postseason run for this year’s Patriots team.
Up first will see the Titans head out to Kansas City to face the Chiefs. Looking at this game, the odds are pretty good that Tennessee won’t be able to handle a Chiefs team that really came on at the end of the year and ran off four straight victories and seems to have the momentum. Tennessee, meanwhile, managed to eek out a win against Jacksonville but had lost three in a row prior to that game.
The biggest X-factor in that match-up will be which Marcus Mariota we’ll see in that game. Mariota threw for less than 200 yards in four of Tennessee’s final six games and only threw for more than one touchdown three times all season. In fact, he threw more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (13) in 2017.
But one of the biggest moments in Sunday’s win was a run by Mariota on 3rd-and-5 where he willed his way to a first down with just over 2-minutes left in the game, keeping the chains moving while allowing Tennessee to keep the ball out of Blake Bortles’ hands until there was just 0:18 left to play to essentially secure the victory.
However, against the Chiefs, he’ll have to put up points if he hopes to keep his team in the game. Kansas City has scored 27 or more points in all but one of their home games, compiling a 6-2 record over that span. That seems unlikely and unless he can keep the Titans in the game, it would be hard to see Tennessee winning this one. Needless to say, the more likely opponent for New England next weekend will probably be the Chiefs.
Predicted Divisional Round Opponent: Chiefs
It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Jaguars upset Pittsburgh and end up in Foxboro. (USA TODAY Images)
Meanwhile, the Jaguars had their way against the Steelers earlier this season, showing no fear at Heinz Field as they forced five interceptions by Ben Roethlisberger, who was so distraught after the game he was questioning his future.
Despite their loss to Tennessee this past Sunday, the Jaguars are still playing good defense and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they upset the Bills and advance into the Divisional round. That’s where things get a little interesting if the Patriots are able to get redemption against Kansas City.
With a potential match-up against New England riding on their success in this game, it’s entirely possible the Steelers could be looking a little too far ahead when the Jaguars come into Pittsburgh. As a result, seeing Jacksonville shock the Steelers’ faithful and force an early playoff exit doesn’t seem as much of a longshot as some may think. The Jaguars have already done it once and if they’re able to beat Buffalo, it will be another confidence boost to use against an opponent who should have every reason to be afraid of a Jacksonville club who has already surprised everyone to get to where they are.
It would be pretty hilarious to see Pittsburgh be one-and-done, which would probably set up an interesting offseason after another squandered season by a group that had championship aspirations.
Last year, Roethlisberger was pondering retirement after New England knocked them out. If Pittsburgh goes down against Jacksonville, expect a similar situation after this one as well.
Predicted AFC Championship Opponent*: Jacksonville
(*if NE advances)
It should be a fun couple of weeks and hopefully, it’s New England who is left standing by the time it’s over. This is what Belichick’s club has fought so hard for to get to this point, so we’ll see how the second season plays out when they next hit the field in two weeks.