- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Here are some things Patriots fans need to know about their season-opening opponent:
General outlook: Tennessee is one of those teams that’s hard to gauge. The Titans quietly won nine games last year and challenged the Houston Texans for the top spot in the AFC South. However, Tennessee’s offense is going through a big change at quarterback by starting second-year player Jake Locker. This will be Locker’s first career start, and it’s against Patriots future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick, who had nearly two weeks to prepare.
No Britt: Everyone knows the Patriots’ pass defense isn’t great. That is why New England’s corners and safeties caught a nice break when the NFL suspended Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt one game for off-the-field misconduct. Britt, a former first-round draft pick, has the ability to be a No. 1 receiver. But constant distractions off the field and injuries have hurt his impact with the Titans. Taking a talented receiver away from a young quarterback will hurt Tennessee’s chances.
Rushing the QB: Tennessee’s best chance to win this game is getting to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. New England’s offensive line is in flux at the moment with several players working their way back from injuries. It has not been a smooth preseason in that regard, as Brady took several big shots in limited playing time. The Titans struggled last year rushing the passer. Tennessee was 31st in the NFL with 28 sacks. That’s why the Titans made a key addition to get pass-rushing specialist Kamerion Wimbley, who has 42.5 career sacks.
Overall projection: We are going to hold our firm prediction until later this week, but this should not be the runaway blowout many expect. Yes, the Patriots are the better team. But even good teams can start slow in the regular-season opener, especially on the road. Tennessee’s strengths match up well with New England in some areas and could present some problems.