4:50 p.m.: Rex Burkhead reportedly is not expected to play tonight, but his jersey was featured in a pregame tweet from the Patriots’ official Twitter account.
Just mind games from the team? We’ll find out for sure when inactives are announced at 6:45 p.m. ET.
2:15 p.m. ET: Good afternoon from Gillette Stadium, where, in just a few short hours, the New England Patriots will continue their quest for a second consecutive Super Bowl title.
After finishing the regular season 13-3 and earning a first-round playoff bye, the Patriots will host the Tennessee Titans tonight in the divisional round. The winner advances to the AFC Championship Game. The loser’s season is over.
The Titans finished 9-7 and snuck into the playoffs via a wild-card spot, then upset the Kansas City Chiefs on the road last weekend. They’re led by dynamic quarterback Marcus Mariota, who engineered an 18-point second-half comeback against Kansas City, and big-bodied running back Derrick Henry, who trampled the Chiefs to the tune of a career-high 156 rushing yards.
This will be Mariota’s second career playoff game. His counterpart, Patriots QB Tom Brady, has 34 postseason starts to his credit and is seeking his seventh consecutive AFC title game appearance.
The Patriots largely are healthy entering this game, though they reportedly will be without running backs Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee. Wide receiver Chris Hogan and linebacker Kyle Van Noy, both of whom played sparingly down the stretch, were removed from the injury report this week and have been cleared to play.
Even with Burkhead out, look for the Patriots to try to exploit Tennessee’s poor pass defense against running backs. The Titans ranked dead last in DVOA against backs during the regular season and also struggled mightily against tight ends, ranking 24th in that category. They’ll be facing the best in the business tonight in All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, who topped 140 receiving yards twice in New England’s last four games.
The Patriots have dominated the Titans throughout the Brady/Bill Belichick era, going 6-1 in seven meetings, including one in the 2003 divisional round. Tennessee has not beaten New England since 2002 and has not won in Foxboro since 1993.
Kickoff is set for 8:15 p.m. ET, but be sure to check back here throughout the afternoon for full pregame coverage.