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New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, center, is folded up and sacked by a group of Tennessee Titans in the second half on Nov. 11, 2018, in Nashville. The Titans stunned the Patriots by winning 34-10, and now the teams will meet for the first time since then by squaring off in the first round of the AFC playoffs next weekend. / AP photo by Mark Zaleski

Now that the Tennessee Titans have officially reached their second postseason in three years with Sunday's 35-14 win at Houston, I want to believe they can go further than the wild-card weekend.

After all, this is a Titans bunch that's had one of the three or four best offenses in the AFC since benching quarterback Marcus Mariota after that 2-4 start and replacing him with Ryan Tannehill. And the defense isn't awful; far from it.

This team has balance, the NFL's top rusher for the season in Derrick Henry — after his amazing 211-yard, three-touchdown, 32-carry effort against the Texans on a supposedly gimpy hamstring — and a bit of momentum.

And just to praise Henry for being as solid a person as he is a player, when asked what it meant to him to reach 1,540 yards and win the rushing title, he ended a long list of people he wanted to thank by including "the people who clean our (headquarters) building."

It doesn't get much more decent and thoughtful than that.

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Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel talks to head linesman Jerry Bergman during the first half of Sunday's game against the host Houston Texans. / AP photo by Michael Wyke

Unfortunately, the Titans' road through the playoffs starts next weekend in New England, against the world champion Patriots, their matchless coach Bill Belichick and their six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady.

And even if the Pats did rather shockingly lose 27-24 at home to 17-point underdog Miami on Sunday in Foxborough, Massachusetts, they're still the Pats, which brought this absurdly astute comment from almost always absurdly astute CBS analyst Tony Romo near the close of the Titans' win: "Everything you see all year (from the Patriots), you may not see any of in the playoffs."

Of course, the Patriots also saw a lot more than they wanted to of the Titans a year ago in Nashville during the regular season. In an early November game that signaled what Titans coach and former New England player Mike Vrabel was capable of, Tennessee crushed New England 34-10.

Never mind that the Pats shook off that loss well enough to win it all while the Titans went on to miss the playoffs. Those Titans, at least on offense, were not nearly as good as these Titans. Nor do these Pats appear to be as good as those Pats.

So it could work out the way everybody throughout the Volunteer State no doubt hopes it will. The Titans could shock the reigning champs on their own field, then travel to Kansas City in the divisional round with a probable trip to Baltimore for the AFC title game should they advance that far.

Just in case you've forgotten, the Titans likely saved their season with a 35-32 comeback win over the Chiefs on Nov. 10. Tennessee also came from behind to shock them in KC in a wild-card game two years ago before losing at New England the following week.

"We're just getting started," Tannehill told CBS after Sunday's win. "We're going to have to play well. But I believe in our guys. I believe we're going to get it done."

New England fans may or may not be worried about the Titans, but the Patriots have serious history to overcome if they are to repeat as champs, starting with the fact that none of their six Super Bowl titles have come when not afforded a bye to start the playoffs.

Beyond that, after an 8-0 start this season, New England has not only dropped four of its past eight games, it suffered the biggest upset of the NFL season (where the point spread is concerned) by losing to the Dolphins, according to ESPN.

"We needed our best football," Belichick said in defeat. "We didn't have it today. Hopefully it will be there next week."

The Titans will obviously need their best football as well to overcome the Pats and their top-ranked defense. But these same Titans have averaged 30 points a game since Tannehill took over at quarterback 10 games ago. Over the past seven, they've averaged 33 points as he has hit more than 70% of his passes.

Then again, this will also be the first playoff game of his career, which began in 2012 with the Dolphins. As Romo said earlier, there may be no worse team to begin such an experience against than Belichick's Patriots.

But Romo also said this Sunday evening: "Everybody can win a (playoff) game or two in the AFC."

If Belichick can have his Pats playing their best football, it's hard to see the Titans winning. But if for whatever reason the Pats don't, including the Titans playing as they have more times than not their past 10 starts, Tennessee just might win at least one postseason game for the second time in three years.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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