Can we stop?
The notion that Bill Belichick’s decision to bench Malcolm Butler in Super Bowl LII was a prescient move based on how badly the Tennessee Titans cornerback has struggled this season is a ridiculous leap for every “Do Your Job” apologist. We’re supposed to now settle the biggest mystery in New England sports history this side of Craig Grebeck’s vanishing act with the elementary conclusion that, “Oh…Bill knew?”
The former Patriots Super Bowl hero has been a disaster with the Titans, having allowed the most receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns by any cornerback in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. This has put the “In Bill We Trust” crowd into a tizzy, using Butler’s struggles as Example No. 4,567 why Belichick is ahead of everybody’s curve.
Mind you, Butler landed a $61 million deal over five years with the Titans during the offseason. The Patriots, before Belichick found his Butler truth serum, apparently, had offered him $66 million over six years the previous year.
What did Bill know then?
Or, what did Bill know last March when the Patriots reportedly offered offensive tackle Nate Solder a similar deal to the four-year, $62 million contract he received from the New York Giants? The same deal that’s considered among the worst of the offseason?
Nate Solder said that the Giants and Patriots offered somewhat equal money.
— Patricia Traina (@Patricia_Traina) March 16, 2018
Butler has been bad, but let’s not play this out like the guy was nothing more than a product of the Patriots, lacking any discernible talent.
As for why he didn’t play in the Super Bowl, well, someone should ask Belichick.
This week’s picks:
Erik Bacharach, The Tennessean: Patriots 27, Titans 20. “The Patriots are averaging 35.5 points per game over the past six weeks. That’s a runaway freight train of an offense barreling toward Nissan Stadium. The Titans’ sparkling defense will do some things to slow New England down, but not enough for their offense to keep up.”
Joe Rexrode, The Tennessean: Patriots 30, Titans 23. “The Titans can move the ball on the Patriots and score some points. But the Titans’ NFL-best scoring defense is going to take a hit after Tom Brady and Josh Gordon.”
Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Patriots 27, Titans 21. “Incentive-intangibles point to a home-team upset. Pats bounced Tennessee from playoffs last season. Titans coach Mike Vrabel played for Belichick, and OC Dean Pees is a Belichick protege’. That stuff aside, Patriots are way better and Marcus Mariota ain’t outscoring Tom Brady.”
Jimmy Kempski, Philly Voice: Patriots. “In Tom Brady’s last five games against Tennessee (he’s gone 5-0), the Patriots have outscored the Titans 201-66. This Titans team isn’t exactly good, sooooooo I kinda like Tom’s chances to smoke them again.”
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Patriots 30, Titans 17. “This game pits former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel, now the coach of the Titans, against Bill Belichick. That will be interesting. The Titans impressed Monday night in beating Dallas, but New England’s defense will slow Marcus Mariota’s little surge and the Patriots will go into Nashville and handle the Titans.”
CBS Sports staff: Six out of eight pick New England (+6.5 Titans). Everybody likes the Pats straight-up.
Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Titans 20, Patriots 17. “The Patriots have won six in a row, but Tom Brady has been bothered by pressure (if such a thing is possible) the past two games. If the Titans can generate the same pressure on Brady they did against Dak Prescott, you get the Upset Special.”
David Steele, Sporting News: Patriots 23, Titans 19. “Is it fair to tout this as a playoff rematch, seeing as how Bill Belichick and Co. are unlikely to even acknowledge it? The Titans will feel it, for what it’s worth, and they’re just unpredictable enough to make this interesting — they beat the Eagles and Cowboys, but in between lost three in a row. The Patriots’ defense is creeping toward its playoff groove, which is not what Marcus Mariota needs to see even after his bounce-back game Monday night.”
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 30, Titans 21. “The Patriots will see some familiar faces, as Jon Robinson, Mike Vrabel, Dean Pees, Malcolm Butler and Dion Lewis all work for the opposite side. They hope to be a little healthier on offense with Sony Michel and Rob Gronkwoski, but if not, Tom Brady will find the right matchups in a spread passing game. The running of Marcus Mariota and Lewis can keep the Titans hanging around, but New England will exploit Butler for a couple key scoring plays to stay ahead.”
Michael Hurley, CBS Boston: Patriots (-7). “Did you know that the Tennessee Titans are 12-3 in their last 15 home games? Did ya? Bet ya didn’t. That gives me pause here, as does the fact that this game is sandwiched right after a prime-time Packers showdown and a bye week for the Patriots. If ever the most disciplined and focused team were to let their eyes stray from the goal a bit, it would be this week. But the Titans just aren’t very good. They are not. (I’m only 5-4 in Patriots picks this year. That’s also not good.)
SB Nation staff: All New England.
Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 27, Titans 17. “The Titans are capable of beating anyone. The Patriots currently don’t seem to be susceptible to losing to anyone.”
Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 24, Titans 13. “It’s student against teacher with Mike Vrabel coaching against Bill Belichick, and I’ll take the Patriots’ defense to shut down the Titans’ offense.”
MassLive staff: All Patriots (-6.5). “The Titans are 4-4, but they actually lead the NFL in average points allowed giving up just 17.6 per game. That and the game being on the road should make this a game to at least be a little careful with for the Patriots.”
Joe Giglio, NJ.com: Patriots (-6.5). “The Titans will make this interesting for a while, but expect the Patriots to pick on Malcolm Butler and pull away in the second half.”
FiveThirtyEight: Patriots with a 63 percent chance of winning.
Elliot Harrison, NFL.com: Patriots 26, Titans 17. “Could this be where the Patriots’ winning streak ends? New England has garnered six straight victories, putting up gobs of points when needed (SEE: Chiefs, Packers), held the fort when needed (SEE: Dolphins, Bills, Packers) and made waves on special teams when needed (SEE: Bears). What will be necessary versus the suddenly unstuck Titans? Solid blocking up front, for starters, and solid special teams play. This Tennessee defense is no joke. The Titans are first in the entire NFL in offensive points allowed (141). They are also hell on wheels in the red zone, where they allow 1.6 yards per play, a 51.2 passer rating and touchdowns only 31.8 percent of the time. The Pats must create rushing lanes and let Tom Brady pat the ball when the field is squeezed near the Titans’ goal line. And Stephen Gostkowski must be money. He is so money he doesn’t even know he is money.”
It says here: Patriots 33, Titans 21. This game is going to be less about how the Patriots attack Malcolm Butler than it is about how Vrabel stands his own against Belichick.