FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Experience matters.
So does talent.
This is why the Patriots will march on to next week’s AFC Championship game, toward a sixth Super Bowl title and second in a row and toward rewriting the NFL history books.
This is why the Titans, bless their near two-touchdown-underdog hearts, have as much of a chance to upset the Patriots in Saturday night’s divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium as Tom Brady’s fitness guru, Alex Guerrero, has of sharing an office with Bill Belichick next season.
There are an avalanche of forces against a Titans upset of the Patriots, beginning with the fact the Patriots have 41 players on their roster who have played in at least one playoff game. The Titans have 18.
The Patriots are a remarkable 18-3 in playoff games at Gillette Stadium since it opened in 2002, including 9-1 in the divisional round. They last lost a home playoff game in 2012 and are 107-21 overall at Gillette. The Patriots are 25-9 in the postseason under Belichick.
The Titans, who are in the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season, last won at Foxborough in 1993, back when they were still the Houston Oilers and nine years before Gillette Stadium opened.
You need only to look at the quarterbacks in this game to decipher the disparity in experience, not to mention production.
Brady is playing in his 14th divisional playoff game, surpassing Jerry Rice for the most divisional-round playoff appearances in NFL history. This is the first for Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Brady, who is 14-0 in the playoffs when he has a quarterback rating of at least 95.0, finished the season with a 102.8 rating, completing 66.3 percent of his passes and throwing for 4,577 yards, 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Mariota’s passer rating was 79.3, and he completed 62 percent of his passes for 3,232 yards, 13 TDs and 15 INTs.
The Patriots and Titans haven’t played each other since the 2015 season, but in the seven games in which Brady and Belichick have faced the Titans, the Patriots are 6-1, including a playoff win in January 2004.
This game has mismatch written in indelible ink, which has the Titans both irked by the nationwide disrespect and understanding of the circumstances.
After the Titans upset the Chiefs in the wild-card game last weekend to advance to this game, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy tweeted: “Titans at Gillette Saturday. Patriots first team in NFL history awarded back-to-back bye weeks before the AFC Championship.’’
That kind of dismissal, as you might imagine, has not gone over well in Tennessee.
“I know people are counting us out, but I think this is the kind of team people make movies about,” Titans tackle Taylor Lewan told reporters.
Of the Patriots being 13 ¹/₂-point favorites to win, Lewan said: “I don’t give two [expletive] one way or the other. It was an eight-point spread last week [in Kansas City]. This week it’s more. So what?”
The Titans, who overcame a 21-3 Chiefs lead to win 22-21, are listed as 80-1 to win the Super Bowl by some Las Vegas bookmakers — longer odds than they were listed in some places before the season began.
“How many teams are left in the playoffs? And we’re 80-1?’’ Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan said. “It doesn’t surprise me. You have to earn respect in this league. So you can’t just get respect off of one road playoff win. It’s a gradual process.’’
It’s a process the Patriots have mastered better than perhaps any team in NFL history, because their coach and the leaders he builds his teams around don’t allow complacency to seep into the locker room.
“I don’t think our team has ever read and believed the hype,” Brady said during his weekly WEEI Boston radio appearance. “We feel like we’ve had to go out and earn it. We’ve tried to do that all year. I think there has been a lot of hype surrounding our team all season. It’s been that way for a long time. I think there is a reality of playing in these games — you need to go out and you need to earn it.
“You don’t take anything for granted. No one is going to hand it to us. If we win the game and advance, it will be because we earned it and beat a good team. I’m looking forward to it.”
Special teamer Matthew Slater, another of the Patriots’ key locker room leaders, downplayed the huge experience advantage his team has, parroting what Belichick has told his players.
“It’s not about playoff experience, it’s about playoff execution,’’ Slater said. “It’s not about how many games you’ve played in. It’s not about what you’ve accomplished in the regular season or over the course of your career. It’s about executing Saturday night, Foxborough Stadium, Gillette, fans loud, cold. It’s about executing.’’