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Confident Tennessee Titans host potent New England Patriots

Although Tom Brady and the New England Patriots had one of the NFL's most dangerous offenses last year, expectations are even greater this season with the addition of deep threat Brandon Lloyd.

The Tennessee Titans' offense figures to be far less dynamic with Jake Locker starting his first game at quarterback, but their defense is showing signs it's capable of slowing down the defending AFC champions.

Brady looks to lead the high-powered Patriots to their ninth straight season-opening victory Sunday when they visit a Titans team brimming with confidence after an encouraging preseason.

New England, which won its eighth AFC East title in nine years last season with a 13-3 record, is set to play its first meaningful game since falling to the New York Giants 21-17 on a last-minute touchdown in February's Super Bowl. The loss obviously stung at the time, but the team has moved on.

"I honestly don't think about last year much," Brady said. "This is a whole different team and we're in a different situation. You have to go out here and establish what this team's going to be all about."

This year's team will once more revolve around Brady and the offense.

A year ago, the Patriots finished third in the league in scoring at 32.1 points per game, with Brady throwing for 5,235 yards - second-most in NFL history - and 39 touchdowns.

Wes Welker led the league with 122 receptions for 1,569 yards, and Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez created the NFL's best tight end tandem, combining for 169 catches, 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns.

New to the mix is Lloyd, who had a league-best 1,448 receiving yards in 2010 for Denver. He has been reunited with former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, who was the offensive coordinator with the Patriots from 2006-08.

"We are developing as an offense and we're trying to integrate as much of the running game and pass catchers as possible," said Lloyd, who had 966 receiving yards last season with Denver and St. Louis.

With BenJarvus Green-Ellis now in Cincinnati, second-year backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen will play bigger roles in the running game.

"We have plenty of players that can make a contribution on offense," McDaniels said. "Hopefully, every skill player that plays in the game has an opportunity to make some plays for us, whether that be in the backfield or tight end or at the receivers position.

New England's offense didn't show much in the preseason, scoring six touchdowns. Lloyd caught one pass and Welker had none, but this matters little to an established franchise like the Patriots.

"You have confidence that you can do it when it matters," Brady said.

The Titans, meanwhile, had an impressive preseason and are hoping to bridge that success into the regular season.

Tennessee, which went 9-7 last year but missed a wild-card playoff berth on a tiebreaker, gave up the fewest points in the AFC in the preseason (16.8 per game) and led the league with eight interceptions after managing 13 a year ago. They also finished the preseason with 13 sacks compared to 28 last season, second-fewest in the NFL.

"You get a confidence going," second-year coach Mike Munchak said of the preseason. "You start getting a confidence going in each other. To me, when you're playing a game it doesn't matter. It's all about playing your best. I think our guys approached it that way in the preseason that we needed to establish an identity a little bit more that we can go and make those kind of plays."

Munchak is turning the offense over to Locker, believing he gives the team its best chance to win the AFC South.

Locker, the eighth pick of the 2011 draft, threw for 542 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions coming off the bench in five games as a rookie. He beat out Matt Hasselbeck, who started all 16 games last year.

"By no means has this job been given to him," Munchak said. "He's earned it."

Locker's job will be much easier if Chris Johnson can rebound from the worst season of his career.

Johnson ran for a career-low 1,047 yards in 2011 after missing almost all preseason in a holdout before signing an extension. He insists reaching 2,000 yards for the second time is a goal.

"I'm ready to get ready for New England," Johnson said.

The Patriots were 31st in total defense last year at 411.1 yards per game, but 15th in scoring at 21.4 points allowed. They've lost ends Andre Carter and Mark Anderson, who accounted for half of the team's 40 sacks, but expect first-round picks Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower to contribute immediately.

While Munchak feels good about the way his defense is playing, the unit has been overwhelmed by Brady and company in the past.

In their last meeting in 2009, Brady passed for 380 yards and matched a career best with six touchdowns in a 59-0 victory. The Patriots have averaged 45.7 points in winning the last three matchups since a 24-7 loss in 2002.

The Patriots haven't lost in Week 1 since 2003, and their eight-game winning streak in openers is tied for the fifth-longest streak in NFL history.

In last season's opener, Brady threw for a team-record 517 yards in a 38-24 win over Miami.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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