The New England Patriots aren't enjoying the break of a first-round bye for the first time in a decade, meaning the door has been cracked open just enough for them to catch a whiff of doubt.
They're not doubting themselves, of course, but they sense enough doubt and wrongdoing to feel it's necessary to embark on a certain type of tour: a revenge tour.
Yes, the Patriots, defending champions and arguably the greatest multi-decade dynasty pro football has ever seen, feel the need to exact revenge on a wild-card opponent that will be traveling to Foxborough for its playoff game. The reason: The Titans defeated the Patriots during the 2018 regular season.
That's apparently enough to face the wrath of the Patriots. But the potential for revenge doesn't just stop this weekend. With a win, New England would travel to Kansas City in the Divisional Round for a payback opportunity vs. the Chiefs. Then they could score a third revenge win with a triumph over either the Ravens or Texans in the AFC title games -- two other teams to knock off the Patriots this season.
Bill Belichick is considered as the greatest coach of all-time because of his six Super Bowl rings and his organization's unprecedented consistency. Again, the Patriots haven't played in the playoffs' opening weekend in a decade, and haven't missed the playoffs since the season before that last wild-card appearance.
Revenge tours can be fickle for the teams planning to embark on them (just ask the 2018 Michigan Wolverines), but if there were any team impervious to the pitfalls of such a tour, it's the Patriots, who have won the AFC five times in the last nine years. Even with upstarts dominating the airwaves, the Patriots almost always rise to the surface to take them down like an alligator does its prey.
Added motivation isn't necessary for New England, but Tennessee will be the lucky ones to meet it this weekend. With rushing champion Derrick Henry, a revitalized Ryan Tannehill and a young, hungry defense led by head coach Mike Vrabel, these Titans won their way into the postseason and will present a challenge to the defending champions. We'll see how much of a factor revenge plays Saturday.