Vrabel could give Titans a chance vs. Patriots

Let’s go back in time, to the NFL off-season of 2001.

The Patriots signed a former Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker named Mike Vrabel as a free agent, and there wasn’t much fanfare with the move. The team, after a horrible 5-11 first season under Bill Belichick, was doing everything it could to get some positive spotlight. Want to interview a player on the phone? We’ll set it up.

It was a nice conversation with Vrabel, who was a popular request, and little did we know he’d evolve into a Patriots mainstay. But you could see in his time with New England he had way of dealing with people straight up that he would make a good coach.

“In the 11 years I’ve played I think of all the guys I’ve played with and what they may be doing after football and who I would pin to be a head coach and it would be Mike Vrabel,” Patriots special teamer Matt Slater said earlier this week.

Players coach? Vrabel was a coach’s player. And those usually make good coaches.

“He loved to play on the scout team defense,” Patriots coach Belichick said this week of Vrabel. “He’d be their best pass rusher, he’d play middle linebacker,he’d play free safety, strong safety, (Troy) Polamalu, Ed (Reed), (Dwight) Freeney. Whoever we were playing, he would love to be those guys against our offense and then he’d take all the snaps on defense. …

“You can’t put a price on guys like that. They’re great.”

Vrabel will be on display Sunday when the Patriots and probably a good chunk of fans head to Nashville. He’s a first-year head head guy who is trying to squeeze the most out of a Tennessee Titan team that is tough and physical but not explosive. He rejected an extra point attempt late in a game against Jacksonville in London and went for two, and the Titans didn’t make it. So he’ll gamble.

Will that make him a winner on Sunday against his former coach? Doubtful. But Tennessee is Patriots South, with Vrabel plus a ton of ex Patriots, including Dion Lewis, Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, etc.

Vrabel, though, is the biggest one of all.

Who’s the second biggest? Here’s a look:

PATRIOTS 24, TITANS 14

All the focus has been on poor Malcolm Butler, but the guy the Patriots have to be wary of is Lewis. Most Pats defenders may already know how tough it is to grab the guy from practice last year, but the others may find out the hard way Sunday. Titans keep it close.

JETS 9, BILLS 6

There’s not many all-AFC games this week, so we apologize for including this ugly one in the picks. Even though there’s no Sam Darnold (foot) for Jets, they beat these hapless Bills. Really wish the Jets were better; would make their Patriots games more interesting. Bring back Rex.

COLTS 24, JAGUARS 13

What happened to the Jags? Did they get caught up in their press clippings? Maybe, but their running game suffered due to injuries, exposing QB Blake Bortles. Then the defense, on the field so much, wilted. Andrew Luck isn’t what he was, but we’re going with the better QB here.

EAGLES 27, COWBOYS 17

Huge game for both struggling teams, with Philly coming off a bye. Dallas seems lost, getting away from its running game. Give Eagles coach Doug Pederson two weeks to prepare…or something like that. Go with home team on Sunday Night.

BEARS 24, LIONS 17

Poor Matt Patricia. He’s made some in-season changes, but his team still isn’t operating the way he wants and could be done after his defense has to chase Mitch Trubisky around Soldier Field like the Patriots did. If this were in Detroit indoors, maybe a different story.

PACKERS 37, DOLPHINS 14

If BrockStar Osweiler is still at the helm, the Dolphins are likely toast as the Packer offense finally explodes and the Dolphins can’t keep up. Aaron Rodgers and his team may have given up last week at Gillette, but they’re unbeaten at Lambeau and will stay that way.

BENGALS 24, SAINTS 23

Upset special. New Orleans is on the road, full of itself after a big win over the Rams last week. Cincy is actually a pretty good team this season, coming off a bye, rested and ready and no one had to be bailed out of jail that we know of.

LAST WEEK: 5-2

SEASON: 38-23-2

Tom King can be reached at 594-1251 or tking@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow King on Twitter (@Telegraph_TomK).