Tom Brady of the New England Patriots runs off the field after their game against the Buffalo Bills, at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, on December 24, 2017Tom Brady of the New England Patriots runs off the field after their game against the Buffalo Bills, at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, on December 24, 2017 (AFP Photo/Tim Bradbury)
Los Angeles (AFP) - The Tennessee Titans can expect to feel the full wrath of an aggrieved Tom Brady and the New England Patriots as the defending Super Bowl champions launch their postseason campaign on Saturday.
The Patriots have been riled this week following a bombshell ESPN report which painted a picture of internal strife and a terminal rift between Brady, coach Bill Belichick and billionaire owner Robert Kraft.
The three pillars of the Patriots dynasty, who have delivered five Super Bowl titles since 2002, have pushed back hard against the revelations, which included a claim that Brady had pushed for understudy Jimmy Garoppolo to be traded against Belichick's wishes.
Brady, who is seeking to gild his legacy as the greatest quarterback the sport has seen with a sixth Super Bowl, was incensed by the suggestion that he had engineered Garoppolo's departure or had appeared "liberated" by the trade.
"That's just such a poor characterization of anything," Brady said this week.
"In 18 years, I've never celebrated when someone has been traded, been cut," the 40-year-old added, describing the report as "completely wrong."
Belichick, meanwhile, delivered a blunt riposte to the theory that he could be ready to walk away from the Patriots following the report rift with Kraft and Brady over the Garoppolo move.
- Focused on Titans -
Asked if expected to return to coach New England next season, the famously taciturn Belichick responded with one word -- "Absolutely" -- insisting he remained solely focused on the Titans.
"Right now my interest is trying to do the best I can for our football team to get ready for Saturday night against Tennessee," Belichick told reporters on a conference call. "That's where my total focus is."
History suggests the Titans can expect to be given a rough ride on Saturday in their AFC divisional round.
Past controversies, from 2007's Spygate to 2015's Deflategate have invariably brought out the best in Brady and the Patriots, who are rarely more dangerous when they perceive an injustice.
Having marched through the regular season with 13-3 record, the Patriots should have too much firepower against the Titans, who finished the regular season 10-7, and scraped past the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend with a 22-21 victory in the first round of the playoffs.
Elsewhere on Saturday, the Philadelphia Eagles will hope to prevent a season which had promised so much from ending in disappointment when they take on the revived Atlanta Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles picked up the No.1 seeding in the NFC with a 13-3 record, but crucially lost quarterback Carson Wentz to injury in the closing weeks of the season.
- Redemption for Falcons? -
Without Wentz, the Eagles' hitherto explosive offense sputtered, with back-up quarterback Nick Foles featuring in a nervy 19-10 win over the Oakland Raiders before missing most of a 6-0 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson acknowledged that there were questions about how the Eagles would fare in the postseason without Wentz.
"Yeah, there's going to be wonder," Pederson said. "But I'm going to tell you, 'Listen, these guys are football players.' I think sometimes the outside, whether it be the media, the fans, can make it bigger than it really is."
The Falcons meanwhile, desperate for a return trip to the Super Bowl next month after the trauma of blowing a 28-3 lead against the Patriots in last season's showpiece, have shown signs of a revival in recent weeks, and ground out a battling 26-13 win on the road against the much-fancied Los Angeles Rams last weekend in the wildcard round.
Quarterback Matt Ryan is adamant that the Falcons, who finished the regular season 10-6, have the ability to upset the No.1 seeded Eagles.
"We're not here just to get here," Ryan said.
"We want to make noise while we're here. This is what it's all about. It's about giving yourself the opportunity this time of the year to compete and play in games like this, and to win games like this."