NFL Conference Championship Preview

After a long and grueling season that has seen 28 teams on the elimination board, we are now down to the final four teams as we approach the Super Bowl. Last week saw a one seed getting taken down and an incredible comeback at Kansas City. Now that we are at the Conference Championship Round, to quote former NFL film president Steve Sabol, “it all comes down to four teams playing two games for that one chance to become a champion.”

AFC Championship Game: Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs

Who would’ve thought the Tennessee Titans would be in the AFC Championship Game? Especially coming into the season and after a 2-4 start that included a 16-0 shutout at Denver. The Titans have pulled off an incredible run in the postseason as the AFC’s sixth seed. First, they went into New England and knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots 20-13. After that, they were expected to get bounced in the next round at the mighty Baltimore Ravens, who had won 12 games in a row coming into the postseason and were led by the eventual MVP Lamar Jackson. But the Titans were not phased and were up for the challenge. They not only defeated the Ravens but dominated them 28-12. Derrick Henry once again had a monster game with 195 yards on 30 carries and a passing touchdown. The Titans held on to be the Patriots, but against the Ravens, they had an early 14-0 and even led 28-6 at one point. Despite the Ravens gaining 530 total yards, the Titans’ defense would not break with three takeaways and only allowing 12 points. Derrick Henry has been on a legendary level as he has rushed for 580 yards in his last three games after resting in Week 16. Ryan Tannehill has only thrown for 72 and 88 yards in the two playoff wins but has three touchdown passes and has made plays when he has had to.

On the other hand, the Kansas City Chiefs were expected to be in the position, although not many expected them to be hosting this game. It wasn’t easy, however, as the Chiefs found themselves trailing 24-0 early in the second quarter last week against the Houston Texans. They looked out of sync and had dropped five passes already. But they turned on the switch and exploded for 28 points before halftime and would go on to achieve 41 unanswered points. They would eventually win 51-31, which is quite astounding considering they were shut out in the first quarter. The Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to win a postseason game by 20+ points after trailing 20+ points. Patrick Mahomes was as great as ever with 321 yards and five touchdown passes.

The Titans are looking to reach their second ever Super Bowl (first was their 23-16 loss to the St. Louis Rams in 1999 by one yard) and the Chiefs are looking for their third Super Bowl appearance (first since 1969 when they beat the Minnesota Vikings 23-7). These two teams faced off in Week 10 and it was a crazy finish. The Chiefs up 32-27 with under two minutes, dropped the snap on the field goal and promptly gave the ball back to the Titans. Three plays later, the Titans would score a touchdown with less than 30 seconds left to take the lead 35-32. Then, the Chiefs’ game-tying field attempt as time expired was blocked and the Titans would hold on for the victory.

I wrote this in my Week 10 Reflections article the day after that game. As head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, Andy Reid is 1-4 against the Tennessee Titans, and the only win was in his first season against a 7-9 Titans team with Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starting quarterback. The Chiefs since then have had some of their worst luck and performances against them. In 2016, former Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop hit a 55-yard game-winning field goal at Arrowhead to win 19-17, then the last meeting they had was when the Titans rallied from a 21-3 deficit in the Wild Card Round in 2017 and defeated the Chiefs 22-21. So, this past Sunday’s meeting was the epitome of the Titans playing really well against great teams and the Titans have the Chiefs’ number in recent years.

 This will be the fourth postseason matchup between the teams as the Chiefs are 2-1, although losing the most recent matchup between the two in 2017 as previously mentioned. In 1993, Joe Montana and Marcus Allen led a 28-20 victory at the Titans (then the Houston Oilers) and in 1962, the Chiefs (then the Dallas Texans) defeated the Oilers 20-17 in the AFL Championship Game.

For this Sunday’s matchup, I expect the Titans’ dominance over the Chiefs in recent years to continue. Derrick Henry rushed for 182 and 190 yards against the NFL’s sixth and fifth-ranked rush defense respectively. He will now face the 26th rushing defense in weather conditions that will see temperatures in the 20’s. Cold weather affects many facets of the game, including tackling a 6’3 245 lb running back running full speed. The Titans are battle tested and will control the game at Arrowhead Stadium with Henry running through the defense. I expect Henry to rush for over 200 yards and control the clock. Mahomes will have a good game but will meet some resistance from a stout Titans’ secondary and will not get enough chances to outscore the Titans. Titans will become the first Wild Card team since the 2010 Green Bay Packers to reach the Super Bowl.

Prediction: Tennessee 24 – Kansas City 21

NFC Championship Game: Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers

The Green Bay Packers for the first time since winning the Super Bowl in 2010, have overachieved this season. Despite a rookie head coach, a declining quarterback and a thin wide receiving corp, the Packers have reached the NFC Championship for the second time in four years. Their last trip to this game saw them losing 44-21 to the Atlanta Falcons. The Packers jumped out to a 21-3 halftime lead on the Seattle Seahawks last week and held on for a 28-23 win. Wide receiver Davante Adams carried the offense as he put up a Packers’ playoff record for receiving yards with 160 to go with seven receptions and two touchdowns. Both of the Packers’ pass rush free agent acquisitions, Za’Darius and Preston Smith, stepped up with two sacks each, including Za’Darius sacking Russell Wilson with under four minutes to stop a potential go-ahead touchdown drive.

The San Francisco 49ers, in their first playoff game of the Kyle Shanahan era, dominated the Minnesota Vikings 27-10. They completely shut down star Vikings’ running back Dalvin Cook, who had only 18 yards on nine carries. The 49ers’ defensive line showed why they are the strength of the team when fully healthy as they sacked Kirk Cousins six times and holding the Vikings’ offense to 147 total yards for the game. On the other side of the ball, former Falcons’ running back Tevin Coleman carried the load for the 49ers’ offense as he rushed for 105 yards on 22 carries and scored two touchdowns. The 49ers won simply by dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

These are two storied franchises facing off in the NFC Championship Game. The Packers are looking for their sixth Super Bowl appearance, the last coming in 2010 when they defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25. The 49ers are looking for their seventh Super Bowl appearance, their last coming in 2012 when they lost 34-31 to the Baltimore Ravens. These two teams have a combined nine Super Bowl championships between them (Packers with four and the 49ers with five) and will face off for the eighth time in the postseason. They met five times in seven years between 1995-2001, a stretch where the Packers won four of the five quarterbacked by Brett Farve. The other two postseason matchups occurred in 2012 and 2013, where 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick defeated Aaron Rodgers in both games. Rodgers will get another crack at his childhood favorite team that passed on him for Alex Smith in the 2005 NFL Draft.

Despite the prestige and revenge opportunity for Rodgers, it will be a blowout in the 49ers’ favor. In their previous meeting in Week 12, the 49ers thrashed the Packers 37-8 as star tight end George Kittle had 129 yards on six catches and a touchdown. Rodgers was held to 104 yards passing and running back Aaron Jones was held to 38 yards on 13 carries. Sunday’s rematch will have more of the same as the 49ers will once again dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and Richard Sherman and the rest of the 49ers’ secondary will contain Adams. The 49ers will use all their weapons effectively and once again, Kyle Shanahan will reach the Super Bowl by dominating the Packers just like he did as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator four years ago.

Prediction: Green Bay 13 – San Francisco 31

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