We’re down to 4. By Sunday evening, we will know which teams will be representing their conference in Super Bowl 54. Both games are interesting in their own way. The Chiefs and 49ers are solid favorites to win their championship games this weekend and meet in the big game, but there are no gimmes. I would not be all that shocked to see either of these teams become upset victims.
AFC Championship, 3:05 PM (CBS). Titans at Chiefs (-7). Over/under 53.
This is a game between two teams with polar opposite styles of play. The Titans made it to Kansas City on the shoulders of bruising running back Derrick Henry. It’s an old school brand of football that brings back images of leather helmets and NFL Films music (though one of those players would probably die trying to tackle Henry, but you get my point).
On the other hand, the Chiefs are all about speed and reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes slinging that pigskin. It’s a fun offense when it’s clicking. Just ask the Houston Texans, who watched a 24-0 lead evaporate in minutes.
X-Factor: Ryan Tannehill
I would be surprised if Henry alone will allow the Titans to keep up with the Chiefs. I predict that Tannehill will have several 3rd and long scenarios that will be pivotal. Convert them, keep Henry on the field to continue wearing down the Chiefs defense. Don’t convert, punt the ball to Mahomes and company. If Tennessee can convert a high percentage of 3rd down plays, they have a great chance to win.
Prediction: Chiefs, 35-28. Mahomes has just a little too much firepower for Tennessee to keep up with. He will force Tannehill and Tennessee’s offense to step outside their comfort zone just to stay in the game, and I don’t think they’re up to the task.
NFC Championship, 6:40 PM (FOX). Packers at 49ers (-7.5). Over/under 46.5.
This game is a battle of two traditional powers with 9 Lombardis between them. Both of these teams have top 10 defenses, San Francisco’s being top 3. Kyle Shanahan’s offense has taken a big step in year 2 of his tenure now that he has a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm. The Niners are about as well-rounded as it gets. They made quick work of Minnesota in the divisional round, sacking Kirk Cousins 6 times. They also have a great offensive line and physical run game. Garoppolo’s supporting cast is a good one.
Green Bay is a tough team to figure out. Aaron Rodgers isn’t what he was in the midst of his prime, but he still flashes brilliance. He had several clutch throws last week that helped stave off a Seattle comeback. What’s most odd about Green Bay is that they have a habit of starting games fast, but barely hanging on to win. The Packers’ defense is vastly improved this year, adding two great pass rushers in Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. This unit has been especially good since their week 12 beatdown loss to the 49ers, allowing 14.2 PPG (2nd best in the NFL during that span).
X Factor: George Kittle
The Niners tight end is arguably the best in the league, and is Jimmy Garoppolo’s security blanket. The Packers defense has not been stingy to tight ends either. The matchup on paper certainly favors San Francisco. If the Packers can come up with a solid game plan to contain Kittle and make someone else beat them, they have a real chance to win. I don’t see Rodgers and the Packers offense scoring at will, so their defense has to step up. Stopping Kittle is the best way to ensure that this happens.
Prediction: Packers pull off the upset, 24-22. Aaron Rodgers makes the clutch throws he needs to, and the Smith Bros (not actual brothers) play a pivotal role in disrupting Jimmy G. A timely turnover may be the difference.