AFC, NFC Title Game Intriguing Matchups, QB Intel Reports, Winners

No. 6 Tennessee (11-7) at No. 2 Kansas City (13-4), Sun., 3:05 p.m. ET (CBS) 

Most intriguing matchup: In a John Riggins– or John Wick-level zone going into the Titans’ first AFC championship game in 17 years, Derrick Henry encounters a Chiefs team yet to stop him. For all their improvements, the Chiefs’ defense is not on the level of the Titans’ playoff opponents, the Patriots or Ravens. After finishing last in run-defense DVOA in 2017 and ’18, the Chiefs ranked 29th this season. Henry has delivered ruthless consistency against the Chiefs, gaining 191 scrimmage yards on 25 touches in each of his past two opportunities –- in November 2019 and in the Titans’ 2017 wild-card-round upset win. Henry scored twice in a 2016 upset win in Kansas City and has five touchdowns against the Chiefs. Tennessee’s Taylor Lewan- and Rodger Saffold-led offensive line has helped Henry to four of the NFL’s top six rushing performances this season. The Titans’ only victory path is not a secret.

QB intelligence report: Becoming the ninth player to throw five touchdown passes in a playoff game, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes now has eight TD tosses, 894 yards and no interceptions in three postseason contests. Only Mahomes and the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger have quarterbacked teams to AFC championship games in their first two seasons as starters. Mahomes piloted an NFL-playoff-record seven straight touchdown drives Sunday, with the Texans becoming the first team since 1940 to lose a playoff game in which it held a 17-plus-point first-quarter lead. Kansas City’s comeback-turned-blowout showed the margin for error Mahomes creates. This is the optimal modern quarterback. Tennessee QB Ryan Tannehill, whose yards per passing attempt (9.6) total was the fourth most since 1960, faces the NFL’s eighth-ranked pass defense. It slammed the door on a Houston rally. Tannehill, however, did orchestrate a four-play, 61-yard, game-winning drive to beat the Chiefs in November and just navigated two superior defenses to reach this round.

New blueprints coming soon: These franchises’ respective roster constructions raise the stakes. The Chiefs are 2-for-2 in AFC championship game appearances behind Mahomes, but he’s now extension-eligible and will command a market-reshaping contract this offseason. The Chiefs also will have Pro Bowl defensive tackle Chris Jones on either a franchise tag or near-Aaron Donald-level extension next season. The forthcoming calculus change will require new Chiefs road maps to championship-caliber rosters. The Titans are ready to pay up to see if Tannehill’s late bloom is legitimate. They also have one of the more unusual extensions to negotiate with Henry -– an old-school back whose skill set differs from the position’s top wage earners –- and also have right tackle Jack Conklin as an impending free agent. These costs amplify the importance of maximizing opportunity when the math is easier.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (left) and tight end Travis Kelce  Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

And the winner is… Kansas City

The Chiefs are 0-3 against the Titans during Henry’s career, and this is the most consistent version of the bludgeoning back. Kansas City is 2-7 in home playoff games since 1995, and  Andy Reid teams are not known for big-stage reliability. But the Mahomes advantage will be too much. The Chiefs’ Legion of Zoom receiving corps, coupled with potential Hall of Fame tight end Travis Kelcerepresents a significantly more difficult matchup for the Titans’ No. 20-ranked DVOA pass defense than the Patriots or Ravens did. More victory avenues exist for the favorite, Henry’s brutal brilliance notwithstanding. The Chiefs will survive another Henry onslaught and book their first Super Bowl berth in 50 years.

In Week 12, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers fumbles as he is sacked by 49ers middle linebacker Fred Warner (54). Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

No. 2 Green Bay (14-3) at No. 1 San Francisco (14-3), Sun., 6:40 p.m. ET (FOX) 

Most intriguing matchup: San Francisco’s defensive line hounded Aaron Rodgers in Week 12, sacking him five times and holding him to a career-worst 3.15 yards per attempt. Rookie Nick Bosa (1 sack) and the once-underwhelming Arik Armstead  (2 sacks) ignited the 49ers’ 37-8 rout. Dee Ford (7.5 sacks in an injury-prone season) did not play that night; he will Sunday. Green Bay’s offensive line rated 10th in pass protection, per Football Outsiders, and has veteran tackles in David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga. The latter missed most of the Packers’ loss to the 49ers, and Armstead and Bosa dominated backup Alex Light. Even with Bulaga, who will presumably be back from an illness that sidelined him against the Seahawks, the Packers are up against a special defense -– one that will have high-priced linebacker Kwon Alexander back as well.

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By Sam Robinson  |  Last updated 1/12/20

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