Revenge Weekend- 2020 NFL Championship Playoffs
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,” excerpt from a Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
That quote by Dickens can easily describe the 2020 NFL Championship Weekend. On Sunday, there will be a lot of fans of other teams still wondering what went wrong during the regular season. How has the season come down to one team that by all accounts shouldn’t be playing (Titans)? Another team that just popped up on the radar out of nowhere (49ers). A team that badly needs this trip to the Super Bowl to solidify its Hall of Fame quarterback (Packers) and one team that has been picked to win it all since pre-season (Chiefs).
Today’s winners will make the trip to Hard Rock Stadium in Miami on February 2, 2020 to participate in Super Bowl LIV (54). For the aforementioned teams that honor is also bragging rights since the NFL is celebrating its centennial year (100) of being in existence.
Let’s take a look at the matchups today.
AFC Championship Game
Tennessee Titans (11-7) vs Kansas City Chiefs (13-4)
This game is a rematch of a Week 10 victory by the Titans. Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw a late touchdown pass to Adam Humphries and ran in a successful two-point conversion to give the Titans a three-point lead over Kansas City. The Chiefs tried to respond as Patrick Mahomes led them into field goal range, but the Titans blocked the attempt and left with the victory.
For the Titans to be successful again. They will have to rely heavily on the NFL’s leading rusher Derrick Henry who has been on a one-man mission to lead the Titans to Miami. Henry’s 188.5 yards per game average in the playoffs has already defeated two perennial favorites in back to back weeks (Patriots, Ravens). He is the first player to rush for at least 180 yards in three consecutive games (Texans last game of the regular season) and also the first to ever have back-to-back playoff performances of at least 175 rushing yards.
“I think two things happen,” said Alabama head coach Nick Saban who coached Henry in college told the hosts of the Morning Drive on WPRT-FM in Nashville. "I think he gets stronger and stronger. But I think there’s another factor in that that people don’t realize is the guys on the other side. When I coached with the Houston Oilers, we had Mike Rozier, and he was kind of a big, physical, strong guy. And even in practice, the DBs get tired of tackling a guy like that. The linebackers get tired of tackling a guy like that, all right. So, two things are happening: He’s getting stronger because he’s a big, physical, strong guy, but the other team’s also getting a little weary of trying to tackle the guy on a consistent basis, and that’s very frustrating.
Tennessee will need Henry to carry the load as things have not been so great for the rest of the offense. Tannehill has had less than stellar numbers in the playoff victories averaging less than 100-yards passing in each game. If Kansas City puts at least eight defensive players near the line of scrimmage, it will be a long day for Tannehill.
A lot has changed for the Chiefs since that loss to the Titans. They are on a seven-game winning streak. Mahomes has gotten a lot stronger since the injury he sustained earlier in the season. The defense has come alive by only giving up an average of 14.2 points per game during that streak. But the two biggest factor that Kansas City has coming into this game is anger and confidence.
The anger factor kicks in from the Week 10 loss, but also from the fact that Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is 1-8 all time against the Titans.
"I have players who have won more games than I have against (the Titans)," Reid said this week during a press conference. "I'm just going to bank on them."
The confidence factor kicks in with the divisional round playoff win over the Houston Texans last week 51-31. After trailing 24-0 in the second quarter. Kansas City scored on seven straight possessions to take the lead and never look back. They erased the deficit in less than 10 minutes.
That high-powered offense will definitely be on display today and wide receiver Tyreke Hill has confidence in knowing that the receiving group that Mahomes has at his disposal is very lethal.
“I feel like nobody in the NFL can guard any of us, and that’s no disrespect to nobody,” Hill said to reporters on Wednesday, via NFL.com. “That’s just the confidence that I got in myself and the wideouts I’ve got around me, including the tight ends and the running backs. I feel like no DB unit, no secondary unit, no linebacker, any defense can guard any of us. So man-to-man is just easy for us to beat. If you just allow us to run through zones, it’s even easier.”
I love the feel-good story of the Titans and everything they have accomplished this season, but I believe that the Chiefs offense is just too much for Tennessee. Their ability to put points on the board at a rapid pace is the reason I am picking them to advance to the Super Bowl.
NFC Championship Game
Green Bay Packers (14-3) vs San Francisco 49ers (14-3)
If revenge is a dish best served cold. Then the Packers are bringing the 49ers a plate that has been sitting out on Lambeau field for a couple of days. Green Bay goes into today’s game looking to avenge a Week 12 beat down from the 49ers by a score of 37-8. San Francisco’s vaunted defense held the Packers to less than 200 total yards on offense and future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a measly 104 yards passing.
Green Bay has to switch up the game plan this time around if they want to come out victorious. Rodgers had 33 pass attempts in the last meeting that netted no results. The 49ers took away his favorite target in wide receiver Davante Adams. This game they must find a way to get running back Aaron Jones involved in the passing games. His 494 yards receiving out the backfield this year has help take some of the pressure off of Rodgers this season.
First year head coach Matt LaFleur will need to utilize Jones by running screen plays and getting him matched up one on one in the open field against San Fran’s linebackers.
"Last time against the 49ers they beat our butts in every area of the game,” LaFleur told Jay Glazer of FOX sports. “I know that going into this week, we're going to have to go, somehow find things that other teams have done successfully against the 49ers, and I've got to implement it this week."
For San Francisco. Today’s game is business as usual for them at home. They come in with one of the stingiest defenses in the NFL (2nd in total defense) and a front-seven that has been feared by many teams this year. In the previous matchup against the Packers, they made Rodgers very uncomfortable in the pocket and sacked him five times that day.
Most teams would figure if they bought enough time for their QB, that they could beat the Niners. Except they have a QB on defense in All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman who can demonstrate to opposing wide receivers how to run their routes better.
"Since I got in the league, every category that matters to a corner, I'm No. 1 in,” Sherman said in a press conference. “Completion percentages, interceptions, touchdowns against, yards, passer rating, If that was any other corner, it wouldn't even be a conversation. But I just get tired of it. In the playoffs, I played in 13 games now, zero touchdowns given up, three interceptions. Like, show me somebody else doing it like that. Then I'll enjoy the argument. But there isn't."
That bravado that the Niners defense carries exudes over to the offensive side of the ball and their punishing style of running. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has implanted his style of offense that not only has All-Pro tight end, George Kittle, but three running backs (Coleman, Breid, and Mostert) that have all rushed for over 500 yards a piece and a combined 15 touchdowns in the regular season.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has done a great job of commanding the team on the field and it was his 253 yards passing and two touchdowns that carried the Niners to victory in the Week 12 win.
“I feel it here,” Garoppolo said about the atmosphere in San Francisco. “Not trying to compare the two teams, but it's just when you get into that playoff atmosphere and it's an NFC Championship Game, things get amped up. And you have to do the same.”
Even with the success that the Niners had this year, they have always played with the underdog mentality. Playing at home and being the number one team in the NFC hasn’t changed that. A lot of analyst is picking the Packers to win just because they can’t fathom the thought of a Jimmy G led team beating the great Aaron Rodgers.
I am taking the 49ers in this game. They have enough on both sides of the ball to get it done and their head coach has been in big games like this before.