The Playoff GPS, Week III: Mahomes vs. Henry, Rodgers vs. history; Who wins?
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET GAMES
TENNESSEE @ KANSAS CITY, 3:05 p.m. (EST)
The line: Chiefs by 7
The weather: Sunny, high of 25
The story: It’s simple: Momentum vs. Mahomes. The Titans have the momentum, beating Tom Brady and Lamar Jackson in consecutive weeks. They have the irresistible force, too, in running back Derrick Henry who has run for 180 or more yards in three straight games … and who torched Kansas City for 188 yards (an average of 8.2 yards per carry) and two TDs when the Titans won in November. But that’s not all. They also have a road map, winning their last five road games. A sixth would tie a franchise record. The Chiefs, of course, have Patrick Mahomes and an offense that lit up Houston for 51 points. They also have momentum, winning their last seven games. But this one strikes me much like last year’s AFC championship game at the same site. The Patriots weren’t supposed to win because Tom Brady couldn’t outduel Mahomes. So they didn’t try. They kept the ball on the ground, beat the Chiefs with a physical running game, kept Mahomes off the field and won in OT. Brady and the Patriots aren’t here. But former Patriot Mike Vrabel is. This could be déjà vu all over again.
Something to consider: The Chiefs’ Andy Reid is 1-5 in conference championship games and 1-8 vs. Tennessee.
GREEN BAY @ SAN FRANCISCO, 6:40 p.m. (EST)
The line: 49ers by 7-1/2
The weather: Cloudy, high of 60
The story: These two met earlier this year, and it wasn’t close. In fact, it was hammer time. The 49ers were the hammer; the Packers the nail. Final score: 37-8. Aaron Rodgers was held to a career low 81 net passing yards and sacked five times, and the Packers were 1-of-15 on third downs. OK, I know what you’re thinking: Yeah, well, it’s one game and it was seven weeks ago. True. But the 49ers didn’t have pass rusher Dee Ford, and they didn’t have tackle Joe Staley. Yet they still coasted. Green Bay’s Davante Adams says the Packers “have a better way to attack” the 49ers, and I'd hope so. They weren’t within four touchdowns of their opponents. He also says the pressure “is really on” San Francisco, and it should be. But the 49ers are healthier than they’ve been all season, their defense is the most reliable of any of Sunday's clubs, they can run you into the ground (47 attempts last weekend) and coach Kyle Shanahan has a score to settle with Packers’ defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, whom he left after one year as an offensive coordinator in Cleveland. Tell me how the Packers overcome all that.
Something to consider: Since losing to San Francisco on Nov. 24, the Packers won an NFC-best six consecutive games, including three on the road.
OUR BEST BETS
RON BORGES – Kansas City (--7). The Chiefs will derail Henry not by tackling him but by scoring enough to take the ball away from him.
CLARK JUDGE – San Francisco (--7-1/2). Three RBs + 1 defense > 2 Aarons.
RICK GOSSELIN – Kansas City (--7). The Chiefs lost the 2018 championship game at Arrowhead. I don’t believe they repeat that failure. The best quarterback in the game learned from that failure of last season.
THE SUNDAY OMG
According to @NFL Research, teams that lost by 20 or more points during the regular season and met their victors again in the playoffs have lost 13 consecutive times. Then there's this: Aaron Rodgers' last five playoff losses were to opponents that beat him that season. Put them together, and you can understand why the Packers aren't expected to win Sunday.
THE SUNDAY OMG, PART II
The Titans ran for over 200 yards and allowed no more than one sack in consecutive playoff games. The only other NFL teams in the Super Bowl era to do that were the 1973 Miami Dolphins and 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers. Both won Super Bowls.
THE SUNDAY OMG, PART III
Derrick Henry has 1,159 yards rushing in road games this season, including the playoffs. That's the most by any player in the past 70 years.
FIVE GUYS TO WATCH …
DERRICK HENRY, RB, Tennessee. Like you need to be reminded. In three games vs. Kansas City, he’s run for 402 yards and scored five times.
PATRICK MAHOMES, QB, Kansas City. Another gimme. Dating back to last season, he leads the NFL in touchdown passes with 84, including the playoffs.
TYREEK HILL, WR, Kansas City. In the Week 12 meeting with Tennessee, he had 11 catches for 157 yards and a TD.
AARON RODGERS, QB, Green Bay. He’s thrown multiple touchdown passes in six consecutive playoff games.
DEAN PEES, defensive coordinator, Tennessee. If the Titans win, he becomes the first defensive coordinator ever to lead three defenses (New England, Baltimore and the Titans) to Super Bowls.
… AND ONE TO IGNORE
GREG JOSEPH, K, Tennessee. The Titans haven’t tried a field goal since Week 15 and haven’t made one since Week 13. Signed in Week 16, Joseph is 15-15 on extra points (including the playoffs) and hasn't attempted a field goal. Tennessee missed more field goals this season (10) than it made (8).
BY THE NUMBERS
5 – Aaron Rodgers playoff games with a passer rating of 120 or more, tied with Joe Montana for the most in NFL history
9-3 – The Titans’ record, including the playoffs, with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback.
19 – San Francisco players to score at least once this season, a franchise record.
22-5 – Jimmy Garoppolo’s record as a starter, including 20-5 with the 49ers.
900 – Total yardage the last time the Chiefs and Titans met. There were also five lead changes in that game.
TEN THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO REMEMBER
1. The Titans are the first sixth seed to reach the conference championship game since the Green Bay Packers and New York Jets in 2010. The Packers went on to win the Super Bowl. The Jets lost to Pittsburgh in the AFC title game. The past six years only the first or second seeds advanced to the Super Bowl.
2. Patrick Mahomes is the eighth quarterback since 1970 to start two championship games in his first three seasons.
3. The Packers’ Matt LaFleur is the first rookie head coach to reach a conference championship game since the 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh did it in 2011.
4. According to Next Gen Stats, 16 of Patrick Mahomes' 18 career interceptions are vs. four or fewer rushers. Only two are vs. a blitz.
5. There hasn’t been an NFL rushing leader in the Super Bowl since the 2005 season when Shaun Alexander and the Seattle Seahawks were in Super Bowl XL. Derrick Henry can change that.
6. The Packers’ Za’Darius Smith (13-1/2) and Preston Smith (12) were the first pair of Packer teammates to produce 12 or more sacks in one season since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.
7. Tennessee has allowed 25 points through the divisional round, the lowest through the first two postseason games the past 17 years.
8. The San Francisco and Tennessee defenses each had three or more sacks in 10 games this season, tying them for first in the NFL with Pittsburgh and the Raiders.
9. Kansas City led the league this season by converting 47.6 percent of its third downs, but the 49ers led it on third-down conversions when passing (45.5 percent).
10. San Francisco led the NFL with 23 rushing touchdowns, the first time the 49ers hit 20 or more since 1994 – or the last time they won a Super Bowl.
Follow on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF