NFL Playoffs – Championship Games: 49ers Heading To Super Bowl LIV?17 min read
There is just one more step for the final four teams in their quest to reach the Super Bowl in Miami on Sunday, February 2. This weekend, the 2019/20 NFL playoffs continue with the NFC and AFC Championship games, and Lindy’s Sports’ UK Editor Simon Milham takes an in-depth look at both title clashes and why the 49ers aren’t done yet…
Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs
There is invariably a surprise team in the playoffs each season and this year the Tennessee Titans are that team. Having posted wins in New England and Baltimore, upsetting both home favourites, they travel to Kansas City for Sunday’s AFC Championship game for a chance to play either Green Bay or San Francisco in Super Bowl LIV.
The Titans, whose 28-12 rout of the Ravens owed much to the defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ game-plan being executed to the letter (simulating pressures and forcing young QB Lamar Jackson to go laterally when he did find running room), are 27/10 to win in Kansas City according to the BetVictor NFL Moneyline odds.
Mike Vrabel’s squad, who have improved from a 2-4 start to win nine of their last 12 games, including the last five on the road, are in receipt of 7.5-points at odds of 10/11 on the BetVictor NFL Handicap line.
The Titans have ridden the legs of Derrick Henry, with the 6ft 3”, 247lb running back punishing teams in the post-season, racking up a combined 377 yards, which included 195 yards on 30 carries against Baltimore. He also threw a touchdown pass to Corey Davis.
The production from the NFL’s top rusher has meant QB Ryan Tannehill has merely had to become a game manager. The former Miami Dolphins passer, who replaced Marcus Mariota as the starter in Week 7, took the Titans to a 7-3 finish and a playoff berth with a win in regular the season finale against Houston. He topped the NFL in passer rating and yards per attempt in the regular season but has needed only 160 combined passing yards in wins over the Patriots and Ravens to reach the AFC Championship game.
Standing in their way are the Kansas City Chiefs, who looked dead and buried at 24-0 down in the first quarter of their Divisional Round clash with the Houston Texans, only to hit back with 41unanswered points en route to a thumping 51-31 win at Arrowhead.
The Titans and the Chiefs shared 67 points in their last meeting, with the Titans coming out 35-32 winners in Week 10 in Nashville. Layers are taking no chances with the total points this time, with the over/under total line set at 52-points at odds of 10/11 on each side.
The Chiefs are seeking to reach their first Super Bowl for 50 years – and having outlined the fact that they were the value last week at 7/2, they are now BetVictor NFL Super Bowl odds favourites at 5/4 to lift the Vince Lombardi trophy.
Kansas City had 530 yards of total offense to the Titans’ 371 yards in their first meeting, despite being the first game back for Mahomes following a knee injury which kept him out for two games. He tossed three touchdowns and 446 passing yards.
Andy Reid’s Chiefs will need to get a gorilla off their back this weekend if they are to advance, for the Titans are a team they have struggled against in recent years.
The Titans, 6/1 to win the Super Bowl, have won five of the last six meetings at Arrowhead, including when defeating the Chiefs 22-21 in the 2017-18 Wild Card round, coming back from a 21-3 deficit. They have won the last four clashes but have never defeated the Chiefs on five consecutive occasions.
Plenty has fallen in place for the Chiefs, who secured a first-round playoff bye thanks to Miami’s last-gasp touchdown in New England, and they host the AFC Championship game because the No.6 seed Titans upset the No.1 seed Ravens. The Chiefs, who are 2/7 to win the AFC Championship, do not match up well against Tennessee’s ground game.
Steve Spagnuolo’s run defense, which is the seventh-worst in the league, will need to find ways of consistently slowing down Tennessee’s ground game. The Chiefs gave up 225 yards on the ground on only 26 carries in their Week 10 meeting – with Henry compiling 188 yards and two scores – which is a major concern. They have not markedly improved their run defense from last season, when they were eliminated from the post-season after conceding 176 yards and four rushing touchdowns in the AFC Championship game against the Patriots.
Will @KingHenry_2 have the same success against the Chiefs as he did in Week 10?
— NFL (@NFL) January 14, 2020
If the Chiefs slip up in the first quarter like they did on Sunday – mainly due to third-down drops – the Titans are better equipped to control the clock and put them away than the Texans were.
Don’t expect Tennessee to collapse in the same fashion, even when facing arguably the best QB in the NFL in Patrick Mahomes. The Titans’ defense has three interceptions, four sacks and two fumble recoveries in the playoffs thus far, and while they allowed Lamar Jackson to throw for 365 yards and rush for 143 yards, they kept him off balance and out of the endzone in that stunning road win.
Henry is more effective when running to the outside and if Kansas City cannot control this consistently, they will not need to run play action with Tannehill, who has been excellent at finding mismatches with receivers A.J. Brown and Jonnu Smith. The 31-year-old passer has been decisive when needed – as a 45-yard TD to Khalif Raymond and another 12-yards to Smith underlined against the Ravens – and he also saw another TD dropped by Darius Jennings. Tannehill also had a rushing touchdown.
Bettors must keep a close eye on the injury reports later this week. Chiefs badly missed defensive tackle Chris Jones, who failed a fitness test on an injured calf muscle on Sunday and should TE Travis Kelce be limited by a hamstring injury, picked up against the Texans, they could struggle.
However, it is the Chiefs’ ground game that could be the X-factor on Sunday. Damien Williams had three touchdowns against the Titans in Nashville, and he has consistently kept opponents off balance – and when he is not called upon, he serves as a foil for Mahomes, who has been surprisingly nimble and spry on a knee that is likely to require surgery in the off-season. Williams, who piled up 109 yards from scrimmage against the Titans in Week 10, has seven touchdowns in his last three playoff games and will be a short price to score at any time this weekend.
Tennessee has already found a way to stop a high-powered attack but unlike Jackson, Mahomes is not simply a one-man wrecking crew. Receivers Mecole Hardman and Tyreek Hill have blazing speed, and Sammy Watkins is no slouch either. If Kelce plays, the Chiefs should have enough weapons to lay the ghost of Tennessee.
The Titans’ hopes lay with Henry, but even if the Titans can control the clock, the Chiefs’ quick-strike ability is ridiculous, and may be too much for Tannehill to match.
The handicap line is an awkward one, especially given the Chiefs’ recent struggles against the AFC South runner-up. Yet Andy Reid’s team should be able to exorcise their demons, even if they fail to cover the number, as it will take a monumental effort for the Titans to win a sixth consecutive road game in the space of eight weeks. The significant injuries to a couple of key Chiefs’ players means that the bend-don’t-break Titans have more than a puncher’s chance of going the distance and should a few drives stall, field goals totals might be worth a second glance.
TIP: Tennessee Titans +7.5 points at
TIP: Over 3.5 Total Field Goals scored at
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
The Green Bay Packers own a 14-3 record and take their find-a-way mentality to San Francisco seeking a win that would give them a sixth Super Bowl appearance. It won’t be easy.
The Packers are 7.0-point BetVictor NFL handicap underdogs at odds of 10/11 as they face the NFC’s best team, who blew away Green Bay 37-8 in their Week 12 matchup.
Like the Packers, the 49ers have been involved in a bunch of close games this season, and their last five regular-season games after beating the Packers were all one-score margin decisions. They went 3-2 down the stretch, with losses against the Falcons and Ravens, and narrow wins over the Saints, Rams and Seahawks.
The Packers have won all six games since that debacle in Santa Clara in November, including road wins at the New York Giants, Minnesota and Detroit.
"It took everybody in here."
— Green Bay Packers (@packers) January 13, 2020
Any team that has 13 regular-season wins and heads to a Championship game has earned it, yet one questions how good these two teams really are.
San Francisco extended their record to 14-3 with a comfortable 27-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday, and the NFC’s No.1 seed has the benefit of an extra day’s rest, while the Packers, who defeated Seattle 28-23 on Sunday, have a short week and a long cross-country trip to overcome.
The 49ers, whose BetVictor NFL Super Bowl odds are 13/8, will hope their front seven dominates as it did in their previous encounter, when Green Bay suffered their lowest point of the season.
That was one of the few occasions where the Packers failed to make a fast start, which has been their blueprint for most of the campaign. They followed the script against the Seahawks in the Divisional Round when jumping out to a 21-3 lead, only to be left hanging on at the end.
QB Aaron Rodgers was sharp and efficient in the win (16-for-27 passing for 243 yards, two TDs and no interceptions) which sent the Packers to their first conference title game since 2016 and he will have to be at his best if he is to avoid the kind of day he had in their last meeting when sacked five times and held to 104 yards passing.
The Niners throttled the Packers’ running game, reducing Aaron Jones to 38 yards from 13 carries but it is worth noting that Packers’ right tackle Bryan Bulaga was knocked out of the game in the first quarter, and backup Alex Light was exploited by the marauding linemen Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead, and linebackers Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner.
Rodgers, a 49ers fan growing up, has carried a chip on his shoulder from the draft of 2005, when the Niners took Alex Smith as the No1 pick, while Rodgers slipped to No.24 overall. The 49ers’ offensive coordinator that season was Mike McCarthy, who went on to be the head coach of the Packers for the bulk of Rodgers’ career. According to at least two former teammates, Rodgers always held a grudge against McCarthy over what happened to him on draft night.
The 49ers’ defense dominated the Vikings last week, finishing with six sacks of Kirk Cousins, with five different linemen recording them, and holding premier RB Dalvin Cook to just 18 yards on nine carries. The constant pass rush allows the 49ers to be aggressive with their coverages in the secondary and they are healthier now, with the return of linebacker Kwon Alexander, safety Jaquiski Tartt and defensive end Dee Ford.
Green Bay, who are now 6/1 to lift the Vince Lombardi trophy according to the BetVictor NFL Super Bowl odds, are 13/5 to win at San Francisco, where they have lost three of the last four, including playoff losses in 2013 and 2014. Indeed, they have lost five of the last seven meetings overall.
This will be the ninth time since 2009 that the Packers square off against a non-division opponent they saw in the regular season and the sixth time they hope to avenge a defeat.
Whether the Packers have improved since that November reverse is hard to say. However, they were impressive in converting nine of 14 third-down situations against Seattle and Davante Adams was responsible for eight of them.
While 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo has looked more than proficient at times, he looks far from the finished article at times and some of his accuracy against Minnesota left much to be desired. The offense did not click as it can against a tough Vikings’ defense and one fears Garoppolo may toss a costly interception or two.
Yet Rodgers has also looked uncomfortable this season. While he has had to rely on an inexperienced group of receivers, he looks a shadow of the player he once was. While he still made a game-winning throw against Seattle, no-one has thrown the ball away more this season. He has completed just 62 percent of his passes (22nd in the NFL) and despite having a clean pocket for much of Sunday’s contest with the Seahawks, he attempted just six passes that travelled more than 10 yards.
Six sacks and just 21 rushing yards allowed. ?♂️
— NFL (@NFL) January 14, 2020
Thus, if the 49ers defense can stop the run, they would hold a great chance of getting to a QB who has few weapons he trusts.
On the other side of the ball, the Green Bay secondary is inferior to Minnesota’s and their linebackers will be sitting ducks if the pass rushers Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Kenny Clark don’t get home with regularity.
The Packers have not convinced they have improved enough since their first meeting to upset the odds, and we take the Niners’ defense to put them on the plane to Miami.
TIP: San Francisco 49ers -7.0 points at
TIP: San Francisco to score Every Quarter at
TIP: San Francisco to Win Both Halves at