AFC Championship Preview
Both participants of this year’s AFC Championship game are coming into the game riding incredibly hot streaks. The sixth-seeded Tennessee Titans have beaten three division winners in a row in the Houston Texans (Week 17), the New England Patriots (AFC Wild Card round), and the Baltimore Ravens (AFC Divisional Round), and get their chance to beat the fourth this upcoming Sunday when they travel to Kansas City to take on the number two-seeded Chiefs.
The Chiefs come into this game riding a hot streak of their own. They have won seven straight and have not lost since Week Ten, which is the last time these teams met. The Titans won that matchup 35-32 in Nashville.
This time, the game is in Arrowhead Stadium, the site of last year’s AFC Championship game.
The Titans however, have had success recently against the Chiefs. In addition to beating them earlier this season, Tennessee has beaten the Chiefs in Arrowhead three times since 2014, including in the AFC Wild Card round in 2017, the game of the famous “forward progress” call on Titan’s QB Marcus Mariota. This was also the game in which Marcus Mariota threw a TD pass to himself, if that gives you any idea about the Chiefs’ luck in the playoffs.
Chiefs DT Chris Jones missed last game with an injury to his calf, but is listed as questionable for this week’s game as of Friday at 3:15pm. His presence in the middle of the defensive line would be a huge boost to the Chiefs defense who has struggled to stop the run for a good portion of the year. Last time these teams played, the Titans ran the ball 26 times for a total of 225 yards on the Chiefs, 23 carries and 188 yards of which were provided by star RB Derrick Henry.
Henry has terrorized defenses these last three games, as he has averaged 32 carries/game for 196 yards/game. The continual threat of Henry breaking a big run at any given point keeps defenses off balance, allowing for QB Ryan Tannehill to do just enough with his arm to make plays and put points on the board for the Titans.
Chiefs’ safety Tyrann Mathieu described it best when trying to tackle Derrick Henry after these teams played earlier this year. Mathieu said he thought he broke his jaw trying to tackle Henry and described trying to hit Henry as trying to hit “solid rock.”
With all that in mind, here are three keys to the game for each team:
3 KEYS FOR THE KANSAS CITY CHIEFS:
- The Chiefs must attempt to limit Derrick Henry’s yards on the ground. This is a lot easier said than done, but the Titans go as Derrick Henry goes. If the Chiefs are able to disrupt the Titan’s offensive line and get penetration into the backfield, it makes it that much easier for the Chiefs to stop Henry.
- Patrick Mahomes must be MVP-caliber Mahomes. Mahomes’ first game back from injury this season was when the Titans and Chiefs last played in Week Ten. In that game, Mahomes completed 36 of 50 passing attempts and threw for 446 yards and 3 TD’s. Mahomes must make sure the Chiefs do not go three-and-out and are extending drives by making plays with his arm and legs. I believe if the Chiefs want to win this game, Mahomes must replicate his last performance against the Titans on some level.
- Tyrann Mathieu must have a major impact. Whether it is defending the pass by covering receivers one on one, lining up as a LB as he has multiple times this season under new DC Steve Spagnuolo, or even stopping Henry on the ground, Tyrann Mathieu can do it all and he must do it all on defense for this Chiefs defense to be successful. He is the unquestioned leader and the defense goes as he goes. If he is making plays and instilling confidence in the defense, then the defense will respond positively and make plays.
3 KEYS TO THE GAME FOR THE TENNESSEE TITANS:
- Contrary to one of the Chiefs’ keys, the Titans must establish Henry and the ground game early and often. If the Titans can control the ground, they can control the game. Establishing Henry and pounding the rock keeps the reigning MVP off the field in the biggest game of the year. I believe the Titans will attempt to do this right out of the gate.
- Ryan Tannehill must extend plays with his arms and legs. With the amount of carries Henry has been getting, play-action becomes a key weapon for the Titan’s offensive attack. Tannehill must take advantage of this and the one-on-one coverage the Chiefs will likely play against the Tennessee WRs and TEs, as he completed 13 of 19 passing attempts for 181 yards and 2 TD’s when these teams last played.
- The Titan’s secondary must step up and challenge the Chiefs WRs at the line of scrimmage. The Titan’s DBs need to be physical at the line of scrimmage. If you sit back and play zone, the Chiefs WRs will find a weak spot in the zone. If you back off but play man, the Chiefs WRs are one of the fastest groups of WRs in the league and will blow by you. I believe the Titan’s DBs must attempt to disrupt the routes of the Chiefs receivers, which will disrupt the timing between the wideouts and Mahomes if they want to win this game.
This game is a matchup of directly opposite game plans. The Chiefs will try to play fast and make the Titan’s try to play to their speed, while the Titan’s will try to slow the game down and force KC to play at their speed. I think the Titans establish the running game early. Henry will keep being fed the ball and will run often. I believe Mahomes and the Chiefs will make plays on offense, but I also believe the Chiefs defense is up to the task. They were physically manhandled the last time these teams met, and I do not believe that will be the case again. I believe the Chiefs defense will get enough stops to give the ball back to Mahomes to make enough plays to escape Arrowhead with a win on Sunday afternoon. I’ll take the Chiefs to win 31-24.
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