We were denied a pair of 1-2 matchups when Tennessee upset Baltimore, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't get a fun Championship Sunday. The Titans are this season's out-of-nowhere team, and now the sixth seed will look for a third straight road win to punch its ticket to Miami for Super Bowl LIV. Can it happen? Sure. Will it? Not so sure.
Both games Sunday are rematches from the second half of the season, so there's some familiarity between the teams. There are only three games left in the season, so enjoy the final two before the biggest of them all and don't forget to DVR the new season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." It should be the perfect nightcap of a pretty, pretty, pretty good Championship Sunday.
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
TITANS (11-7) AT CHIEFS (13-4)
TV: Ch. 2, 3:05 p.m.
Chiefs by 7; O/U: 53
The Chiefs, like the Titans, have won nine games since the start of Week 7. They were able to stay in Arrowhead for the AFC playoffs after the Dolphins upset the Patriots in Week 17. Then, the sixth-seeded Titans did the same thing at New England in the wild-card round, again benefitting the Chiefs. As if they needed any more favors, the Titans' shocking 28-12 win at the top-seeded Ravens in the divisional round meant the Chiefs would be hosting the AFC title game.
Patrick Mahomes and an improved defense have led the Chiefs to seven straight wins and covers. The last time Kansas City lost and didn't cover? Yep, you guessed it: A 35-32 wild loss at Tennessee in Week 10. The game ended with the Titans blocking a field goal, capping an improbable win: The Chiefs were only the second favorite since 1992 to lose outright despite outgaining their opponent by 150-plus yards, have eight-plus more first downs, winning the turnover battle and having the ball for 14-plus more minutes. Only the second team in 263 such cases.
Considering the Chiefs' high-powered attack — how many other teams can turn a 24-0 deficit into a 28-24 halftime lead and end the game on a 51-7 run as they did in last week's 51-31 win over the Texans?— it's hard to see the Titans outgaining the Chiefs this time, either.
Tennessee will lean on unstoppable back Derrick Henry, who ran for 182 yards at New England and 195 at Baltimore. He's going to get his 100-plus, but this game will come down to whether Ryan Tannehill can make big throws. The Titans have remarkably won both playoff games despite their quarterback throwing for just 88 and 72 yards. He's 9-3 since taking over and will need to make big plays if the Titans want to hang around. Mike Vrabel's guys are gritty and still getting no respect (I thought this line should've been a couple points lower).
All the pressure is on Andy Reid, who has lost his last four matchups against the Titans, including a wild-card heartbreaker in KC two years ago. Tennessee has been the story of these playoffs, but I feel as if this is Reid's time to take this franchise back to the big game for the first time since Super Bowl IV. Mahomes and Travis Kelce lead the way to an exciting win but the gritty Titans hang tough to earn the cover.
The pick: Titans
The score: Chiefs 31, Titans 27
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
PACKERS (14-3) AT 49ERS (14-3)
TV: Ch. 5, 6:40 p.m.
49ers by 7.5; O/U: 46.5
When San Francisco hosted Green Bay on Sunday night in Week 12, the game was basically over before you got comfortable on the couch. The 49ers forced an Aaron Rodgers fumble to set up a touchdown in the first two minutes en route to a 23-0 halftime lead in a 37-8 smackdown. San Francisco, the best passing defense in the NFL (169.2 yards per game) held Rodgers to a season-low 104 yards.
Now, as dominant as the 49ers were in that game, don't expect another rout. Not with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Teams adjust, and it helps the Packers that they just played the 49ers in November. They'll change their game plan and hope to avoid the best pass rush in the NFL. Unfortunately for Green Bay, San Fransisco has gotten healthy at just the right time. Adding edge rusher Dee Ford to an already unpenetrable line anchored by Nick Bosa will be too much for the Packers. The 49ers are stacked at linebacker and in the secondary, and their overall defensive strength — the main reason they started 8-0 and locked up home field with a 13-3 season — will help punch the franchise's ticket to their seventh Super Bowl.
Kyle Shanahan is the best play-caller in the NFL, and his run-game schemes can put a defense on its heels. Just ask the Vikings, who had no answers, even when they knew the 49ers were going to keep running. San Francisco cruised to a 27-10 win last week. The Packers also had a bye but had to sweat a late Seahawks comeback to advance. Rodgers, Aaron Jones and Davante Adams comprise one of the best QB-RB-WR trios in the game, but the Packers are not as deep as this 49ers team.
Jimmy Garoppolo doesn't have to do it all like a Russell Wilson does, and he has an elite running game and talented targets in tight end George Kittle, veteran Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Deebo Samuel. I trust Shanahan to have a near-flawless game plan, and the defense to step up as it has all season. Those are the reasons why I'll lay the points in what will be a closer rematch, but not that close.
The pick: 49ers
The score: 49ers 30, Packers 20
STAFF PICKS AND STANDINGS
(picks against the spread)
JOE MANNIELLO (Regular season: 119-130-7; Playoffs: 2-6)
BOB GLAUBER (Regular season: 115-134-7; Playoffs: 5-3)
TOM ROCK (Regular season: 132-117-7; Playoffs: 4-4)
AL IANNAZZONE (Regular season: 127-122-7; Playoffs: 6-2)