The first game today is the AFC Championship, where the upstart Tennessee Titans take on the perennial-contending Kansas City Chiefs with a trip to the Super Bowl LIV on the line (3.05pm ET Sunday on CBS).
Getting to the conference championship game is no easy task, especially in the AFC, where one of those spots has been reserved for the New England Patriots for each of the last eight years. But with New England out the way, courtesy of the Titans, that road has gotten a little easier.
No one should be more thrilled about that than the Chiefs, who have been knocked out of the postseason twice in the last four years by the Patriots. On paper and in theory, the Titans certainly pose less of a challenge. However Kansas City would be wise to remember, it wasn’t that long ago that as underdogs, the Titans knocked them out of the playoffs as well. That was a Titans team without the NFL’s leading rusher, Derrick Henry.
Here USAbetting will identify the main factors that will influence the outcome of this matchup before concluding this preview with our Tennessee Titans vs Kansas City Chiefs predictions.
An Unstoppable Force
When these teams met in week 10 of the NFL season, Henry ran circles around the Chiefs defense. The top-tier running back totaled 188 yards on just 23 carries, including a run he broke off for 68 yards. Henry also reached the end zone twice.
By no means did the Chiefs offense play poorly though. In fact, Patrick Mahomes had 446 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He was sacked just twice but the run game was lackluster, totaling just 97 yards among five different ball carriers, none of whom were Mahomes. It’s well known that the Chiefs tend to do better when Mahomes is able to use his legs as much as his arms but against the Titans, that option was removed. Henry ran all over the Chiefs and combined with the 37 yards on three carries from quarterback Ryan Tannehill to help the Titans to 225 rush yards.
It’s fair to say, if the Chiefs let Henry have his way again, they could be looking at a similar outcome to Week 10 when Tennessee won by a final of 35-32. The only problem is, and it’s somewhat of a major one, that Henry has absolutely been on another level this postseason. In two games, Henry has 377 yards on 64 carries which is an average of 5.9 yards per rush.
Including the final game of the regular season where Henry rushed for 211 yards, the Titans’ running back has just shy of 600 yards in three games. To put that into perspective, it’s insane and unheard of. No one had carried the ball for at least 180 yards per game in three straight games in NFL history. Prior to Henry, no running back had topped 175 yards in consecutive postseason games either. The man is simply on another planet right now so it seems somewhat a moot point to pose the question, “Can the Chiefs defense stop Henry?” Because the answer is no, they cannot.
What Henry has done in the playoffs is nothing short of spectacular and it’s a large reason why the Titans’ Cinderella season continues. In order to get to the AFC Championship, Tennessee had to defeat the Patriots and then the top-seeded and Super Bowl favorite Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson the following week.
They needed every last bit of Henry’s 377 yards to win those games and they will need another big game from their top weapon today as well. Fortunately for Henry and the Titans, stopping the run might be the biggest weakness on a Chiefs team that otherwise doesn’t have many.
Kansas City allowed opposing runners 4.9 yards per carry, which ranked 29th in the NFL. They also ranked 30th in stopping runs at or behind the line of scrimmage. Including Henry, the Chiefs defense allowed six individual rushers to break the 100-yard mark against them. Now, that said, the Chiefs did a decent job against the run against the Houston Texans last week, allowing four runners, including QB DeShaun Watson, just 94 yards on 21 carries.
The Comeback Kids
If you only watched the first quarter of last week’s AFC divisional game between the Chiefs and Texans, you would have thought that it was Watson’s boys that were headed to the AFC Championship, not Mahomes.
After going down 24-0 a little under midway through the second quarter and the game looking like another example of Andy Reid falling short with a superior team, the Chiefs did something little could have expected. Mahomes turned on another gear, so much so that by the end of the first half, the Chiefs had not just come back but had taken the lead.
Mahomes had four touchdowns in the second quarter, three of which went to top receiver Travis Kelce, who finished with 134 yards on 10 receptions. It was Kelce’s best game of the season and it couldn’t have come at a better time. During that comeback, it was all Mahomes and his weapons as the Chiefs ran the ball just once in the second quarter. It may have been the best 10 minute performance by any player in the history of this great sport.
This is where the Titans should be worried, because as good as Henry can be, the question becomes, can Tennessee’s defense do enough to stop the other unstoppable force on the field in Mahomes? The Titans’ defense has done that so far, though their performance against Jackson probably wouldn’t be enough against Mahomes. Jackson rushed for 143 yards and threw for another 365, yet the Ravens only scored 12 points. Tennessee kept Jackson out of the end zone, save for once, but Mahomes is a much tougher stop when it comes to putting points up on the board.
Our Preview’s Tennessee Titans vs Kansas City Chiefs Predictions & Picks Betting Advice
It is hard to say which team is better positioned to win today because a lot of it depends on the situation. If the Chiefs get off to an early lead, it could be tough for the Titans. They will want to run, they’ll need to run, but the clock will be against them. On the other hand, no lead is safe against the Chiefs so even if Henry continues to run rampant, it’s hard to count Mahomes and Kansas City out.
The Chiefs are pretty big favorites at -7 or -7.5pts with the top firms for online betting in the USA. While Andy Reid could return to the Super Bowl for the first time since he was coaching the Philadelphia Eagles, look for the Titans to keep it close much as it was when these two teams met earlier this season. So our Tennessee Titans vs Kansas City Chiefs predictions look like this: