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AFC Championship – Preview

Photo courtesy of Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The 6 seed Tennessee Titans visit the 2 seed Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game Sunday, with the winner heading to Miami to play in Super Bowl. Sports staff member Marco Marquez goes over all you need to know before Sunday’s big game.

OFFENSE

Tennessee Titans:

It may not seem like it on paper, but the Titans have sort of an explosive offense. Built around the 2019 rushing champion Derrick Henry, Tennessee can beat you straight up with their ground game. Tannahill has been making the best of his second chance season as he has formed into a duel-threat quarterback. Offense coordinator Arthur Smith has taken a stew of average Joe’s, aside Henry and turned them into a top-10 scoring offense during the regular season.

Kansas City Chiefs:

Talk about being in a gut-check situation for a team that has been praised for their offense ever since Mahomes stepped on the field last season. If you want to know what this offense is at their best, I recommend going back and watching last week’s highlights. The Chiefs put up 28 unanswered points not only in one quarter, but in the span of less than four minutes. 

Who’s got the edge?

Chiefs, they have too many weapons and going on a 51-7 run last week is all the convincing I need to put them over the Titans in this match-up. 

DEFENSE

Tennessee Titans:

You have to give credit where it’s due to Mike Vrabel’s defensive unit. No team has had a tougher trip to the conference championship than Tennessee. Being able to go into New England and holding the defending champs to 13 points and then going into Baltimore and limiting the league’s best offense and MVP to their lowest scoring affair this season. We know the secondary will have trouble with Patrick Mahomes, the pass-rush led by Harold Darby will be critical. 

Kansas City Chiefs:

The secondary was caught sleeping on the first drive last week when DeShaun Watson found Kenny Stills for a 54-yard touchdown. Although Houston scored 31-points, the defense was responsible for giving up 17 of those. Henry will be the biggest threat, but it’s comforting to know that the defense hasn’t given up over 100 yards on the ground to a single-back since their week 13 win over Oakland. The Chiefs ranked in the bottom half when giving up explosive run-plays. However, most of those came in the beginning half of the season. 

Who’s got the edge?

I’m giving the edge to the Chiefs in this match-up as well. The Titans will have too much on their plate, while the Chiefs really only have to worry about Henry and making sure they make they key 3rd down stops. Tennessee only converted two 3rd downs in the week 10 game, but one of those came on their game-winning drive. 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Tennessee Titans:

Tennessee possess’s one of the biggest game changers in the league on special team’s and that’s their 12-year veteran punter Brett Kern. The biggest punt for Kern this year came in the Wildcard game against the Patriots when he stuck Belichick’s offense inside their own ten. So, don’t be surprised that the Chiefs start a couple drives inside their own 20 as Kern leads the NFL in punts inside that mark. 

Kansas City Chiefs:

The most important thing that Kansas City will have to do is to not repeat mistakes. Against Tennessee in week 10, the Chiefs had a muffed field goal and one blocked as well. Last week there was a blocked Colquitt punt and a muffed Tyreek Hill punt return, both led to Houston touchdowns. They special teams cannot have any mental errors on Sunday, last thing you want to do is give the Titan’s more opportunities to score. 

Who’s got the edge?

I am going with the Titan’s because if things are going right for them, they can take control of the game. I really don’t see special teams becoming a big factor in this one, but I see the Titan’s being more prepared than Dave Toub’s squad in this one. 

COACHING

Tennessee Titans:

There may be one head coach who is wanting a Super Bowl just as bad as Andy Reid and that’s Mike Vrabel. Vrabel has been one of the shining lights from the dim lit Belichick coaching tree. Having the Patriot’s championship mindset along with the do your job mentality, Vrabel, in his 2nd season, has led the Titan’s to their first conference championship since 2002. However, this may be Vrabel’s first dance as a head coach but he brings experience as a player being a part of four conference championship team’s and winning three Super Bowls from his New England days. 

Kansas City Chiefs:

It’s conference championship game number seven for the 61-year-old head coach Andy Reid. The almost 20-year tenure coach hasn’t won at this level since his first and only Super Bowl appearance in 2004. As the winningest head coach without a Lombardi Trophy in NFL history, the motivation grows each year as the chances continue to slim. 

Who’s got the edge?

It’s hard not to take Andy Reid in the coaching match-up here. Not to take anything away from the hunger and knowledge of Mike Vrabel, I just believe that this is a best case scenario for Reid to reach his second Super Bowl. You have the home-field advantage, the best player in the NFL is on your team, you have a surplus of weapons and finally a defense led by a Super Bowl coordinator. This is the perfect storybook set-up for Andy Reid, it’s time to see if he can finally get that monkey off his back. 

X-FACTOR

Tennessee Titans:

Kind of an odd choice, but Ryan Tannehill is going to be my pick for the Titan’s. As I rewatched the Week 10 game between these two team’s, Tannehill was a big reason why his team had a shot towards the end. He can create a big play through the air and with his legs as well. He’s a built ford tough kind of quarterback and can look like a top talent with the right gameplan. Although his playoff stats don’t show it, there hasn’t been a reason for him to pass the ball. If the Chiefs can jump ahead quick and keep Henry stable, don’t be surprised if Tannehill doesn’t have trouble working around the Chiefs secondary. 

Kansas City Chiefs:

Going to the other side of the football, Frank Clark has proved himself to be work horse with his performance in the second half of the season. While accumulating more than half of his sacks after the bye, the former Seahawk added three more last week with teammate Chris Jones sidelined. With Jones as a game-time decision, expect Frank Clark to be double-teamed as the Chiefs defense will be going up against a very good Titan’s offensive line unit. Either way, Clark’s importance grows even more this game as closing up gaps and forcing Henry to change his running routes will be key to stopping him. 

Who’s got the edge?

Boy oh boy, I originally wanted to give this one to Clark but the more I think about it I lean towards Tannehill. I think the chances of Tannehill having to pass the ball are higher than the Chiefs stopping the attack of Henry. However, if the Titan’s are forced to have to throw the ball that means the Chiefs are leading. However, Tannehill is more dominant on play-action, so if Clark has the opportunity to chase down the veteran quarterback, expect a rushed pass or sack. 

CONCLUSION 

This game will either be a blow-out win by the Chiefs or a close victory for either team. If the Chiefs get out early, I trust Tannehill with the football but the workload of his pass-catchers this postseason concerns me. The top-4 receivers have a combined ten receptions so far in two games. Given, the Titan’s didn’t have to throw the ball as much in Baltimore and the team faced a tough Patriot’s secondary in the first round. However, in a cold road game at Arrowhead, will rookie A.J. Brown and breakout wideout Tajae Sharpe be ready for the ball to come their way? Also, the matchup on the other end for them is no walk in the park as they will be facing a proven Charvarius Ward and All-Pro Tyrann Mathieu. 

If the Chiefs win the coin toss, I expect them to take the ball unlike their predictable defer choice. They need to be the tone-setter of this championship game. The winning formula for the Chiefs won’t need to be stopping Henry, but eliminating the big plays. A bulk of Tennessee’s yards per game comes from plays of 20+ yards. Eliminate that part of their offense and the Chiefs will walk away with an easy victory. 

Marco’s Prediction

I predict the score of the game will be 40-28 with the Chiefs winning their first AFC Championship since their trip to Super Bowl IV. I expect a tearful Clark Hunt at the winner’s podium accepting his father’s trophy and returning the hardware to its proper home… 

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