In the Wild Card Round, I went 2-2 with my picks. Last weekend, in the Divisional Round, I also went 2-2 with my picks. Can this be the weekend I finally get above .500 in the playoffs? Well, to do that, I have to get all my picks right, because we are now in the Conference Championship Round.
Green Bay, San Francisco, Kansas City, and Tennessee. This is what we have come down to. You don’t need big market teams to have a thrilling NFL playoff. And that is exactly what these playoffs have been – thrilling – and nothing short of it.
We’ve seen a crazy comeback from a Chiefs 24-0 deficit, a dynasty go down, a couple of wild overtime games, great quarterbacks, great coaches, great players, the usual playoff suspects and the unusual playoff suspects. We’ve seen it all and we’ve been spoiled as fans.
A Gunslinger, A Story, Redemption, And A Dynasty
Now it’s time to see who will be the kings of their conference. A great story in Tennessee, who were clawing to sneak into the playoffs just weeks ago. The NFL’s best defense in San Francisco, who have a head coach looking to get back to the Super Bowl in hopes to redeem himself after the most epic comeback in Super Bowl history by the 2016 New England Patriots. A gunslinger from the North, who is looking to prove he is one of the game’s best quarterbacks. And a Chiefs team, who could be the birth of a new dynasty, and a team who were just inches away from going to last year’s Super Bowl…and perhaps even winning it.
This is the NFL Conference Championship Round. So…shall we?
AFC Championship: Titans at Chiefs
On paper, the Chiefs look like the better team. But honestly I think this game is a coin flip. I’ve been fighting in my head on who to pick in this one. Originally, I was thinking Tennessee. Then I switched over to Kansas City, and just about a couple of days ago, I realized I have no idea who is going to win this game.
Can The Chiefs Stop Derrick Henry?
Honestly, it may just come down to that. Can Derrick Henry be stopped? So far, the answer is no. In these playoffs, Henry has rushed for a total of 377 yards on 64 carries. As a matter of fact, Henry has rushed for over 100 yards in seven of the past eight games the Titans have played. The Titans won those seven games. And, of course, the one game Henry failed to reach 100 yards, the Titans lost. The three worst performances Henry had this season were all against good defensive lines – the Jaguars, Broncos, and Bills. I am just not sure the Chiefs’ defensive line is composed to stop Henry’s unbelievable tear.
The Quarterback Of The Future
Quite frankly, Jackson operates best when his team already has the lead. To beat the Ravens, you better win that coin flip, choose to receive the ball, and score early. But we saw last weekend that Jackson struggled to work out of a deficit against a very good Titans team, and that he still has some things in his game that he has to work on. And he will, I don’t doubt it, but what Mahomes accomplished last weekend against the Texans is something not many quarterbacks in this league can do.
To me, Mahomes is the quarterback of the future, and his legacy can really start to take off with a Super Bowl win this year – something he was so close to accomplishing last season.
Can We Trust The Chiefs’ Defense To Make Stops?
Well, Kansas City’s defense had struggled mightily to stop the run for most of this season, and that could be a huge problem going up against a running back as powerful as Derrick Henry. These two teams faced each other in Week 10, and Henry ran all over the Chiefs, rushing for 188 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. The Chiefs defense has improved since then, but stopping Henry will still be a tall order.
Titans Play Keep Away
Look for Tennessee to stick with what has been working for them, and that is feeding Derrick Henry. Not only because Henry has been a beast, but because Tennessee can also keep Mahomes and the Chiefs offense off the field.
The Titans have been road warriors, winning their past three games on the road against the Texans in Week 17, and against the Patriots and Ravens in the playoffs. But while the Titans find themselves playing in another road game, they are now about to face arguably the best offense in football. Facing Mahomes is a different story than facing Tom Brady and Lamar Jackson. This will be a test for the Titans, make no mistake about it.
So Who Wins?
Even as I am writing this, this is still a coin flip of a pick. I think this game is very close, and stopping Henry will obviously be key for the Chiefs. But if the Chiefs start off hot and get an early lead, then Tannehill will have to throw the ball more playing from behind. So for the Chiefs, the name of the game is to start off on the right foot and get an early lead, as well as stopping Derrick Henry from running all over the place. The name of the game for Tennessee is to keep Mahomes off the field, and when he’s on the field, don’t allow big plays.
This is a close call, but I am going to go with the Chiefs here. Watching them storm back from that 24-0 deficit with that type of composure without panic, is what championship teams look like to me. Being down by that much often times forces teams to try and do too much, force passes, make bad decisions, but Mahomes was absolutely flawless. And while Henry has been dominant, Mahomes has just been as much dominant.
The Titans have been a great story, but their story will come to an end at Arrowhead Stadium. Mahomes wins it for the Chiefs in overtime, and the foundation of a legacy continues to be built for who I think will be the best quarterback for years to come in the NFL. Chiefs win 33-27 in OT.
NFC Championship: Packers at 49ers
This game is a different story. It’s far from being a coin flip.
Everyone talked about the Titans’ upset over the Ravens and that’s fine, because it was quite remarkable indeed. But the team I was actually most impressed with last weekend were the 49ers.
The Best Defense In The NFL
I think we can put the debate to rest now. It’s not the Patriots, and it’s not the Bills. The 49ers are, and were the best defense in the NFL all along. And I’ve been saying that…all along.
The Vikings are a very good offensive team and they couldn’t do anything against the 49ers. The speed of the Niners’ defensive off the line of scrimmage, their linebackers, their #1 pass defense, their scheming, coaching, ability to run the ball using a variety of personnel and offensive looks, had me come to the conclusion that we will see this team in the Super Bowl. I was VERY impressed with the 49ers. Jimmy Garoppolo, who I have mentioned is a “train station quarterback” doesn’t even have to do much for the Niners to win games.
Last weekend Jimmy G completed just ELEVEN passes for just 131 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. And his team still put up 27 points against a very good team. Say what you want Kirk Cousins Haters of America Club, but Cousins actually outplayed Garoppolo last weekend. But San Francisco’s defense is just unbelievable, and their backfield committee ran the ball very effectively. The playcalling was flawless, the defense was flawless, and the Vikings couldn’t do anything about it. This Niners team is scary. Their quarterback is actually their weakest link. But as I have mentioned numerous times in my past articles, you don’t need a great quarterback to win a Super Bowl. You just need a serviceable quarterback. And that is what Jimmy Garoppolo is; at least for now until proven otherwise.
I Was Wrong On The Niners’ Offense
I think overall, however, I have underestimated San Francisco’s offense. They have run the ball very effectively by committee, Deebo Samuel has become quite a good receiver in his rookie season, Emmanuel Sanders has been a solid pickup at the deadline, and George Kittle is someone who other teams may find themselves game planning around.
Aaron Rodgers Must Take Shots
I don’t mean shots of tequila (although if Rodgers loses, he might very well do just that) but I mean Rodgers has to take shots downfield in this game. Because that is part of why I think the Vikings had such a tough time last weekend against the 49ers. Mike Zimmer was awfully conservative in his playcalling and I think it backfired very badly.
You can’t play conservative against this Niners defense, because they will eat you alive. You can’t beat Mike Tyson with jabs, you have to go for the knockout. Take a page out of the New York Yankees’ book and swing for the fences. That’s what Rodgers and the Packers have to do. Get the ball as far away from the line of scrimmage as you can. Take shots downfield.
Green Bay’s Unusual Suspects Must Step Up
The 49ers are probably going to focus on stopping Davante Adams. So, Rodgers is going to have to dig real deep in his bag of receivers and trust that they can make big plays. I’m talking about guys like Jake Kumerow, Allen Lazard, and Marques Valdes-Scantling. The unusual suspects in that receiving corps will have to step up big for the Packers to have a shot at winning this game. Matt LaFleur and Green Bay must get creative, take risks, take shots, and Rodgers has to be protected and on his game in order to take down this Goliath Niners defense. It may be too much to ask.
So Who Wins?
The last time these two teams played each other, the Niners defense swallowed up the Packers like a whale swallows a minnow. But I think the game this time will be a little more competitive. Even still, I was so impressed with San Francisco that I had already made my pick for this game by the end of the fourth quarter in the Vikings vs. 49ers game last week. Also, I didn’t really like how Green Bay struggled to put away a banged up Seahawks team at home last week. I’m taking the 49ers, and if Green Bay plays reserved, it could get ugly.
I don’t think we’re going to get the State Farm Bowl, but I think a Chiefs vs. 49ers Super Bowl will be great entertainment. 49ers win 24-13.
Enjoy the games!
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