by Alexis Sara Cobb, For New Pittsburgh Courier
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREVIEW
Tennessee Titans vs. Kansas City Chiefs
I want you to take a moment to remember that had the Steelers won their last two games of the season, when opposing teams were resting their starters, the Steelers would be in the postseason and the Tennessee Titans would be watching from home. But that’s not the black-and-gold-tinted world we are living in, folks.
Instead, the Titans will be playing on the road against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday, Jan. 19, at 3:05 p.m. ET. Frankly, the way that Mahomes was playing against the Houston Texans in last week’s AFC Divisional Round, it is going to be difficult to stop him in his own house, with thousands of hungry fans wearing red, cheering his every move. What Mahomes has that the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens didn’t have are tight ends and receivers who are willing and able to make a play. But what the Chiefs lack is a serious running threat. Mahomes was the leading rusher with 53 yards this past Sunday. Your quarterback should not be your leading rusher. That simply is not a sustainable recipe for success. If the Chiefs don’t get any kind of production from their running backs, then they become one-dimensional and beatable.
As for the Titans, they actually beat the Chiefs previously this season in Week 10. Normally, I would argue that the previous win means nothing and the postseason is different. But I can’t argue that because Mahomes, while newly back from missing time, still put up 446 yards and Tennessee was able to win. It helps give them a mental edge as well. Tennessee has been playing elimination football for basically three weeks and they are playing with the fire of a thousand suns. They are playing fearlessly and it’s hard to pick against them. Titans QB Ryan Tannehill is nothing special but he knows how to manage a football game. Everything comes down to Derrick Henry. He has been having historic performances on the field. If Henry, the league’s top rusher this season, can continue his otherworldly performances, while taking up large chunks of the clock, the Titans can win.
When you isolate the teams, you have a running game in Tennessee versus a prolific arm and home field advantage in Kansas City. But I have to lean on experience. The Chiefs are a team that knows what it feels like to lose an AFC Championship game and they aren’t facing Tom Brady; they are facing Ryan Tannehill and they will find a way to win at home. You heard it from me…I have Kansas City winning, 38-24.
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREVIEW
Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers
This is the game that I have been looking forward to all postseason. The Green Bay Packers are going on the road to play against the San Francisco 49ers, kickoff is 6:40 p.m. ET on Sunday, Jan. 19.
The 49ers are fully capable of protecting their house and bludgeoning Aaron Rodgers. Jimmy Garroppolo is a quality quarterback who manages the game but he is not the key to the team’s success. The secret to the 49ers’ offense is their Pro Bowl tight end, George Kittle. If the Packers can stop Kittle, then the Packers can beat the 49ers handily. The 49ers’ running game is nothing to write home about but it has been serviceable. If you watched the 49ers play against the Minnesota Vikings this past Sunday, then you know the 49ers’ defense was in shutdown mode. Their defense is being led by Richard Sherman and those men are playing hard-nosed football. They are going to frustrate Rodgers, the Packers’ QB. There will be sacks, hurries, and all types of pressure on Rodgers. This will be an ugly slugfest.
Green Bay lost in glorious manner against the San Francisco 49ers in the regular season. But that’s not the same kind of game that you will see this Sunday. Many have written off Aaron Rodgers as “old” at age 36 because he has had some questionable performances this season. Here is my take on Rodgers. The day for him to have choked or digressed was last Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. But play after play, he did what was needed to help get the next first down and win the game. You listen to me and you listen to me well. The NFC Championship is going to be a signature game for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers has been through too much and has sacrificed too much not to understand the moment. Also, the Packers have a bend-but-don’t-break defense and a solid running game with Aaron Jones. They are the more balanced team with the more experienced quarterback.
I rarely pick against a team that is the top seed, who is playing at home, with a dominant defense. In fact, it simply defies logic to do so. However, while San Francisco has been playing well all season, this game will come down to which quarterback can take over the game with everything on the line. For me, I would rather have Aaron Rodgers fighting and throwing the ball than Jimmy Garroppolo. I have the Green Bay Packers winning a hard-fought game, 28-24.