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AFC Championship Preview; Kansas City Chiefs vs Tennessee Titans

It’s no surprise that the Kansas City Chiefs are in the AFC Championship game for the second year in a row.  What is surprising is who they’re facing.  The Tennessee Titans have slayed two AFC giants back-to-back games.  They defeated the New England Patriots in New England in the Wild Card Game, and took down the Baltimore Ravens the next week.

Shutting down Lamar Jackson, the consensus league MVP, was one of the most shocking feats seen this season.  What’s been even more impressive is the emergence of Derrick Henry.  Henry has taken the league by storm with consecutive 180 yard rushing performances, the first feat of that nature in NFL history.

This matchup is of two contrasting styles.  The Titans are a bruising, rough-and-tumble defensive-minded team that uses their battering ram of a running back to win games.  The Chiefs are one of the most explosive teams in the league, as evidenced last week where they went off for 51 points in three quarters against the Houston Texans.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs are the forgotten team in the AFC despite finishing the regular season 12-4 and being the second seed in the conference.  While everyone was talking about the athleticism of Lamar Jackson and the downfall of the Patriots, the Chiefs have quietly gone about their business.

Patrick Mahomes is a forgotten man because of Jackson, but he’s still one of the most talented quarterbacks in the league.  The combination of speed and strength up and down the offense is impressive, with Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins leading the way.

The Chiefs also have a few running backs that rotate in and out, with Shady McCoy having a resurgent season after being an afterthought over the past few seasons.  Damien Williams has stepped up admirably and the Chiefs don’t get enough credit for how well they run the ball.

X-Factor

The X-Factor in this game is Mecole Hardman.  The speedy wide receiver and special teamer has game-breaking speed.  If Hardman can get past a flat-footed Titans’ cornerback or find a crease on a kickoff, he could be the difference maker in the game.

The Chiefs win if

They stop Derrick Henry and make Ryan Tannehill beat them.  Period, stop.  The Titans have been successful this postseason because they’ve rode their bellcow to two straight victories.  Averaging over 30 carries per game, Henry has been the entire Titans’ offense.

Ryan Tannehill has been great in his role;  A game manager that makes a good throw when he needs to and does not turn the ball over.  If the Chiefs are going to win, it’s going to be because they made Tannehill throw the ball and forced him into making mistakes.

 

Tennessee Titans

As mentioned before, the Titans were never supposed to be here.  It was supposed to be some combination of Chiefs, Ravens and Patriots.  Hell, even the Bills and Texans had an outside shot of making it here.  The Titans were supposed to be crushed by New England in the Wild Card and go back to their home.

Instead, this 9-7 team is making a 2007 New York Giants type run.  They’ve done it on the back of their star running back, Derrick Henry.  They’ve also done it with an excellent defense that forces turnovers and doesn’t make mistakes.

Mike Vrabel has this team firing on all cylinders and playing football the right way.  The combination of excellent defense and an even better running game has been the recipe for success.  The switch from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill at quarterback has been masterful.  Everything that Vrabel has done this season has worked.

X-Factor

The X-Factor for the Titans is A.J. Brown.  Brown has been a complete non-factor over the past two games for the Titans.  Derrick Henry has legitimately carried this team to the AFC Championship.  Brown has two catches for 13 yards combined.

The Titans haven’t needed to use Brown because of Henry, but something tells me that the Chiefs will do anything and everything to keep Derrick Henry in check.  In comes Brown, who has had a fantastic rookie season so far.  The shifty wideout caught 52 passes for 1,051 yards and eight touchdowns in his first year.

The Titans win if

They slow down Travis Kelce.  Kelce dropped an easy pass at the beginning of last week’s Divisional game against the Texans, but then got rolling and caught two touchdown passes on the way to a 51-31 victory over Houston.  The Titans have some very athletic linebackers and they’ll need every bit of energy to slow down Kelce.

The Titans have a top ten cornerback in Adoree’ Jackson, so being able to handle the Chiefs’ top receivers may be an easier task than handling Kelce.  Kelce is a matchup nightmare.  He’s too big to have a cornerback on him, and he’s too athletic to have a linebacker on him.

If the Titans can find a way to bump Kelce each and every play, they’ll have a chance to win the game.  If Kelce is able to get open and keep drives going, there’s no way the Titans can keep up with the explosive Chiefs offense.

Prediction

Chiefs 34, Titans 24

This is the end of the line for the Titans.  They’ve had a great run but they also caught teams at their most vulnerable.  The Patriots were a crumbling team with no legitimate offensive weapons and an aging quarterback.  The Ravens were the hot pick to win it all but have a young and inaccurate quarterback and an ailing running back.

The Chiefs offense is so ridiculously explosive they’re hard to stop.  There are two ways the Titans can win;  Derrick Henry goes for another 180 yards and keeps the ball out of Patrick Mahomes’ hands, or the Titans sack Mahomes all night and force multiple turnovers.

Unfortunately, if Henry is even slowed down they don’t have the other firepower to keep up with the Chiefs.  It’s going to be a closer game than the score indicates, but the Chiefs will pull away with a late touchdown.

 

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Chris Passarelli
Football Editor - Hockey Editor - New York Islanders Lead Writer - New York Lizards Lead Writer - UConn Football Lead Writer
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