AFC Conference Championship Preview: Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs
By Ha Kung Wong
AFC Wild Card: Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs
Time: Sunday, 3:05 p.m. ET (CBS)
Current: Chiefs -7, Over/Under 53
Kansas City Chiefs
Keys to the Game
- The Tennessee Titans have been nothing but amazing. They went into Gillette Stadium and beat the New England Patriots as 5 point underdogs. They went into M&T Bank Stadium and beat the 1 seed Baltimore Ravens as 9.5 point underdogs. Even if they’re journey ends in the AFC Conference Championship game, it’s been an incredible ride for Titans and helmed by re-tread QB, Ryan Tannehill, who took over for Marcus Mariota and turned the season around. The pseudo-bad news is that their reward for all that is a trip to Arrowhead to play the Chiefs in the Conference Championship.
- The Wild Card game would have more accurately been described as Derrick Henry and the Titans Defense vs. the Patriots, as Henry was responsible 204 of the Titans 272 yards. In the Divisional Round Playoff game, Henry did it again, with 202 total yards on 32 touches adding a crazy 3 yard passing TD. Seriously, is there anything King Henry can’t do? None of this is truly surprising, as Henry finished as the NFL’s leading rusher with 1,540 rushing yards (1,095 of which were after contact) and 16 touchdowns, posting six 100+ yard games. Clearly, one of the most significant matchups in the game is whether the Chiefs 29th ranked run defense can do anything to slow down Henry. But Henry isn’t the only weapon that the Titans have on offense, as it was the surprising rise of retread QB Ryan Tannehill that brought the Titans to the postseason.
Derrick Henry: 1,567 yards after contact including playoffs
Most in a single season since 2006 pic.twitter.com/iJcQgnSEND
— PFF (@PFF) January 13, 2020
- Tannehill ended the regular season ahead of both Drew Brees and Lamar Jackson in Passer Rating (117.5), and also had the 3rd highest completion percentage (70.3%) in the league. That’s the highest Passer Rating and completion percentage he’s had throughout his 7 year career. Tannehill hasn’t exceeded 88 passing yards in either playoff game, but he’s done everything the Titans needed to get critical first downs and keep the offense on the field.
- In addition, there was rookie WR sensation, AJ Brown. Brown has been one of the NFL’s most impressive playmakers, regardless of experience, averaging 20.2 yards on 52 catches, plus another 60 yards on three rushes, having five 100+ yard games and scoring 9 total touchdowns, leading to him being graded the ninth best NFL receiver of 2019 by Pro Football Focus. But in the playoffs, Brown has caught a total of 2 targets for just 13 yards. It’s worked so far, but we’ve seen how the Chiefs can get make up ground and pull away on offense in the Divisional Round Playoff game against the Texans, so there’s a good chance the Titans will need Brown to show up.
- Speaking of the Chiefs, the primary reason they have that ability to pull away is last year’s MVP, Patrick Mahomes. In some ways, because of Lamar Jackson’s emergence, many have forgotten how good Mahomes is. Sure, he’s looked mortal today at times this year, but remember that he suffered an ankle injury early in the season even before his sideline stint from a knee displacement. Even in a “down” year, Mahomes has the 2nd highest QBR rating, the 7th most yards per game, the 4th highest yards per pass attempt, the 6th most passing TDs in the league, even while only playing 14 games during the regular season.
Completions 20+ yards downfield 2018-2019
🚀 Mahomes: 76
🚀 Wilson: 69
🚀 Rodgers: 64 pic.twitter.com/QirAMS7zsk
— PFF (@PFF) January 8, 2020
- And in the Divisional Round Playoffs, Mahomes demonstrated why he was last year’s MVP by completing 23 of 35 passes for 321 yards and whopping 5 TDs, adding another 53 yards on the ground. All this AFTER the Texans went up 24 to 0 early in the 2nd quarter.
- And one of Mahomes’ primary weapons is Travis Kelce, who leads all TEs with 97 receptions on 136 targets and 76.8 yards per game. And even with an IT band injury, Kelce continued to dominate destroying the Texans racking up 10 receptions for 134 yards and 3 TDs. With a fully healthy Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and standout rookie Mecole Hardman, Mahomes has plenty of outlets available to take advantage of a Titans defense that’s only 21st against the pass.
- And Damien Williams has reclaimed the backfield after returning from a rib injury to compile 28 carries and 7 receptions for 246 total yards and 3 total TDs over the last two games of the regular season, and in the Divisional Round Playoffs added 68 total yards and 3 total TDs.
- Keep an eye on Special Teams with the Chiefs having the edge there. In fact, they have the 2nd highest rated Special Teams unit per DVOA this season, while the Titans have made only 8 field goals this year converting just 44.4% of their attempts.
- Bottom line, the Titans have been a great story, and they did manage to stop the number 1 offense in the league in the Ravens, but the Chiefs have more experience and Mahomes has better weapons than Jackson. It’ll be close, as Henry will roll, but matching one for one with the Chiefs will be challenging.