Three games left in a 267-game NFL season. How games 265 and 266 line up:
Tennessee (12-6, 6th seed) at Kansas City (13-4, 2nd seed)
Sunday, 3:05 p.m. ET, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, TV: CBS
Favorite: Chiefs by 7
The first game, Nov. 10 in Nashville, was supposed to be the coming-out party for the rehabbed and ready Patrick Mahomes after two weeks off because of a dislocated kneecap. But the Titans, sparked by a 68-yard TD run by Derrick Henry (there’s that man again) in the third quarter and a one-yard TD run in the fourth, beat the Chiefs late, 35-32. This was when Kansas City had a terrible defense and it appeared Mahomes needed to be Dan Fouts to make it deep into the playoffs. Since then, the Chiefs have improved on D . . . but Henry is at his career peak as well.
The Titans have progressed from a slobberknocker novelty act to a very dangerous contender for the Super Bowl after their convincing wins at the three-seed Patriots and the one-seed Ravens. You can devote a spy or a heavy front or whatever you want, but truly impressive defenses in Foxboro and Baltimore have been chewed up and spit out by this humble redwood of a back. They know he’s coming, but he still churns out 5.9 yards per rush (on 64 carries in two playoff games). It’s amazing that, here we are, forecasting the conference title games, and the biggest issue revolves around a whether anyone in football can stop the running back on the team that entered the postseason thought to be 12th out of 12 playoff teams.
Though Henry’s a huge angle to this game, Tennessee will have to find a way to frustrate Patrick Mahomes. It’s interesting to see how Tennessee reacts against multi-dimensional passer. The secondary, with whip-smart Logan Ryan and Kevin Byard, feeds on being put in passing situations and has made huge plays against stud quarterbacks in two straight playoff games. I think for the Titans to stay in this game, they’ll need to have a couple of long drives early, keep Mahomes off the field, and turn him over a couple of times. I absolutely think the Titans have a chance, but all they have to do is watch tape of Kansas City falling behind by 24 against Houston to see how fast the Chiefs changed the game. Tennessee can’t afford many mistakes Sunday at Arrowhead.
Green Bay (14-3, 2nd seed) at San Francisco (14-3, 1st seed)
Sunday, 6:40 p.m. ET, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., TV: FOX
Favorite: 49ers by 7
Fifty days ago, the 8-2 Packers went west to play 9-1 San Francisco. Both teams were showing signs of falling to earth a bit. But on this evening, the Niners handed Green Bay its worst loss of the season, 37-8, a game so bad and so hopeless that the Eastern Kentucky Colonel, Tim Boyle, mopped up for Aaron Rodgers. That’s what happens when the franchise quarterback is getting so battered and looks so overmatched; the coach just wants to get him out of there. In that game, San Francisco showed the kind of relentless pass-rush the rested Niners showed Saturday against Minnesota. So expect coach Matt LaFleur to mix up his protections against his old friend Kyle Shanahan so he’s able to give Rodgers a fighting chance. The way I saw the San Francisco front Saturday, Green Bay will have to use an extra blocker often, make sure Rodgers gets rid of it quickly, and play its best game of the year, by far, to score enough to win. On the other side, I’m curious to see if the Packers can get more pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo than they got in the first meeting. They had four sacks, but only four hurries, per PFF. They’ll have to swarm Garoppolo more to affect his game.