At least I did okay picking winners, but I really had a rough week in the divisional round. I was 3-1 picking winners (6-2 in playoffs, 176-87-1 overall) only missing on the Titans. I really expected them to make some mistakes and be worn out. Had they played the Ravens in the first game of the playoffs I honestly might have taken them to win and surely would have taken the points. Speaking of which, I was an atrocious 0-4 against the spread (3-4-1 for the playoffs, 142-116-6 overall). I regret not taking the points for the Titans. I thought it made sense taking a touchdown with the Vikings because I expected a defensive game, but Minnesota was tired the way I felt Tennessee would be so I should have swapped those choices. How did I have +10 on a team that was up 24-0 and lose? Bill O’Brien is a helluva a bad head coach, that’s how and the Texans need to fire him. I can’t be mad about the Seahawks failing to cover, if they convert the two-point play I win those are the breaks. I was 2-2 on the over/under (6-2 for the playoffs, 138-123-3 overall) hitting on the Saturday games and missing on the Sunday games. My -4 week against Vegas left me +3 for the playoffs and +41 in total for the season.
Tennessee (12-7) @ Kansas City (13-4): Two months ago these teams met and I don’t think anyone expected them to be having a rematch with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. The forecast is for single digits so that’s fun. The Chiefs have reeled off seven straight wins since that loss, including last week’s ridiculous comeback in which they closed on a 51-7 run against Houston. The first meeting was a return to the field for Mahomes and he threw the ball all over the yard for 446 yards while completing 72% of his 50 tosses. He didn’t turn it over and was sacked only twice for a total of 13 yards lost. Tannehill, as we have gotten used to in the playoffs, barely put the ball in the air. He threw 19 passes for 181 yards and a pair of scores, but did absorb 4 sacks on those limited dropbacks. It was a back and forth affair and Kansas City led 10-0 a few minutes into the second quarter and 29-20 with 7 minutes to play. Tennessee scored on defense to get back in the game early, took a lead with a 68-yard Henry touchdown run and in the final 30 seconds scored the winning touchdown on a Humphries reception for 23 yards. The stats for the 35-32 Titans win were bizarre. They averaged 8.7 yards per rush, but possessed the ball for just 22:08 and had only 19 first downs. Kansas City had a 78-49 edge in plays run and only punted once. With all of that being said, I expect a very different game in the rematch.
The Chiefs showed last week how explosive they can be. The offense had a lot of weeks being held reasonably in check given what everyone knows they are capable of. After starting 4-0, eight times in 11 weeks they failed to score more than 26 points before closing with a 31-21 win over the Chargers and of course last week’s eruption. After their last loss back on November 10 against these Titans, they went on a five-game stretch allowing a total of 48 points and nine times in the regular season they held opponents to no more than 21 points. This defense is not great, but they have had some moments. As I thought last week, Tennessee had to be tired right? They are playing their fourth road game in a row and eighth consecutive contest with a playoff atmosphere, starting with a critical win at Indianapolis. They went to Oakland and their 21-0 second half is what put the Raiders on life support entering the final week when it came to scenarios to get the wild card. Losing the first meeting to Houston cost them the division title and the loss to New Orleans had me doubting their ability to make a playoff run. Routing the backups in the rematch against the Texans was fine, and then of course the two playoff games muscling past the defending champion Pats and bullying the Ravens and their expected MVP. They haven’t lost on the road since November 3.
The game plan for Tennessee is known at this point. They want to run the ball every play and against a team that allowed 4.9 yards per carry during the regular season that is an issue. Henry already had a big game against them and while Kansas City probably deserved the win that first meeting, they didn’t. Tackling Henry is an issue and he seems to be gaining strength every week. Stopping Mahomes is just as difficult and he got a taste last year. A boneheaded penalty took away his trip to the Super Bowl and will they really lose another championship game at home? Reid has coached in a ton of these and of course Vrabel, who had said he’d cut his private parts off if he wins it all, is coaching his first. The Titans are on a roll, their momentum is palpable and they seem unstoppable. The truth is that they did everything right the last two weeks and emulated the Patriots really. I don’t know if they can continue playing so perfectly. The Chiefs can do enough on defense and most importantly figure out a way to force this offense to kick field goals. It’s going to be a much lower scoring affair, and I think Mahomes is the one delivering the winner this time: Kansas City 24, Tennessee 22 (TEN +7.5/under 53)
Green Bay (14-3) @ San Francisco (14-3): Every time Rodgers plays the 49ers it comes up about when they passed on him in the draft. Certainly they regret it, although they did get to a Super Bowl without him. He won one without them. The Packers improved to 14-1 in games played outside California last week, but unfortunately their last trip here in that ugly 37-8 loss on this field is why the rematch will be in the Bay Area. Rodgers was beaten up, taking 5 sacks and throwing for a mere 104 yards on 33 passes. It was only 10-0 with three minutes left in the half, but a 13-0 spurt including two scores in the final minute of play really put the contest in hand. Sometimes a game goes that way and gets out of hand, but let’s not forget the 49ers had only 16 first downs. The teams combined for 10 punts. Green Bay had a huge edge in plays run (70-45) and held the ball for 35:16 yet was never in the game. I don’t expect the rematch to be the same. After that loss the Packers have won six straight. The first four of those they allowed a total of 51 points. Their head coach is inexperienced, but their quarterback is not. I don’t feel they will be overwhelmed again.
San Francisco at 8-0 had a lot of people doubting them and for good reason. None of the teams they played in the first half of the season made the playoffs and only the 9-7 Rams finished with a winning record. Starting with their first big test, the OT loss to Seattle, they went on a 3-3 stretch. They played three straight division champs and won two of them, but they also scratched past Arizona and lost to Atlanta with both of those games coming at home. The second Rams game was a struggle in the season finale, and they got very fortunate in the rematch at Seattle to win by a matter of inches or their path to the Super Bowl would have looked very different. Last week’s beat down of Minnesota was impressive. Unlike Green Bay, who nearly blew a 21-3 against Seattle, they kept the hammer down in a 27-10 win. It did feel as if they had home field advantage in their Santa Clara stadium and that was in doubt. The most important factor is not being forced to play in Wisconsin weather. It’s going to be mild here and that’s big for them. I look for the defenses to rule here, in a big way. Green Bay has something to prove, and San Francisco might be too loose if that makes any sense at all. Rodgers isn’t going to let his team get embarrassed again and they should make the adjustments to keep it close. Ultimately, the 49ers are too powerful in the run game and too good on defense. It’s their year, out of nowhere and if they draw the Chiefs in the Super Bowl I expect them to (spoiler alert for my pick) win a sixth title: San Francisco 23, Green Bay 20 (GB +7.5/under 46.5)