With one game between the remaining teams and the Super Bowl, the Championship round will decide who represents each Conference. In the AFC, Kansas City Chiefs host the Tennessee Titans after the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens were eliminated. The Chiefs may be the favourites, but that hasn’t stopped the Titans yet these playoffs.
Kansas City Chiefs
After going down 24-0 against the Texans, the Chiefs stormed back in the second quarter to pile on points. With successive scoring drives and stumbles by Houston, the Chiefs took a 28-24 lead into halftime. Kansas City weren’t slowed much in the second half either, winning it 51-31.
The Chiefs key strength in the game was the diverse playmakers they had that Houston couldn’t stop. Tight End Travis Kelce had 134 yards and 3 Touchdowns, while Running Back Damien Williams accounted for another 3 TDs. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes was the leading rusher for the Chiefs with 53 yards, on top of his 321 passing yards. The Texans couldn’t amass enough of a pass rush, getting a single sack with a Cornerback blitz. Simultaneously, they had no answers for Kelce, and lacked the Defensive Backs to win matchups.
The Chiefs Defence, however, was not on par with its Offense. Although they managed 5 sacks, with Linebacker Frank Clark getting 3 of those, they were not consistently able to pressure Texans’ QB Deshaun Watson. And while they were able to limit the rushing yards, they gave up 388 passing yards, with three Wide Receivers having 80 receiving yards or more.
How They Can Win the AFC Championship
The key to the Chiefs winning again is their Offense. Mahomes, Kelce and the other receivers need to play at a similar level. While the Titans have a better secondary than the Texans, their pass rush is not quite as good. WRs Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman should be targeted on slant and in routes over the middle, which is where the Ravens had success getting receivers open. Mahomes should have time to pass, but will need to be accurate as the Titans coverage will be tighter than Houston’s was.
Additionally, the Chiefs will need to run the ball more effectively than they did against Houston. Establishing the run early will be useful later in the game if they have a lead, and being able to take time off the clock disadvantages the Titans. Tennessee will lean heavily on a rushing attack, and having to come from behind or compile quick drives continuously will be challenging for them. Kansas City will also want to run the ball throughout the game so that the Titans aren’t dropping even more players into coverage.
On Defence, the Chiefs will need to find a way to stop Titans RB Derrick Henry. Making tackles, and swarming Henry when he has the ball will be one thing, but shooting the A and B gaps and making tackles for a loss to slow drives will be just as important. The Chiefs will need to take risks in the secondary and stick to man coverage, forcing Titans QB Ryan Tannehill to make plays. Safety Tyrann Mathieu should feature time in the box, and will also need to be brought up as extra run support. The Chiefs can win in a shootout, but forcing the Titans to play keep-up will increase their chances.
The Titans executed their game plan with precision against the Baltimore Ravens. Henry rushed for 195 yards on 30 attempts, and Tennessee limited the Ravens’ ground game early on. Despite having only 88 passing yards, Tannehill found his open receivers, and tight calls went their way, including an early TD that was inches from being disallowed. With the Ravens’ receivers also dropping passes, the Titans capitalised on their opportunities, including a deep shot for a 45 yard TD. After that, they continued to run out the clock, and the Ravens continued to struggle to move the ball downfield.
The Titans’ Defence was especially dominant for most of the game, with the LBs and DBs showing speed in getting to the ball carrier. Although the Ravens had mishaps and were often facing 3rd and 10, the Titans Defence missed few tackles and were unyielding. While the Ravens receivers did get open at times, the Titans’ biggest struggle was in stopping QB Lamar Jackson running the ball, as he managed 143 rushing yards. But by playing from in front and running the clock out, the Titans were prepared to give up rushing yards if it meant Baltimore wasn’t scoring.
How They Can Win the AFC Championship
Tennessee will approach this game with a similar plan to the Divisional Round. Derrick Henry will need to be fed again, and has a friendly matchup against this Chiefs’ Defence. If he goes for another 180+ yards on the ground, then Tennessee will be feeling confident. Across their two playoff games Tannehill has thrown for just over 160 yards combined, and has avoided turning the ball over. While WR AJ Brown and TE Jonnu Smith had good finishes to the regular season, the Titans’ passing game lacks the depth of playmakers to be relying on an air attack.
When the two teams met during the regular season, Tennessee walked away the victors by restricting the Chiefs to Field Goals, instead of TDs. Although they gave up nearly 450 passing yards, Patrick Mahomes couldn’t find the end zone. WR Tyreek Hill had 157 receiving yards, but the other receivers, including Kelce, were mostly contained. While they had success in this area on Defence, Tennessee will need to adjust as the Chiefs scheme their receivers open. Doubling Kelce, jamming Hill at the line of scrimmage and limiting their blitzes will allow the Titans to defend the passing game to their best.
Similarly, the Titans will also want to limit the Chiefs’ run game. Although Mahomes was returning from injury when they met and had no rushing yards, Tennessee were also good at restricting the Chiefs to less than 100 yards on the ground. The Titans’ LBs will need to play short zones across the field to not only watch for Mahomes and Williams running, but also not get caught out with screens and play action to Kelce and Hill.