NFL playoff picks, predictions: Packers stun 49ers, Chiefs handle Titans in conference championship gamesSporting News — (Tadd Haislop)
The arrival of the conference championship round of the postseason leaves us three picks to make this year, including the big game in South Florida. We hope to end the season on a high note, and we're already trending in that direction with the luck we had in the divisional round. The Packers, 49ers and Chiefs delivered victories as favorites, with the Ravens' loss to the Titans being the only upset.
Based on the opening point spreads for the NFC and AFC championship games, more upsets can be considered unlikely.
In the AFC title game, Kansas City opened as a 7 1/2-point home favorite over Tennessee, which obviously is no stranger to postseason upsets having defeated New England and Baltimore in the first two rounds. Likewise, the NFC title game opened with a relatively large spread, with San Francisco a 7-point home favorite over Green Bay.
Given those lines, we probably would be wise to go chalk with our picks straight up for the conference championship round. Such an approach worked out well for us last week.
But where's the fun in that?
Considering all of the above, here are our NFL playoff picks, predictions for the AFC and NFC championship games. All odds are courtesy of SportsInsider.com.
NFL playoff picks, predictions for AFC, NFC championship games
- AFC championship game: Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs (-7 1/2)
Sunday, 3:05 p.m. ET, CBS
On one hand, the No. 2-seeded Chiefs should feel fortunate to draw the No. 6-seeded Titans in the AFC title game rather than, say, the Ravens or Patriots, the two teams Tennessee upset on its way to Kansas City. On the other hand, this is a tough matchup for the Chiefs.
Rising star running back Derrick Henry was a nightmare for Baltimore and New England, the teams that finished the regular season with the No. 5- and No. 6-ranked rush defenses, respectively. So what should we expect the 6-3, 240-pounder to do against the defense that ranked 26th in rushing yards allowed this season with 128.2 given up per game? Henry's rushing totals thus far in the playoffs: 182 yards against the Patriots; 195 yards against the Ravens.
While the Chiefs' overall defense improved dramatically through the second half of the season, they will have their hands full with the Titans' running game. That was the case in Week 10, when Tennessee out-rushed visiting Kansas City 225-97 and upset the Chiefs with a last-minute Ryan Tannehill touchdown pass. The Chiefs' best defense in the rematch, then, will be their best offensive player.
Tennessee's defense is respectable, but it's not a juggernaut. The Titans took advantage of a limping Patriots offense in the wild-card round, and they beat the Ravens thanks to perfect situational football — certainly not because they shut down Lamar Jackson and Co., who managed 530 total yards in the loss.
Patrick Mahomes presents Tennessee a different kind of challenge with his MVP arm and, based on what he did against the Texans, an apparent willingness to pick up key yardage with his legs. He and the Chiefs have been on a roll since that November loss to the Titans, a seven-game winning streak in total.
It will continue with vengeance against Tennessee and a trip to South Florida.
Pick: Chiefs 34, Titans 28
- NFC championship game: Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers (-7)
Sunday, 6:40 p.m. ET, Fox
The 49ers should win this game for so many reasons. They're at home, where they smoked the Packers on a Sunday night in Week 12. Their offense, founded on a trusty running game and supplemented by a handful of solid receiving targets for a smooth quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, is clicking. Their defense, now fully healthy and as dominant up front as anybody in the NFL, is at full strength. Green Bay should have no chance.
Just like the Titans didn't have a chance against the Patriots or the Ravens in these wacky NFL playoffs. Just like the Vikings didn't have a chance against the Saints. Just like the Texans were pronounced dead in the first half against the Bills. Just like the Chiefs were buried by a disastrous first quarter against the Texans.
Conventional wisdom is useless in the NFL, and the 2020 postseason is a perfect example of why. While the Packers are big underdogs against the 49ers in the NFC championship game with good reason, it's not like Green Bay, which won 13 games in coach Matt LaFleur's first season, is a pushover.
After the Packers beat the Seahawks in the divisional round, SN's Vinnie Iyer pinned four things they need to repeat in the title game to upset the 49ers. First, they need to protect Aaron Rodgers. Even with Bryan Bulaga set to return at right tackle, this is Green Bay's biggest challenge, because San Francisco's pass rush is relentless.
Second, the Packers need get Davante Adams open. As long as they can keep their No. 1 receiver away from Richard Sherman, this is possible. Third, they need to convert on third downs. We trust Rodgers to do just that. Finally, they need to stop the 49ers' running game. This is where Kenny Clark comes in.
Everything Green Bay needs to fall into place against San Francisco has a decent chance to do just that, especially with no weather concerns in Santa Clara. The Packers won't have any issues with the weather in Miami, either.
Pick: Packers 27, 49ers 24