The Chiefs were weak against the run all year, even when Chris Jones was in the lineup, so the expectation will be that Henry rushes over 30 times again. Don’t be so certain. Tennessee’s defense couldn’t get off the field the first time these two teams met in November, and Titans coach Mike Vrabel is unlikely to play to his defense like in the team’s first two playoff matchups because no one plays to their defense against Kansas City. Ryan Tannehill didn’t luck into averaging a league-best 9.6 yards per attempt on the season, and Tennessee’s play-action game could use Tyrann Mathieu and Daniel Sorensen‘s aggressiveness against them like the Titans did to Earl Thomas in Baltimore.
Mecole Hardman, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Damien Williams stretch the field horizontally as much as vertically. They are a track team that could go 50 yards on any play. It usually takes a drop or penalty to stop a Chiefs drive, especially against a team like the Titans that doesn’t have much of a pass rush. Vrabel may play it safe on defense like he did in the first meeting — force the Chiefs to move the ball down the field slowly and hope that Andy Reid botches game management late in the fourth quarter like he did in Nashville.
The problem with that plan is what happens in the first three quarters. Andy Reid is the most influential offensive mind of the last two decades with the greatest collection of talent he’s ever coached, including the quarterback with the most ridiculous skill set in NFL history. The Titans‘ mid-level defense played more snaps last week than any defense played in an NFL game all year. It’s the Chiefs‘ time.
6:40 p.m. ET (FOX) | Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, Calif.)
There are a lot of reasons to believe that the 49ers’ blowout victory over the Packers in Week 12 will not be instructive on Sunday, but let’s start with the most obvious one: Every game in this league of small margins is dramatically different and unpredictable.
To borrow a favorite Mike McCarthy phrase, these Packers are nobody’s underdog. Aaron Rodgers played at a locked-in, accurate level last week that should concern 49ers Faithful. He showed a willingness to take shots when they were available and use his legs when necessary. He gives the Packers a decisive edge at quarterback if he plays that well again. And it’s worth noting the talent gap between these two teams isn’t that large.
The edge for the 49ers in this week (and most weeks), however, doesn’t just come from their loaded roster. I trust Kyle Shanahan to make Packers inside linebacker Blake Martinez look lost in coverage and the running game. I expect San Francisco to target cornerbacks Kevin King and Tramon Williams. I expect George Kittle to be the best player on the field and Fred Warner to lead the best-tackling team in the NFL because that’s what they’ve done for the last four months.
The Packers can compete if Rodgers plays near his best and they can win if their pass rush forces Jimmy Garoppolo to play too fast, but the odds still aren’t in Green Bay’s favor. While the Packers have proven comfortable in close games, the 49ers have overcome more adversity from injuries and brutal losses all season to get here. They are battle tested, talented and smart.
The best Super Bowl matchup on the board remains Chiefs-49ers and that’s the matchup we’ll get, even if the Levi’s Stadium crowd has to sweat this one out.