Burning questions for NFL’s conference championship games

By Jesse Reed
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL’s biggest event, aside from Super Bowl Sunday, is taking place this weekend as the conference championship games will determine who plays in Super Bowl LIV. Anticipation has reached a fevered pitch as the four remaining teams prepare for their conference championship game matchups, and they figure to be exceptionally entertaining.

As we gear up for Sunday’s action, there are some huge questions we’re pondering the answers to, and they will determine who gets to move on past conference championship weekend and play in Super Bowl LIV.

AFC Championship Game

Can the Chiefs stop Derrick Henry?

So far, nobody’s been able to even slow this dude down. The New England Patriots were railroaded out of their building as Henry eclipsed 200 yards from scrimmage, and so were the No. 1 seed Baltimore Ravens last weekend.

It’s worth pointing out that the Ravens and Patriots ranked 5th and 6th, respectively, during the regular season against the run. Kansas City, meanwhile, featured the seventh-worst run defense during the regular season. Even more troubling for the Chiefs this Sunday is that star defensive tackle Chris Jones, who missed last weekend’s game, has been limited all week with a calf injury and is questionable.

Needless to say, Henry may end up feasting once more.

Is Travis Kelce healthy enough?

Last weekend, Kelce was a huge reason the Chiefs were able to make their historic comeback after falling into an early 24-0 hole. He set an NFL record with three touchdowns in the second quarter and went into halftime with eight catches for 83 yards and the three scores.

Unfortunately, Kelce suffered a knee injury and wasn’t nearly as effective in the second half, when he caught just two passes. The dynamic tight end has been limited in practice all week with the knee injury, but not surprisingly he is going to play Sunday.

The big question is: How effective can he be?

Can Ryan Tannehill beat Patrick Mahomes in a shootout?

Let’s imagine for a moment that the Chiefs do somehow find a way to keep Henry from running rampant, and that Mahomes and his offense starts putting points on the board like he did last weekend.

In this scenario, it’s worth wondering if Tannehill, who hasn’t had to do much at all this postseason, can get back to slinging the pigskin around as effectively as he did during the regular season. In two playoff games, he’s completed just 15-of-29 passes for 160 yards.

Chances are, if the Titans are going to win Sunday, they’ll need Tannehill to do more than that. Kansas City’s defense has been coming on very strong during the second half of the season, and it was dominant in the final three quarters against Houston.

NFC Championship Game

Which Jimmy G will we see?

The 49ers are the most well-balanced team in the NFL this year. With a dominant defense and running game, they’ve been able to win some games in which Jimmy Garoppolo has turned the ball over due to maddeningly frustrating decision-making. He’s a true gunslinger in the mold of Brett Favre, but sometimes that backfires.

It did last Saturday. Garoppolo threw a brutal interception to Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks. Afterward, head coach Kyle Shanahan hardly went to the passing game at all. Part of that decision was thanks to a running game the Vikings couldn’t stop. Shanahan may have been saving some wrinkles in the passing game for Sunday’s NFC title game, too.

But the truth is, Garoppolo can sometimes be a liability. And if he is on Sunday, the 49ers will probably lose.

Can the Packers protect Aaron Rodgers?

Green Bay had no chance to beat San Francisco back in November when these two powerhouses clashed for the first time at Levi’s Stadium. A big reason for that was the utter lack of pass protection for star Aaron Rodgers. The 49ers made his life a living hell, and the result was the worst performance of his career.

Things may be different this time around. The Packers are healthier now than they were a couple months ago, and star tackle Bryan Bulaga will be in the lineup this time around. However, given how dangerous the 49ers’ front seven is, this is a battle that could easily go San Francisco’s way once again.

Can Davante Adams have a repeat performance?

All season long, the Packers have struggled to consistently provide Rodgers with enough viable weapons in the passing game. There just isn’t a legitimate No. 2 option outside of Adams. Last Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, though, there didn’t need to be.

Adams was absolutely on fire. The star receiver utterly abused Seattle’s mediocre secondary, setting a franchise record with 160 receiving yards on eight catches while hauling in both of Rodgers’ two touchdown passes.

This Sunday, Adams will have All-Pro Richard Sherman to contend with, however. Nobody’s been able to really get the best of him this season, so this battle will be must-see TV.