NFL Championship Sunday is now set. It was a wild weekend of divisional playoff football action with the Baltimore Ravens being shockingly disposed of by the No. 6-seeded Tennessee Titans.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers have to be seen as overwhelming Super Bowl favorites as they host games with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
In no way does this mean the road team’s don’t stand a chance. Riding Derrick Henry’s historical recent performance, the Titans have to be feeling good heading into Arrowhead.
Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers will look to exact revenge against the 49ers team he grew up rooting for after beating Seattle this past weekend.
These are among the top early storylines for NFL Championship Sunday.
Aaron Rodgers returns to his roots
The story is by now well known. This former NFL MVP is still bent out of shape over the 49ers passing up on him in the 2005 NFL Draft. Rodgers has not gotten over it. He’s unlikely to ever get over it.
Since that fateful April day some 15 years ago, Rodgers has led his Packers to nine playoff appearances and a Super Bowl title. San Francisco? Four playoff appearances without a single title.
Things have certainly changed since then. Primarily, those responsible for San Francisco selecting Smith over Rodgers are now coaching the Dallas Cowboys. Yeah, that’s a real thing. Meanwhile, the 49ers have moved into a brand-new stadium. None of this is going to matter. A product of Chico, Rodgers wants nothing more than to send his childhood team packing for the winter Sunday afternoon.
Finding a way to stop Derrick Henry
Historical. That’s the only way to describe what this impending free agent and former Heisman winner has done over the past few games. Dating back to Week 17 of the regular season, Henry has put up nearly 600 rushing yards over the past three games. He’s also the first player in NFL Playoff history to tally 180-plus rushing yards in consecutive games.
Despite this, there has to be some concern on the Titans’ side. Henry has rushed the ball 96 times in the past three weeks. Meanwhile, Ryan Tannehill has not even tallied 200 passing yards in the first two games of the playoffs.
Expect a suspect Chiefs run defense to hone in on Henry and force Tannehill to beat them through the air. Given what we’ve seen recently, that’s easier said than done.
49ers maintaining that edge as favorites
At 14-3 on the season, San Francisco has to be seen as the favorite to hoist the Lombardi Trophy come February in Miami. The team’s utter dominance of the Minnesota Vikings in the divisional round only adds to this.
Remember, Kyle Shanahan and Co. defeated the Packers at Levi’s Stadium by the score of 37-8 back in late November. It’s a game that saw the 49ers without Pro Bowlers Joe Staley, Dee Ford and Kwon Alexander. Let that one sink in for a second.
Even then, San Francisco has to be expecting a different version of the Packers than the last time around. Green Bay is going to be much sharper in this outing. Maintaining that edge in front of a boisterous crowd is going to be huge for the up-and-coming team.
What in the world did the Chiefs do again?
Down 24-0 early in the second quarter on Sunday, Chiefs fans at Arrowhead Stadium were legitimately concerned. It was a mistake-filled performance from Kansas City coming off the bye.
Then, something clicked big time. Kansas City scored touchdowns on a record seven consecutive possessions. Andy Reid vastly outcoached Bill O’Brien. The game was pretty much over before the fourth quarter even started.
Eye-opening. That would be the best way to describe the mixed bag of emotions the Chiefs went through Sunday afternoon. What we do know is that Kansas City can’t start out this slow against a Titans squad coming off back-to-back wins over the Patriots and Ravens. That’s for sure.
Two rematches in much different situations
Tennessee’s Week 10 win over the Chiefs was absolutely huge in that it enabled the team to head into its bye with an even 5-5 record. A loss here, and Ryan Tannehill and Co. would not have even been playing playoff football.
Making his fourth start of the season replacing an ineffective Marcus Mariota, Tannehill was aided by 188 rushing yards from Derrick Henry. It’s a different ball game this time around with the Chiefs defense having stepped up in recent weeks.
In Santa Clara, the 49ers are considered heavy favorites against Green Bay. One can easily see why. That above-mentioned 37-8 win with three Pro Bowlers sitting out stands out in a big way.
It’s also interesting in that Green Bay was outscored 63-19 in its two games in California during the regular season. But make no mistake about it. This is a vastly different team. The 49ers have to expect the Packers’ best shot here. The venue is the same, but the reward is so much bigger.