With a dramatic round of Divisional fixtures now complete, the NFL’s final four have been decided.
A monumental upset saw the Tennessee Titans knock off MVP-in-waiting Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers also saw off Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks in a tightly contested 28-23 victory.
The San Francisco 49ers breezed past The Minnesota Vikings, and in one of the most entertaining post-season clashes in recent memory, the Kansas City Chiefs came back from 24-0 down at Arrowhead Stadium to blowout the Houston Texans 51-31.
The Chiefs and the 49ers start as favourites in the NFL playoffs betting, but who will make it to Superbowl LIV?
Here’s our preview of the games that will decide who’s heading to Miami in early February…
NFL Playoffs 2020: Conference Championship Predictions
AFC Championship Game: Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday 19th January
Down 21-0 after the first quarter, it would’ve been understandable if Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs had started planning for the 2020/21 season already. Three Houston touchdowns that were – for the most part – largely avoidable, saw Arrowhead silenced as the Texans took advantage of multiple uncharacteristic mistakes by the Chiefs. Then came the onslaught. The next seven drives for the Chiefs ended with seven touchdowns, a record in NFL post-season history. At the centre of that was franchise quarterback Mahomes, who willed his team back into the game – and then the lead. The Texans had little to no answer for the Chiefs and went out with somewhat of a whimper.
That comeback sets the Chiefs up nicely for a return to Arrowhead on Sunday, but they’ll face a Tennessee Titans team that has defied the odds thus far. In the Titans’ arsenal is running back Derrick Henry who steamrolled the New England Patriots in the wildcard round and showed little regard for the Ravens in the Titans’ win in Baltimore. What was expected to be a cakewalk for Jackson and the Ravens turned into a nightmare, with Henry rushing for 195 yards and throwing a touchdown pass. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill only passed for 88 yards but Tennessee’s running game was strong enough to see them progress.
What to expect when the Titans come to Kansas City then? First things first, it’s time to stop underestimating them. They were unfancied against Tom Brady’s New England Patriots, and outright disrespected by most prior to them dismantling the Ravens. It’s fair to say they’re a legitimate Super Bowl contender now, and Henry’s running makes them a team you really don’t want to see at this stage in the season.
Will they have enough to leave Arrowhead with a win? That remains to be seen, when the Chiefs’ offense clicked against the Texans they looked borderline unstoppable. Mahomes’ combination of elite passing and being a rushing threat means the Titans will have their work cut out in trying to keep the Chiefs at bay.
NFC Championship Game: Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers, Sunday 19th January
In the other game making up Championship Sunday, the Packers make the journey to California to face the number one seeded San Francisco 49ers.
Green Bay’s nail-biting victory over the Seahawks was best characterised by the connection between Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Davante Adams. The pair combined a host of times to get the Packers further up the field, and Adams finished the game with two touchdowns, eight receptions and 160 yards. Despite the pair’s strong showing, the Packers could well have lost this game. The 21-3 lead at the half looked extremely vulnerable in the fourth quarter when the Seahawks got it to a one-touchdown game.
Green Bay were able to call on their defense to ensure that the Russell Wilson-led Seahawks would fall short in their attempts to complete the comeback at Lambeau field though. Whilst Wilson was spectacular in his own right, throwing for 277 yards and a touchdown, the tandem of the Smith Brothers (Za’Darius and Preston) combined for four sacks, one of which ultimately would end the Seahawks’ final drive down the field.
The 49ers had somewhat of an easier path to the NFC Championship Game. A dominant 27-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings was aided by the performance of Tevin Coleman, who ran for 105 yards and two touchdowns. In comparison, Dalvin Cook was able to rush for just 18 yards on nine carries for the Vikings, a testament to how important the likes of Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander and Jaquiski Tartt are to this 49ers defense.
That bolstered defense could be critical if the 49ers are to reach the Super Bowl. Rodgers and Adams are a dangerous pairing, the 49ers cannot allow them to connect in the same way that they did against the Seahawks. On offense it’ll be important for Jimmy Garoppolo to get back to his best. The quarterback threw for just one touchdown and 131 yards against the Vikings, well short of his season averages. It’s not quite the battle of the superstar quarterbacks, but their performances will be as important as ever.
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