While the Divisional round games didn’t live up to the Wildcard ones in terms of excitement and drama, there were more than enough thrills and spills to keep us satiated. The most shocking encounter was undoubtedly the top-seeded Ravens being toppled by the Titans, but the rousing Chiefs comeback, the gritty Packers/Seahawks duel and the 49ers exercising their dominance for all to see were all highly entertaining. A personal record of 2-2 against the spread is an improvement on the 0-4 week I endured in the Wild Card round, at least, but this playoff field has proved tricky to forecast.
But we go again for the Conference championship clashes. With just two games on the docket, the Vegas sharps have ample opportunity to drill down and find every edge. Picking the right spots is crucial not only this week but throughout the playoffs. My predecessor on this column Jeff Pasquino often found success during the postseason with this column. My hope is that I can finish strong over the last three playoff games.
As you would expect at this point in the playoffs when the competition gets stiffer, the favorites are comfortably touchdown-plus in terms of points. However, we would be foolish to dismiss either underdog – Tennessee or Green Bay – after the wild ride we have been on in the past two weeks.
Note that the over/unders are taken from VegasInsider.com
TENNESSEE TITANS at KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (-7.5) (Over/Under 52)
(Sunday 3:05 pm Eastern, CBS)
Last week in Baltimore, Derrick Henry wrote his name in the history books, becoming the first player in NFL history with at least 1,250 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns over any eight-game stretch. The back many are labeling as the league’s best after his epic run of games will be heavily relied upon this week in Kansas City. Since 1990, rushing for over 100 yards in the conference championship game has led to victories: such teams are 29-16 straight up and 31-13-3 against the spread. As the key statistic below shows, the Chiefs haven’t exactly been stout against the run, giving up 4.9 yards per tote.
As good as Henry has been, however, Ryan Tannehill is likely to be asked to take on more responsibility this week. The Chiefs’ explosive offense will force Tannehill and the Titans’ passing game – in hibernation this postseason for the most part – to extend themselves. In two postseason clashes, Tannehill has completed just 15 passes on 29 attempts. His efficiency has been outstanding, but he will need that well-rested arm to function at a high level with Patrick Mahomes II on the other side. Defensively, the Titans executed a well-conceived game plan to limit Lamar Jackson; even then, the MVP candidate rushed for over 140 yards. Mahomes is not the rushing threat Jackson is, of course, but he is a much better passer and will test the Titans defense at all levels. The early season meeting of these teams saw Mahomes throw for 446 yards on this unit – and that was his first game back from a kneecap dislocation.