Jan. 17 (UPI) — Championship weekend has arrived in the NFL, with four teams battling for the right to go to Super Bowl LIV.
Both games are Sunday, with the Packers fighting the 49ers in the nightcap in Santa Clara, Calif. The 49ers have the best odds of advancing to the Super Bowl, according to Caesar’s. San Francisco is a 7.5-point favorite against Green Bay. The Chiefs are 7-point favorites to beat the Titans.
“You’ve got to get to your preparation,” 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman told reporters Thursday. “You’ve got to go out there and execute. It sounds boring and rudimentary, but honestly that’s what it comes down to.
“Either you’re going to execute or you’re not. The people who treat this game as more than what it is, those are usually the people that lose.”
The Chiefs and Titans game is expected to be the highest-scoring affair, with an over/under point total of 53. The Packers and 49ers have an over/under of 46.5 points. The Chiefs are a -340 favorite to beat the Titans, while the 49ers are a -360 favorite to advance.
The 49ers beat the Packers 37-8 on Nov. 24 in Santa Clara. The Titans beat the Chiefs 35-32 on Nov. 10 in Nashville.
“We expect a loud environment,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “There are a lot of us who have played in these types of games before, which helps. But we have to start faster than we did earlier in the season and take care of the football.”
Titans at Chiefs
The 49ers and Titans have been winning the old-fashioned way, using stellar rushing attacks to punish opponents throughout the playoffs. Kansas City and Green Bay are led by prolific passers.
The Chiefs fought back from a 24-point deficit to stun the Houston Texans in the divisional round. The Titans pulled off an upset of the No. 1 seed Baltimore Ravens behind a dominant rushing performance from Derrick Henry.
Henry has more than 400 yards from scrimmage in two appearances this postseason. The Titans most likely will attempt to get him more than 30 carries again against the Chiefs, keeping Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City’s high-octane attack on the sideline.
“I think I get in a rhythm the more carries I get,” Henry said. “I get a better feel for the game as the game goes on.”
Kansas City allowed just 94 rushing yards to the Texans last week, but allowed the fifth-most rushing yards per game in the AFC during the regular season. While the Chiefs struggled against the run in 2019, the Titans struggled against the pass. Look for the Titans to minimize the Chiefs’ offensive possessions. Tennessee also needs to step up defensively on third downs to keep Mahomes from extending drives.
“When you are playing in these type of football games, not everything is going to be great,” Mahomes said. “You aren’t going to get everything the exact way you want it. But you have to find a way to win, find a way to fight.”
Henry ran for 188 yards and scored twice in the Titans’ Nov. 10 win against the Chiefs. Mahomes threw for 446 yards and three scores in the loss.
Packers at 49ers
The Packers were solid against the pass in 2019, but tied for allowing the third-most rushing yards per game in the NFC. The 49ers were average against the run, but had the best pass defense in the NFL. The 49ers also had a dominant showing in their first playoff game, holding the Minnesota Vikings to 147 total yards, including just 21 rushing yards.
Aaron Jones will be a key player for the Packers in this matchup. The running back needs to be productive to keep the 49ers defense honest, opening up the game for Rodgers. The San Francisco secondary will likely focus on stopping Packers star wide receiver Davante Adams, meaning the Packers will also need someone to step up in the passing game. The success of San Francisco’s dominant pass rush will likely determine the NFC title game.
The 49ers’ foursome of Arik Armstead, Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner and Dee Ford combined for 33 of the team’s 48 sacks in 2019. The Packers’ offensive line has a tough task ahead in stopping the sack artists.
Takeaways should also play a huge role in the NFC title game. The Packers ranked third in the NFL with a +12 takeaway differential. Green Bay tied for the NFC lead with 17 interceptions in 2019.
San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will need to take care of the football when forced to throw, as one bad decision could determine the outcome of the game. Garoppolo had 13 interceptions and five lost fumbles in 2019. Rodgers had just four interceptions and four lost fumbles for the Packers this season.
“I think the mental portion is so critical,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “I look at offensively, defensively and on special teams in the last game and we had our fewest amount of mental errors. I think that is a recipe to play your best football.”
The 49ers held Jones to just 38 rushing yards and limited Rodgers to 104 passing yards in their Nov. 24 victory. The 49ers also sacked Rodgers five times in that win.
No. 6 Tennessee Titans at No. 2 Kansas City Chiefs
When: 3:05 p.m. EST Sunday
Where: Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
No. 2 Green Bay Packers at No. 1 San Francisco 49ers
When: 6:40 p.m. EST Sunday
Where: Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.