No. 6 Tennessee (11-7) at No. 2 Kansas City (13-4), Sun., 3:05 p.m. ET (CBS)
Most intriguing matchup: In a John Riggins– or John Wick-level zone going into the Titans’ first AFC championship game in 17 years, Derrick Henry encounters a Chiefs team yet to stop him. For all their improvements, the Chiefs’ defense is not on the level of the Titans’ playoff opponents, the Patriots or Ravens. After finishing last in run-defense DVOA in 2017 and ’18, the Chiefs ranked 29th this season. Henry has delivered ruthless consistency against the Chiefs, gaining 191 scrimmage yards on 25 touches in each of his past two opportunities –- in November 2019 and in the Titans’ 2017 wild-card-round upset win. Henry scored twice in a 2016 upset win in Kansas City and has five touchdowns against the Chiefs. Tennessee’s Taylor Lewan- and Rodger Saffold-led offensive line has helped Henry to four of the NFL’s top six rushing performances this season. The Titans’ only victory path is not a secret.
QB intelligence report: Becoming the ninth player to throw five touchdown passes in a playoff game, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes now has eight TD tosses, 894 yards and no interceptions in three postseason contests. Only Mahomes and the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger have quarterbacked teams to AFC championship games in their first two seasons as starters. Mahomes piloted an NFL-playoff-record seven straight touchdown drives Sunday, with the Texans becoming the first team since 1940 to lose a playoff game in which it held a 17-plus-point first-quarter lead. Kansas City’s comeback-turned-blowout showed the margin for error Mahomes creates. This is the optimal modern quarterback. Tennessee QB Ryan Tannehill, whose yards per passing attempt (9.6) total was the fourth most since 1960, faces the NFL’s eighth-ranked pass defense. It slammed the door on a Houston rally. Tannehill, however, did orchestrate a four-play, 61-yard, game-winning drive to beat the Chiefs in November and just navigated two superior defenses to reach this round.
New blueprints coming soon: These franchises’ respective roster constructions raise the stakes. The Chiefs are 2-for-2 in AFC championship game appearances behind Mahomes, but he’s now extension-eligible and will command a market-reshaping contract this offseason. The Chiefs also will have Pro Bowl defensive tackle Chris Jones on either a franchise tag or near-Aaron Donald-level extension next season. The forthcoming calculus change will require new Chiefs road maps to championship-caliber rosters. The Titans are ready to pay up to see if Tannehill’s late bloom is legitimate. They also have one of the more unusual extensions to negotiate with Henry -– an old-school back whose skill set differs from the position’s top wage earners –- and also have right tackle Jack Conklin as an impending free agent. These costs amplify the importance of maximizing opportunity when the math is easier.