Yardbarker NFL writers Michael Tunison and Chris Mueller address some of the hottest issues in the league. This week’s topic: Who has the edge in the AFC Championship Game?
Tunison: Having dispatched No. 3 seed and defending AFC champ New England and No. 1 seed Baltimore on the road, the Titans are enjoying the kind of momentum that suggests they’re going to upset the Chiefs in Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game. All the narrative hooks are there: sixth-seeded Tennessee spectacularly ending the recent drought of wild-card teams making the Super Bowl by beating the top three seeds in the conference and Titans QB Ryan Tannehill returning to South Florida to flout his status as a dismissed washout with the Dolphins.
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And why not? What’s one more road win at this point, no less against a Chiefs franchise that is known for choking in these situations, with a head coach in Andy Reid who has always let the big one elude him?
One big reason why not is that the third-seeded Chiefs showed remarkable resilience in their divisional-round win against the Texans. Much lesser teams would have folded facing the early 24-0 deficit that Kansas City did. The Chiefs’ offense found a way to start clicking and then went into overdrive, churning out 51 points in three quarters. Tennessee’s defense is better than Houston’s, so I wouldn’t try to repeat that feat on consecutive weekends. But the Chiefs should feel confident that they won’t go into panic mode if things don’t go their way immediately out of the gate.
The Titans won the regular-season meeting between these teams, a 35-32 shootout in Tennessee capped by a Tannehill winning touchdown pass in the final 30 seconds. Despite that loss, the Chiefs can feel encouraged that the rematch of a close result is in Arrowhead this time around and that Patrick Mahomes had a stellar outing against Tennessee (36-for-50 for 446 yards and three touchdowns) in what was his first game returning from a back injury, when he was still not quite at full strength.
If Mahomes can have similar success, it will force the Titans to go away from Derrick Henry, who was a problem for the Chiefs’ poor run defense in Week 10 (188 yards, 23 carries) and will be Sunday. Mahomes could force Tannehill into something more than Trent Dilfer mode — you remember the caretaker QB of the 2000 Ravens, right?
No sixth seed has played in a conference title game since the 2010 Packers, who defeated the Bears to win the NFC and went on to beat the Steelers in the Super Bowl. It’s a hard, hard road. Historical note: Four other sixth seeds besides Green Bay have played in the conference championship game: the 2005 Steelers, who went on to win Super Bowl, and 2008 Ravens, 2008 Eagles and 2010 Jets, all of whom lost in the conference title game.