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NFL Season Hits Penultimate Stage As Superbowl Nears

NFL Season Hits Penultimate Stage as Superbowl Nears

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By the end of the weekend we will know which two teams will be contesting Super Bowl LIV in Miami on February 2 and which two teams will have nothing to show for the blood, sweat and tears they have shed throughout another gruelling NFL season. In the AFC, the year’s surprise package Tennessee Titans travel to Kansas City looking to end the Chiefs season at this stage for the second year running. In the NFC, both the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers finished the season with identical 13-3 records but only one will advance. Both games are repeats of regular season games when the Titans beat the Chiefs by three points while the 49ers inflicted the heaviest defeat of the season on the Packers by 29 points. Since those losses, the Chiefs and Packers have won every game they have played, but who will win this weekend? Overtime was needed to decide last year’s two Championship games and SportPesa are offering odds of 185/1 for an overtime double in this year’s deciders. Charlie Mullan previews both games taking place on Sunday.

Titans (11/4) @ Chiefs (2/7)

Tennessee travel to Kansas City as heavy underdogs to reach their first Super Bowl since 2000 when they were beaten by seven points by the Rams when the Titans came up one yard short of a TD that could have forced overtime. Few are giving the Titans a chance this weekend in Kansas City, but that won’t bother Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel and his players. They were told they had no chance of winning in New England. They won. They were told they had no chance of winning in Baltimore. They won. And they have won both those games with the simplest of game plans. Run the ball over and over again.

In Derrick Henry, the Titans have a RB who, right now, is playing at a standard never seen before. Last weekend, he became the first player in the NFL’s history to run for over 180 yards in three successive games. When you think of the great RBs that have graced NFL fields over the last 100 years from Jim Brown to Walter Payton to Emmitt Smith, that is quite an achievement. As the saying goes ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and Vrabel would be mad to change his game plan for the match-up with the Chiefs who will know what is coming their way, but stopping it is a completely different matter.

The return of Chris Jones to the Chiefs defense will be seen as a positive for the home team, but only if he is 100 per cent fit. Henry’s ability to run the ball so devastatingly in recent weeks means the Titans can go to their ‘play action’ passes more where the Chiefs will be expecting a running play only for the Titans to pass it. That is something they haven’t needed to do in their play-off wins over the Patriots and Ravens with QB Ryan Tannehill passing for less than 100 yards in both games. Tannehill won’t need any extra motivation to win this game. Traded by the Dolphins in the off-season, Tannehill could be making a return to Miami who will be hosting Super Bowl LIV on February 2. Tannehill is not the only player on the Titans team capable of throwing TD passes. Henry threw one last week on a trick play last weekend and he could well be deployed in other trick plays to keep the Chiefs on their toes and keep Kansas City’s offense on the sidelines where they can’t score points.

The Chiefs have arguably the best offense of the four remaining teams as they proved last week when they rallied from a 24-0 deficit at the start of the second quarter to pull off the fourth biggest comeback in the history of the NFL playoffs to lead the Texans 28-24 at the half. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs went on to win that game 51-31 after scoring a record seven TDs on seven successive drives. When the Chiefs get on a roll, they are hard to stop especially if Mahomes can find Travis Kelce with the success the pair did last weekend. Kelce caught 10 passes for 134 yards and three scores. This will be Mahomes’ fourth play-off game in his career and he has yet to throw an interception in 107 pass attempts.

The Titans got the better of the Chiefs in their week 10 meeting earlier in the season, but that was Mahomes’ first game back after dislocating his knee less than a month earlier. With a place in the Super Bowl at stake, expect fireworks both on and off the field at Arrowhead where they ran out of fireworks at the end of their remarkable comeback win against Houston. If the Chiefs get off to a fast start, it could prove difficult for the TItans to stop them. 

Packers (11/4) @ 49ers (2/7)

Both these sides ended the regular season with 13-3 records, and while the 49ers have been praised for the way they have performed this season on both sides of the ball, the Packers have been described as the worst 13-3 team in the history of the league. You don’t win 13 of 16 regular season games in the NFL without being good and this trip to San Francisco is a chance for Packers QB Aaron Rodgers to silence those doubters with a game-winning performance. Rodgers, who was born in California and played his college football in his home state, had his sights sets on being picked by the 49ers in the 2005 draft. However, San Francisco opted to draft Alex Smith instead of Rodgers and when asked if he was disappointed not to have been selected by the 49ers, Rodgers replied: “Not as disappointed as the 49ers will be for not picking me.”

Rodgers has gone on to have the better career and victory in Santa Clara might leave the home fans wondering ‘what if…’. If the Packers are to win, Rodgers is going to have to perform to the highest level, the level we have seen him perform at consistently over the years with Green Bay fans seeing him as Superman. Like Superman though, Rodgers has a weakness. Instead of Kryptonite, Rodgers’ weakness is called Bosa. Whether it’s Joey Bosa playing for the Los Angeles Chargers, or his brother Nick playing for the 49ers, Rodgers has struggled. Joey had 1.5 sacks when the Packers lost to the Chargers earlier this season while Nick had a sack and recovered a fumble to set up the 49ers’ first TD in a 37-8 win three weeks later. Bosa had two sacks last week as San Francisco cruised to victory over the Vikings who were only able to register seven first downs as the 49ers controlled the clock having the ball for 38:27.

The 49ers defense could be the key to winning this game. They held Minnesota to just 147 net yards last weekend and if they can shut down Rodgers and his passing game, the home side will be confident of stopping Green Bay’s running game. Dalvin Cook, who rushed for 1,135 yards in the regular season, was stuffed at the line of scrimmage with just 18 yards as the Vikings posted 21 rushing yards. On offense, 49ers QB Jimmy Garappolo came through his first play-off start with flying colours leading his team to the endzone three times. He also has the best TE in the NFC in George Kittle and with a stat-line of 129 yards from six catches and a TD in their first meeting this season, the Packers will have their work cut out to limit Kittle’s contribution.

When it comes to their running game, Garappolo is spoilt for choice with Raheem Mostert (772), Matt Breida (623) and Tevin Coleman (544) all played their part to ensure the 49ers were the only team in the NFL to have three players with 500 yards or more in the regular season. Coleman was the star last week with 105 yards and two scores from 22 carries but expect all three to have a big impact on Sunday. If the Packers allow the 49ers to get points on the board earlier, which they did in the first meeting when San Francisco led 23-0 at the half, then it could be a long evening for the visitors. 

Selected bets:

Derrick Henry (TEN) to have over 106.5 rushing yards @ 10/13

Travis Kelce (KC) to have over 6.5 receptions @ 23/20

Packers +7.5 @ 10/11

49ers to score over 28.5 points @ 20/21

To win Super Bowl LIV:
27/20 – Chiefs
8/5 – 49ers
13/2 – Packers
15/2 – Titans

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