NFL Playoffs 2020: Bold predictions for Titans-Chiefs AFC Championship and Packers-49ers NFC title game
If you're looking for bold predictions about this Sunday's games, you've come to the right place
The NFL is officially down to its final four teams, and after today, two of those teams will be taking their talents to South Beach for Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2.
In the NFC, things went exactly as expected with the top two seeds advancing to the conference title game as the top-seeded 49ers are getting set to host the second-seeded Packers on Sunday. However, in the AFC, the Titans turned the playoffs absolutely upside down with upset wins over both the Patriots and Ravens.
The Titans have been the most unpredictable team of the postseason, and they'll be heading to Kansas City this week to try and pull off a third straight upset. Although the playoffs can be nearly impossible to predict (especially when the Titans are playing), we're going to try and do that anyway by making eight bold predictions for the AFC and NFC Championship games.
Here's how it's going to work: Since there are two games on the schedule for Sunday, we'll be making four bold predictions for each game. Remember, these are bold predictions only. If.
With that in mind, let's get to the bold predictions.
AFC Championship bold predictions
Titans at Chiefs, 3:05 p.m. ET, CBS (CBS All Access)
1. Derrick Henry breaks AFC title game rushing record
Derrick Henry has been steamrolling through every defense he's faced over the past eight weeks, so it only makes sense to start our bold predictions off with a bold prediction for the Titans running back. Predicting Henry to have a big game definitely isn't bold, but predicting him to break the AFC Championship record is, and that's because he would need rush for at least 207 yards on Sunday against Kansas City to break the record, which has stood for 56 years.
Although Henry has had some monstrous games this postseason, he hasn't been able to hit the 200-yard mark yet, hitting 195 against the Ravens and 182 against the Patriots. Also, during the course of his four-year career, Henry has only topped the 200-yard mark a total of two times in 66 games, including the postseason.
The reason it feels like Henry could explode on Sunday is because this is basically the perfect situation for him. For one, he'll be going up against one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL. The Chiefs surrendered a a total of 4.9 yards per carry in 2019, which was the fourth-worst average in the NFL. As bad as that number is, Henry would still need 43 carries to break the record, so he's going to have to be even better than 4.9 yards, which he can definitely do. In the playoffs, Henry is averaging 5.9 yards per carry, and there's no reason to think he can't continue that in Kansas City, especially when you consider that he rushed for 188 yards on 23 carries (8.2 yards per carry) when these two teams met back in Week 10, a game the Titans won 35-32.
The record is held by former Chargers running back Keith Lincoln, who carried the ball 13 times for 206 yards during a dominating 51-10 over the Patriots in the 1963 AFL title game (The AFL title game was the precursor to the AFC title game and is used by the NFL when accounting for record-breaking games).
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2. One Chiefs receiver breaks AFC title game record for most receptions
Derrick Henry won't be the only one breaking an AFC title game record on Sunday, and that's because the prediction here is that we'll see at least one Chiefs receiver break the AFC Championship game record for most receptions. As you probably noticed during the divisional round, the Chiefs love to the throw the ball, and I'm assuming the Chiefs are going to continue to throw the ball this week for one big reason: The Titans are pretty good at stopping the run, which means the smartest way to attack them is through the air.
The Chiefs apparently know that, because they had Mahomes throw the ball a season-high 50 times against the Titans back in Week 10. If Mahomes is throwing it a lot, that means we'll likely see one of the Chiefs' receivers cash in with a huge game. In that Week 10 loss to Tennessee, that receiver was Tyreek Hill, who caught 11 passes for 157 yards. Last week, it was Travis Kelce, who caught 10 passes for 134 yards and three touchdowns. To break the record, someone is going to have to catch 12 passes, which seems very doable for this offense.
3. Ryan Tannehill throws more TD passes than Patrick Mahomes
Thanks to Derrick Henry, Ryan Tannehill has basically been an afterthought over the past two weeks. As a matter of fact, Tannehill has done so little in the passing department this postseason that he's the first quarterback since 1974 to throw for 100 or fewer yards in two consecutive playoff wins.
Of course, this doesn't mean that Tannehill is a bad quarterback, it just means that the Titans haven't needed him, because why throw the ball when you have a running back who's plowing his way through every defense he faces.
The fact of the matter is that Tannehill can throw the ball when the Titans need him to. Don't forget, this is a guy who led the NFL in both QB rating and yards per attempt this year. Also, Tannehill has gone toe-to-toe with Mahomes in the touchdown pass department since Week 10 when these two teams played each other. Including that game, Tannehill has thrown 19 touchdown passes over the past 10 weeks, while Mahomes has thrown 16 (Tannehill has played one extra game due to the wild-card round, but if we take that out, Tannehill is still ahead of Mahomes 18-16).
Also, let's not forget that Tannehill is coming off a game where he threw more touchdown passes than Lamar Jackson, the quarterback who actually LED the NFL in TD passes in 2019. The prediction here is that the Chiefs are going to focus so much on stopping Henry, especially in the red zone, that it's going to open things up for Tannehill.
4. Neither team will score more than 30 points
There were only 10 teams in the NFL that averaged more than 25 points per game in 2019, and two of those teams will be playing in this game. When these two teams met back in Week 10, they both went over the 30-point mark in a game that the Titans ended up winning 35-32.
The reason I'm predicting that both teams go under 30 this week is because I think the Titans are going to do everything they can to shorten the game. The best way to do that is to run the ball constantly (which we know they can do), and regularly take the play clock under 10 seconds before snapping the ball, which is something they did against Baltimore. The Titans are going to do everything they can to minimize possessions, which in turn, should minimize points in the game.
One thing about the Chiefs is that they were rarely able to put together two big offensive games in a row in 2019. During the regular season, they went over the 30-point mark a total of seven times, but they only had consecutive games with 30 or more points one time. If I had to throw in a final score prediction for this bold prediction, I'd say it ends 27-24, so the two teams will get close to 30, but they won't hit it.
NFC Championship bold predictions
Packers at 49ers, 6:40 p.m. ET, Fox
1. Aaron Rodgers throws three touchdown passes
If this prediction was being made five years ago, it would be the worst bold prediction of all-time, because Rodgers was playing at an MVP level back then, but that's simply not the case right now. During the 2019 season, Rodgers only threw three or more touchdown passes in three out of 16 games. Also, let's not forget that the Packers offense got totally destroyed by the 49ers in Week 12. During that 37-8 San Francisco win, Rodgers threw for just 104 yards and one touchdown, which came in garbage time.
The best part of the Packers offense this year has been their ground game, and the 49ers know that. San Francisco has one of the best defensive coordinators in football, and there's a good chance that Robert Saleh is going to game plan to stop Green Bay's run, which should open the door for Rodgers to have a big game. Saleh will go all-in on stopping the run with the hope that his pass rush will be able to crush Rodgers like they did back in Week 12, when the Packers quarterback got sacked five times.
Rodgers is one of the smartest quarterbacks in the NFL and he rarely plays two bad games against the same team in a single season, so the prediction here is that he rebounds from his Week 12 nightmare with a big game against the 49ers.
2. Jimmy Garoppolo breaks NFC title game record for most passing yards
These are called bold predictions for a reason, and this one might be the boldest one of the week. To break the NFC title game record, Jimmy Garoppolo is going to have throw for nearly 400 yards, which is something he's only done one time in his career.
Back in Week 11, Garoppolo threw for 424 yards and four touchdowns in a 36-26 win over the Cardinals. Besides that game, Garoppolo has only gone over 350 yards one other time in his career, and that came in 2017.
The reason Garoppolo could go off in this game is because 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan is one of the best offensive minds in football, and I won't be surprised if he gives the Packers a game plan on Sunday that they're not expecting to see at all. Based on how the 2019 season went, the Packers will definitely expecting to see a run-heavy 49ers offense, and that's because San Francisco finished the season with the second-best rushing offense in the NFL. The reason Shanahan might flip the script for this game is because the Packers struggled against Garoppolo earlier this season. When these two teams met back in Week 12, Garoppolo threw for 253 yards on just 14 completions. The 49ers didn't ask him to do much, but he came through nearly every time Shanahan asked him to do anything.
During the stretch run of the regular season, Garoppolo came up clutch multiple times (two of his best games were against the Saints and in Week 17 at Seattle) and the prediction here is that he comes up clutch again.
The NFC Championship record for passing yards is held by Matt Ryan, who threw for 396 yards in a 28-24 loss to the 49ers back in January 2012.
3. There will be at least one defensive touchdown in this game
The reason I like this prediction is because Jimmy Garoppolo is a human turnover machine, and it's only a matter of time before one of his mistakes ends with the other team scoring a touchdown. During the 2019 season, Garoppolo threw 13 interceptions, which was tied for the eight-most in the NFL (he also threw one pick-six), and let's not forget, he also threw pick against the Vikings during the divisional round. Garoppolo also fumbled the ball 10 times during the season, and any time you put that ball on the ground, that's a recipe for disaster.
Another reason I think we might see a defensive touchdown is because this game will feature two of the best ball-hawking defenses in the NFL. In 2019, there were only eight defenses that recorded 25 or more turnovers, and two of them will be playing in this game. The 49ers forced 27 turnovers, which ranked sixth in the NFL. On the Packers' end, they forced 27 turnovers, which was tied for the seventh-most in the NFL.
Also, the 49ers defensive scored five touchdowns in 2019, which was tied for the second-most in the league.
4. Robbie Gould ties NFC title game record with five field goals
After getting off to a rough start this season, 49ers kicker Robbie Gould has found his groove. Since Week 14, Gould has nailed every single field goal that he has attempted, going 11 for 11, which includes hitting a game-winning field goal over the Saints in Week 14 and a game-winning field goal over the Rams in Week 16. Although Gould didn't come close to hitting five field goals in any game this season -- his season-high was three -- the prediction here is that he ties the NFC title game record by hitting five field goals against the Packers.
The 49ers weren't great in the red zone this year, and due to those struggles, that will likely open up a lot of opportunities for Gould. Kyle Shanahan proved against the Vikings that he has no problem taking the points and letting his defense win the game, and that's what I expect to happen here. Against Minnesota, the 49ers kicked two field goals on fourth-and-short from inside the Vikings' 20-yard line. The 49ers coach is sometimes aggressive, but when push comes to shove, he's a guy who loves to get points out of a drive, even if those points are field goals, so it won't be surprising if we see a lot of Gould on Sunday.
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