Taking a closer look at the AFC Championship

Christopher Bean, Assistant Sports Editor

The No. 2 seed Kansas City Chiefs host the No. 6 seed Tennessee Titans on Sunday at Arrowhead. Both teams are coming off very emotional wins over the weekend, and are now one win away from the Super Bowl.

The Titans almost didn’t even make the playoffs, but after the Pittsburgh Steelers lost their last two games and the Titans defeated the Houston Texans on the last week of the season to sneak in at 9-7. Second year head coach Mike Vrabel has turned around this organization onto Super Bowl contenders. The Titans have gone 9-7 for the fourth straight season and it is the second time in three years they have made the playoffs. After they lost in the Divisional Round to the Patriots 35-14, the Titans’ front office decided to fire head coach Mike Mularkey and bring in Vrabel. Vrabel played linebacker in the league for 14 years, spent eight years with the New England Patriots and won three Super Bowls. Now, he’s turned into one of the NFL’s best coaches. In his first year, the Titans were the last team eliminated from the playoffs after their loss at home to the Indianapolis Colts for the division title.

In the beginning of the season, the Titans got off to a 2-4 start and named Ryan Tannehill the starter in week 7 after their 16-0 loss to the Denver Broncos. Tannehill replaced former first round pick Marcus Mariota who was very inconsistent in the beginning of the year, hurt throughout the 2018 season and unable to help the team in their week 17 loss against the Colts that ended their season. During the offseason, the Titans traded for Tannehill from the Dolphins. They acquired him for the exact reason that if Mariota couldn’t stay healthy or perform to the level the Titans expected him to play at, they would replace him with a very capable veteran in Tannehill. Since Tannehill took over the starting role, the Titans have gone 9-3, including two playoff wins and winning six of his first seven games as a starter.

Another big factor for the Titans is the NFL leading rusher, Derrick Henry. Henry has been one of the NFL’s brightest stars in the second half of the season, and has been the best player in the playoffs so far. Henry has rushed for 377 yards on 64 carries in the playoffs so far. Helping them beat the Patriots by seven and being the first team since 2010 to defeat the New England before the AFC Championship. He was a huge factor in last weeks 28-12 win over the best team in the NFL (record wise), the Baltimore Ravens. Henry rushed for 195 yards on 30 carries. With a very good offensive line, and the Titans playing the seventh worst rushing defense in the NFL, and giving up five yards per carry. Another huge part for the Titans is their defense. During the regular season, the Titans only had the 12th best defense in the league; however, they have outplayed the two of the top three defenses in the playoffs against the Patriots and the Ravens.

Now let’s take a look at the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs are led by super star and reigning MVP, Patrick Mahomes. Since taking over the quarterback position for the Chiefs in 2018, Mahomes has been nothing short of marvelous. In his first year as a starter, he led the Chiefs to a 12-4 record, landing them home field advantage in the AFC. The Chiefs defeated the Colts in the divisional round, before losing to the Patriots in overtime in a heartbreaking 37-31 loss. A year and many accomplishments later, Mahomes has led them to the same spot he did a year ago: a chance to go to the Super Bowl with home field advantage.

Head coach Andy Reid will enter his seventh Conference Championship game and his second with the Chiefs. However, he is only 1-5 in Conference Championship games, after only going 1-4 with the Eagles. Reid is considered a genius, but the only thing missing is a Super Bowl win. Will this be the year he finally holds the Lombardi Trophy over his head?

The keys to the game for the Titans are simple. For the Titans, it’s to keep giving the ball to Derrick Henry. As mentioned earlier, the Chiefs have one of the worst run defenses in the league, so don’t be surprised if Henry gets the ball 40 times on Sunday. On defense/special teams, there were no explosive plays. After the Chiefs found themselves down 24-0 against the Texans in the first half, they only needed a long kickoff return from rookie Mecole Hardman to get them going. After that, the Chiefs scored 41 straight points and 51 overall in their 20-point win. If the Titans can get more stops than giving up points, they will have a fantastic chance to win this ball game.

Keys for the Chiefs are also pretty simple. On offense, they need to score points. I know it sounds corny and it is, but they cannot get off to the start they did last week. If they get down big again, Tennessee will control the clock and run it with Henry. The Chiefs have an explosive offense, but if they never have the ball, we won’t see what we’re used to seeing from the reigning MVP. On defense, they need to stop the run. It’s pretty clear that the Titans offense is evolved around Henry, and you know he’s chomping at the bit to go against one of the worst rushing defenses in the league. Not only do they need to prevent him from continuing to have monster playoff games, but they also need to give their offense time to score the ball.

We have David vs Goliath this weekend, and the winner will play in Super Bowl 54, so relax and enjoy Championship Sunday.