If I’ve noticed one thing about the NFL, it’s the one sport that almost never gives us a Cinderella team. Although we see surprise teams in other sports, the NFL is basically the evil stepmother of sports because it keeps Cinderella locked in the attic, but that could change this year thanks to the Tennessee Titans.
The Titans have been using their human plow truck, Derrick Henry, to steamroll through the AFC playoffs, and they’ve been so good that they’re actually going for AFC YAHTZEE this week, which is something I just invented, but trust me, it will make sense in a second. They beat the AFC South champions in Week 17, they beat the AFC East champs in the wild-card round, they beat the AFC North champs in the divisional round, and now, they’re going up against the AFC West champs, which means they could pull off the full sweep, at which point, they will have to yell YAHTZEE.
They’re also going for the MVP bonus. Sure, the NFL doesn’t actually give you any sort of bonus for beating MVPs, but the Titans are going for it anyway. They’ve already beaten the 2017 MVP (Tom Brady), the presumed 2019 MVP (Lamar Jackson), and now, they get a shot at the 2018 MVP (Patrick Mahomes).
The good news for the Titans (and the 49ers) is that over past three years, teams that played on Saturday in the divisional round have gone 5-1 in the championship round. That’s not a recent trend, either: Saturday teams have also gone 15-5 in the championship round over the past 10 years. Apparently, one extra day of rest can go a long way in the NFL.
So will the Titans pull off the first-ever AFC Yahtzee?
If you read the headline to this story, then you already know that I’m expecting the Titans-Chiefs game do go down to the wire, but am I going to go full-crazy and roll with Tennessee for the THIRD straight week? Let’s get to the picks and find out.
Actually, before we get to the picks, here’s a quick reminder that you can check out the weekly picks from every CBSSports.com NFL expert by clicking here. If you click over, you’ll notice that I completely owned the divisional round. Not only did I go 4-0 with my straight-up picks, but apparently, I was the ONLY media member in the country who went 4-0.
Since there’s a 100% chance I will probably be bragging about this in the most insufferable way possible for at least the next five days, I will not be offended if any of my work colleagues decide to ignore me this week.
If you want to know why I picked the Titans to SHOCK the Ravens, I went through a full explanation during a recent episode of the Pick Six podcast, which is our daily NFL podcast here at CBSSports.com that’s hosted by Will Brinson, and you can listen to that explanation below. For the record, I did not flip a coin or down five shots of tequila before taking the Titans. I actually thought they could win.
By the way, if you need a new podcast to listen to in 2020, I highly suggest that you click here and subscribe to the Pick Six Podcast. We’ll be down in Miami for Super Bowl week, and my understanding is that if my AFC and NFC championship game picks pan out this week, the city has agreed to refer to South Beach as South Breech.
Alright, let’s get to this week’s picks, starting with Titans-Chiefs.
AFC and NFC Championship picks
No. 6 Tennessee (11-7) at No. 1 Kansas City
Sunday, 3:05 p.m. ET (CBS)
Point spread: Chiefs, -7.5 points
I don’t usually talk about male genitalia here because this isn’t an adult website, but now that Tennessee is in the AFC Championship game, I can no longer ignore the fact that Titans coach Mike Vrabel is two wins away from.
So which part of the body is that? I’ll let TMZ fill you in.
I’m not even sure Andy Reid would shave off his mustache for a Super Bowl win and Vrabel is willing to cut off his reproductive organ, which is really all you need to know about these two coaches.
Who should you back against the spread, on the money line and the total in the AFC Championship Game and the NFC Championship? And which strong picks against the spread should you lock in? Visit SportsLine now to see their championship round cheat sheet, all from the model that is up over $7,000 on its top-rated picks.
These two teams actually played each other back in Week 10 in a game where nearly everything went right on offense for the Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes threw for a season-high 446 yards, Tyreek Hill caught 11 passes for 157 yards and Travis Kelce also had an impressive game with seven catches for 75 yards. The crazy thing about that game is that although the Chiefs offense was nearly perfect, THEY SOMEHOW STILL LOST THE GAME. Despite Mahomes’ big day, the Titans still ended up winning 35-32.
I’ll give you one guess on how the Titans were able to win that game, and yup, you guessed it, it was Derrick Henry. Henry rushed for 188 yards and two touchdowns in that first meeting, and there’s no reason he won’t be able to replicate those numbers on Sunday. I’ve spent the past two weeks telling anyone who will listen that game-planning for Derrick Henry is impossible. You can stack the box, something the Patriots and Ravens both tried, but as you probably noticed, it didn’t work. Bill Belichick is arguably the GREATEST DEFENSIVE MIND in NFL history, and he had no idea what to do against Henry. The Titans running back is built like a horse, and I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to tackle a horse, but I can tell you from first-hand experience that it is downright impossible.
Let’s see how the Chiefs feel about trying to tackle Henry.
OK, so not only is tackling Henry like trying to tackle a horse, but it’s like trying to tackle a horse made of solid rock who may or may not leave you with a broken jaw, so yeah, I guess that explains why NFL players have been kind of hesitant to tackle Henry this postseason. And call me crazy, but tackling Henry isn’t going to get any easier this time around for the Chiefs and that’s because hits tend to hurt more in cold weather. The forecast for Sunday is currently calling for a temperature of around 30 degrees at kickoff.
After watching Henry go off against both Baltimore and New England, here’s the worrisome part for the Chiefs: They actually had a WORSE rush defense than both those teams this year.
The Chiefs surrendered 128.2 yards per game on the ground this year, which ranked 26th in the NFL, and they also surrendered 4.9 yards per carry, which ranked 29th in the NFL. Basically, the Chiefs defense is really bad at one thing and that just happens to be what the Titans are good at. If Henry gets going, the Titans can burn the clock and limit Kansas City’s possessions. The math is pretty simple: The Chiefs can’t score 51 points if they only have six possessions in the game.
One other thing about the Titans is that they seem to be the one team that Andy Reid has no idea how to beat. Over the past five years, Reid is 0-4 against Tennessee — even though is team was favored to win all four games — and three of those losses have come at Arrowhead Stadium.
Unlike the week 10 game, which was played in Nashville, this game is being played in Kansas City, where the Chiefs have one of the best home-field advantages in football. Chiefs fans aren’t just loud, they’re also willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. I mean this guy left the game against the Texans in the first quarter because he knew he was bad luck and there was no way the Chiefs would win if he stayed.
I haven’t seen that kind of sacrifice since Jack let Rose live by helping her stay on the floating wooden door at the end of “Titanic.”
For the Chiefs, the upside of the game being in Kansas City is that the home team in the AFC Championship has won 11 of the past 13 games, but those two losses should actually concern the Chiefs. For one, the Chiefs ARE one of those losses, and that’s because the Patriots beat them last year. The other home team to lose in the AFC Championship over the past 13 years was the Patriots in 2012, and that loss had a lot of similarities to what the Chiefs are facing this week. For one, the Patriots went into that game favored by 7.5 points over the Ravens, despite the fact that Baltimore had already beaten New England 31-30 in the regular season. Most people viewed that win as a fluke and the Ravens got no respect going into the AFC Championship. The Ravens ended up winning.
The Chiefs are now favored by 7.5 points over the Titans, despite the fact that Tennessee beat them 35-32 in the regular season. Over the past five years, there have been a total of seven AFC or NFC championship games that were rematches from the regular season. The team that won the first time has gone 6-1 in the title game rematch, and the only win in that span came by the Rams, who got the benefit of the worst pass interference no-call in the history of sports. This is ostensibly good news for both the Titans and 49ers.
I didn’t make an official count last week, but I think I might have been the only media members in the country who picked the Titans to upset the Ravens, and guess what everyone, I’m going to ride the Tennessee upset train for one more week, and I’ll be riding it to South Breech … err … South Beach, because that’s where the Titans will be headed if they win the game.
The Chiefs were my preseason pick to win the Super Bowl, but I have to say, Mike Vrable’s willingness to cut off his manhood has inspired me … not to cut off my own, but to pick the Titans.
The pick: Titans 30-27 over Chiefs
Record picking Titans games this season: 12-6 (including 2-0 in playoffs)
Record picking Chiefs games this season: 13-4 (including 1-0 in playoffs)
Actual score from first Titans-Chiefs game in Week 10: Tennessee 35-32 over Kansas City
No. 2 Green Bay at No. 1 San Francisco
Sunday, 6:40 p.m. ET (Fox)
Point spread: 49ers, -7 point
I have no idea what the record is for longest grudge ever held, but whatever it is, I’m pretty sure Aaron Rodgers is going to break it, because he’s going into Year 15 of his personal grudge against the 49ers. I held a grudge against Taco Bell for three years in college, so I know a little something about long grudges, but Rodgers is in a league of his own when it comes to holding a grudge. For anyone who needs a quick refresher, Rodgers wanted the 49ers to draft him with the No. 1 overall pick in 2005, but they decided to draft Alex Smith instead.
So how did that make Aaron feel?
Rodgers has been playing with a dinosaur-sized chip on his shoulder for the past 15 years and I’m pretty sure his plan for Sunday is to take that chip off his shoulder and make the 49ers choke on it. Rodgers has literally been waiting his entire career to play this game: Him vs. the 49ers with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
Like the AFC Championship, this game is also a rematch, although most Packers fans probably don’t remember the first game, because if they were smart, they immediately hired a psychiatrist after the game to help them repress all their memories from the loss. Back in Week 12, the 49ers absolutely destroyed the Packers 37-8 in a blowout where the score didn’t even really do justice to how badly the 49ers dominated the game. The final score probably should have been somewhere closer to 45-0.
In that game, the 49ers defense had one of its best performances of the season, sacking Rodgers five times and holding the Packers to just 198 yards of total offense, which was Green Bay’s second-lowest total of the season.
It almost felt like the 49ers knew exactly what Green Bay was going to do, and now that I’m thinking about it, I’m starting to think they did, thanks to their secret weapon: Assistant coach Mike LaFleur. That’s right, the brother of Packers coach Matt LaFleur works for the 49ers, and I’ve seen enough episodes of “Family Feud” to know that this isn’t going to work out for Matt.
The fact that the 49ers have their own LaFleur feels like an advantage for San Francisco, and the fact that Matt LaFleur took some of Kyle Shanahan’s concepts to design his own offense in Green Bay also feels like an advantage for the 49ers. The last time these two teams played, the 49ers were so familiar with Green Bay’s offense that it felt like the 49ers defense knew what the Packers were going to do before the Packers knew what they were going to do. Basically, unless the Packers completely revamp their offense before Sunday, the 49ers defense is going to know exactly what to look for, and that’s definitely not a good thing for the Packers.
The Packers biggest weapon is Davante Adams, who has 35 catches for 472 yards and four touchdowns over his past four games, but that’s a weapon the 49ers should be able to neutralize since Adams will be mostly covered by Richard Sherman (Adams only had 43 yards in the first game).
Defensively, if the Packers had one weakness all season, it was stopping the run, which isn’t ideal, since they’ll be playing a team on Sunday that led the NFC in rushing and ranked second overall in the NFL in rushing yards behind only the Ravens.
This game will be a return home to California for Rodgers, which he might actually be dreading based on his past two trips there. Not only did the Packers only score eight against the 49ers, but in their other trip out west in 2019, they only scored 11 points against the Chargers. That’s an average of 9.5 points per game, and call me crazy, but I don’t think 9.5 points will be enough to beat the 49ers on Sunday. However, i don’t think this is going to be a blowout, and that’s because NFC title games have somehow turned into the most unpredictable event in sports. Over the past 10 years, seven of them have been decided by one score, four of them have gone into overtime and the home team is just 4-6 against the spread.
So what does all this mean? It means that the Packers are going to keep it close, but the 49ers are going to be headed to the Super Bowl for just the second time in 24 years.
The pick: 49ers 27-19 over Packers
Record picking Packers games this season: 13-4 (including 1-0 in playoffs)
Record picking 49ers games this season: 9-8 (including 1-0 in playoffs)
Prediction from first Packers-49ers game in Week 12: San Francisco 30-20 over Green Bay
Actual score from first Packers-49ers game in Week 12: San Francisco 37-8 over Green Bay
Best pick: Last week, I predicted that the Titans would go into Baltimore and stun the Ravens, and GUESS WHAT HAPPENED? Derrick Henry steamrolled the Ravens out of existence. Well, I guess, technically, he only steamrolled them out of the playoffs, but it felt like he steamrolled them out of existence, just like he did to the Patriots last week.
After watching Tennessee eliminate New England, you’d think that everyone would have learned their lesson and picked the Titans to beat the Ravens in the divisional round, or at least maybe one other person would have picked the Titans, but that’s definitely not what happened. Apparently, no other media members in the world picked Tennessee to win.
I was out on an island by myself with the pick, kind of like Tom Hanks in “Castaway,” which is actually kind of fitting, because Hanks’ character worked for FedEx in that movie and the Titans offensive coordinator is the son of the guy who founded FedEx. And now that I’m thinking about it, I think there was even talk of a Titans Super Bowl in that movie.
Guys, I’m not going to lie, Wilson told me to pick the Titans in the AFC title game. I don’t usually listen to talking volleyballs, but I made an exception in this case.
Worst pick: For the first time all season, there is nothing to put here, because there was no worse pick last week. Instead, the worst pick award to the guy who bet $420,000 on the Ravens to win. Ouch.
The other worst pick this week goes to Eric Kay, one of our editors here at CBS Sports who apparently thinks that I look like Packers coach Matt LaFleur.
If the Packers make the Super Bowl, I will definitely try to milk this for everything it’s worth. I’ll probably have to lose five pounds, get a haircut, grow five inches and have my dimples surgically removed before anyone will actually believe I’m LaFleur, but the Super Bowl is still two-and-a-half weeks away, so there’s plenty of time to make that happen.
Alright guys, unless I decide to do a Pro Bowl pick — and I probably won’t — I’ll be on a one-week hiatus, which means you should circle Jan. 28 on your calendar (or tattoo it on your lower back), because that’s when my Super Bowl LIV pick will be rolling out. If you can’t wait that long, then I suggest following me on Facebook, Twitter or even Instagram. If you do follow, you’ll most likely notice that I’ll be providing multiple updates from fun locations after the title games. If the Titans are in the Super Bowl, I will be at ground zero of all the craziness in Nashville. If the Titans lose on Sunday, then I promise to share as many weird pictures of South Beach as possible once I get down to Miami for the Super Bowl.
Straight up in divisional round: 4-0
SU overall in playoffs: 6-2
Against the spread in wild-card round: 2-2
ATS overall in playoffs: 4-4
Final 2019 regular-season record
Straight-up: 163-92-1 (Ranked first overall at CBSSports.com)
Against the spread: 120-130-6 (Did not rank first overall)