Can the Titans derail the Chiefs? Will the 49ers thwart Aaron Rodgers? Brian Baldinger breaks down AFC, NFC Championship games
- The Tennessee Titans have swept away the Patriots and the Ravens so far
- They travel to Kansas City on Sunday to face the Mahomes-inspired Chiefs
- In the NFC, the 49ers host the Packers in what promises to be a classic
After 264 games, it’s business time in the NFL. Just three fixtures remain with victories for the Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers whittling 32 franchises down to four.
Ahead of Championship weekend, NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger assesses the Conference Championships, with places in Super Bowl LIV up for grabs.
Former offensive lineman Baldinger, whose career began with the Dallas Cowboys in 1982 and ended in 1993 with the Philadelphia Eagles, is no stranger to breaking down film. His insights are frequently as amusing as they are educational.
NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger will break down the Championship games on Sky Sports
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP, TENNESSEE TITANS @ KANSAS CITY CHIEFS. 8.05pm, SUNDAY
The Tennessee Titans have steamrollered their way past the reigning Super Bowl-champion New England Patriots and the all-conquering Baltimore Ravens. With a canny head coach in Mike Vrabel, who won the Super Bowl three times as a player with the Patriots, a renaissance man at quarterback in Ryan Tannehill and a bulldozing running back, the Titans will be remembered for their playoff run.
But they travel to the intimidating Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs, who are hosting their second straight AFC Championship. With Patrick Mahomes at quarterback and a vastly experienced and innovative head coach in Andy Reid, the Chiefs are looking to make their first appearance in a Super Bowl for 50 years, after beating the Minnesota Vikings in 1970. The teams met in November, Tennessee winning 35-32, but the Chiefs were without Mahomes, their leader and talisman.
BALDINGER: The Titans are the story right now! Going into New England, taking down the champs, the way that they did. To go to Baltimore – they looked like the best team in football to me for 12 straight weeks in a row – and just dismantle them the way that they did. It was as impressive a performance as you could get. Especially by the running back and the defense. Hats off. Hats off to Mike Vrabel and the whole team right now. They are playing like the complete team.
‘The thing that’s interesting about Derrick Henry: he runs for 190 yards but three of the runs gained 116. It’s the big runs that change field position or score touchdowns that really change the game. It’s like big pass plays but he’s doing it out of the run game. And so, what happens is you’ve got to get him before he gets you. The Patriots couldn’t do it and the Ravens couldn’t do it. Earl Thomas, who is the best free safety in football for a decade, couldn’t do it. That’s when he’s the most dangerous. When he gets out into the open field. Because he’s the runaway superhero. His body and frame and long arms. You can’t physically get to his body to tackle him. He’s just unique. There’s really no other back like that.
Derrick Henry has led the Titans’ playoff charge, rushing for 377 yards in the postseason
‘They don’t have any fear. None! They really believe that travel or weather or conditions. That if they wanted to play at Tottenham this weekend they’d be ready to go. You want to play in a quagmire or a thunderstorm, they’re ready to go play anywhere. That’s just what happens when you in games. Winning big games on the road do more to build confidence in a team more than anything else. And I don’t think they need to be highly motivated right now. They feel motivated. I’m sure Kansas City feel the same way after coming out of a 24-0 deficit on Sunday. These are two highly motivated, confident football teams right now.
‘I think when he traded up to draft Patrick Mahomes that was going to be the guy who was going to allow him to compete every year. Here he is in back-to-back AFC Championship games. At home. Last year was the first time Kansas City ever hosted an AFC Championship game. So this quarterback I believe is going to give them a chance to compete every year. He’s just that good. He’s the best quarterback in the league. I know he missed games with a bad knee injury this year, but he is just unique. He is a unique talent. And if you’re facing him, if you’re defending him you fear him all game long. Even if it’s 24-0. You can’t ever think that the game is wrapped up or in the bag. He’s always going to give you a chance. And oh, and by the way, he’s got a tried team of speed around him that he gets the ball to. And right now, nobody has an answer to Travis Kelce.’
Patrick Mahomes rallied the Chiefs from 24-0 down against the Houston Texans
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: GREEN BAY PACKERS @ SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS, 11.40PM, SUNDAY
In the NFC, the No 1 seed San Francisco 49ers bullied their way past the Minnesota Vikings. With a fine roster, assembled by third-year head coach Kyle Shanahan and General Manager John Lynch, the 49ers are arguably the most complete team left. When they hosted Green Bay in week 12, the 49ers trampled the Packers in a 38-7 rout. Thanks to a dominant defense, anchored by a fearsome defensive line, the 49ers are as good without the ball as they are with it.
Yet this Green Bay team is different from the one they faced in late November. Aaron Rodgers’ favourite target Davante Adams is fully fit after recovering from a toe injury and their offensive line has created lanes for running back Aaron Jones and protected Rodgers. Under first-year head coach Matt LaFleur, Green Bay have exceeded expectations this season, but will the 49ers derail Green Bay again?
BALDINGER: ‘I’ve watched that game a couple of times now. Davante Adams didn’t play that day. Aaron Rodgers doesn’t trust anybody quite like Davante Adams. They are calling plays for him right now. Third and eight, two minutes to go in the game. Call an audible to Davante Adams. It’s been going on now since that toe got healed. He’s going to make a difference. Aaron Rodgers protects the ball like it’s the Hope Diamond. And he’s not going to give it away.
Aaron Rodgers will play in his fourth NFC Championship game against the 49ers
‘But San Francisco is a real, real threat. They are a solid team, they are very well coached. They’ve got a talented play-caller and play designer in Kyle Shanahan. And they get the game at home. I think it will be much different from the 38-7. I can see this being very much a fourth quarter game. And maybe whoever has the ball last wins the game.
‘I think the week off really helped the 49ers in every area. They got Kwon Alexander back. They got Jaquiski Tartt back. Nick Bosa got a week off. They had played 13 straight weeks. They had played every week since September 29. That week off really freshened them up and they got Dee Ford back. And when they were fresh it was like shark week. It was just a frenzy. Dalvin Cook never had a chance. But I think Green Bay is better. A better offensive line. The overall running game can be better because Aaron Jones does some things different in the screen game and the receiving game. But I think the difference really is Aaron Rodgers versus Kirk Cousins. Nothing against Kirk Cousins, but Aaron Rodgers could play the game in a James Bond tuxedo and he wouldn’t get dirty, you know. He’s just different, the way he plays the game.
‘For the first time Green Bay entered free agency and it really helped them. They had four sacks last week and they were a threat all game long. But San Francisco is a running team. Nobody has a running game – nobody, including the Ravens who led the league in rushing – they run the ball the old fashioned way. Tight ends and motions. Tevin Coleman had the best game he had all year. It’s different. And they are going to ask Za’Darius and Preston Smith to be run defenders more than pass rushers. And that is going to be different for those guys. Because I think they want to rush the quarterback a whole lot more than they want to play the run. I’m anxious to watch that game within a game, how good they are against the run.
‘Raheem Mostert was the go-to guy in the month of December for San Francisco. He had scored seven touchdowns. And averaged six yards a carry in the month of December. And Tevin Coleman ended up starting the game and getting 22 carries. I was scratching my head, going Mostert was the guy but Kyle Shanahan saw something else. Maybe it was just the experience of Coleman, who was with him in Atlanta. Maybe he just trusted him in a big spot. Maybe that was it. Regardless, that Raheem Mostert, maybe Tyreek Hill is faster but he won the Big Ten in the 60 and the 200 metres. He is a world-class sprinter. He won the junior Olympics in Barcelona when he was a kid. He can flat-out fly. But Matt Brieda, all of them. They are really, really good. And they’ll change them for different things.’
Raheem Mostert managed 12 carries for 58 yards in the 49ers’ playoff opener
Baldinger’s prediction: ‘I’m not going to shy away. I’ll give you Kansas City and San Francisco this weekend.’