Final four teams aim for Super Bowl appearance


San Francisco running back Tevin Coleman led the 49ers rushing attack with 105 yards and 2 TDs in the team’s 27-10 win over Minnesota in the divisional round game on Jan. 11. He could play an instrumental role in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against Green Bay. Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated.

After three rather forgettable games, and one shootout, the 2019 NFL season is down to its final three games. 

Two teams remain from each conference, and all are prepared and looking to reach Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2 in Miami. Here’s a glimpse how we expect Sunday’s NFC and AFC championships games to shake out.

NFC Championship

After a dominant 27-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, the San Francisco 49ers host the NFC Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium against the Green Bay Packers, who got by the Seattle Seahawks 28-23 in the divisional round.

This game will likely be a matchup of defenses. San Francisco boasts the second best defense in football for total yards allowed per game, and the 49ers are first in passing yards per game. Green Bay wasn’t near the top of many rankings, but their bend but don’t break defense kept them in many games this year.

The real difference between these two teams lies in the offenses. San Francisco possessed a strong offense that was mainly focused on not making mistakes, but also happened to score a lot of points. The Niners averaged 29.9 points per game, second in the NFL. Jimmy “The God” Garoppolo didn’t have an MVP like season, but he did what he needed to well enough and stepped up when the team needed him to.

The 49ers’s true weapon comes from their rushing attack. Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, and Raheem Mosart have manned the second best rushing team in football, and it has allowed the offense to keep the defense fresh and control games.

Green Bay, however, has had big issues on offense this year. Scoring 23.5 points per game, the Packers ranked 15th in football in offense, which won’t suffice in the intensity of the playoffs. 

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been a perennial MVP candidate during his career, but this year he’s seemed more ordinary than extraordinary. Must be those State Farm commercials.  

The Packers have basically been carried by Aaron. Not Aaron Rodgers,  but Aaron Jones. The running back has put up a tremendous year, finally being from the confines of former coach Mike McCarthy’s offensive scheme, and taking full advantage of the opportunity under first year coach Matt LaFleur.

Both teams come in with identical records (13-3), but San Francisco appears to have a significant advantage outright. San Francisco rode a stout defense and complimentary offense to earn the NFC West title for the first time since the 2012 season, which is also the last time they made the Super Bowl. 

Green Bay took care of business, having a strong defense and taking advantage of the easiest schedule in football. 

The key for both teams lies in their quarterbacks. The Packers and 49ers need Rodgers and Garoppolo, respectively, to show up. 

The Packers need Rogers to recapture the magic he’s had for his whole 15 year career. If he can, then the offense can likely do just enough to win.

The 49ers don’t need Garoppolo to have an outstanding day, but they would definitely welcome it. Garoppolo has been far from bad this year, but he hasn’t been the kind of player they paid $137 million for five years for. Likely because he’s still coming off an injury from last year.

If both quarterbacks are clicking, then expect a high action, entertaining shootout.

Prediction: 49ers: 24, Packers:18

The Niners will jump out to an early lead thanks to costly turnovers be the Packers. The Packers will attempt to make a comeback, but it will be too little too late, and the 49ers will punch their ticket to Miami for Super Bowl LIV.

Andrew Sousa, sports editor

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes throws one of his three second quarter TDs to Travis Kelce during Kansas City’s 51-31 win over Houston in the division round on Jan. 12. Photo Courtesy of Chiefs Wire.

AFC Championship

The AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium features two high powered offenses, the Tennessee Titans, and Kansas City Chiefs. 

Tennessee is coming off of a huge 28-12 upset of the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Divisional round in Baltimore last weekend. Even though Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehil only completed seven passes the entire game, two of those passes were touchdowns. 

Most of the offense was based around 240-pound running back Derrick Henry, who rushed for 195 yards and even threw a touchdown pass.

But Henry wasn’t exactly the main story. The Titans defense held the highest scoring offense in football to just 12 points, and forced three turnovers from quarterback Lamar Jackson, who will probably win the league MVP this season. 

That being said, the Chiefs played the Titans earlier this season, and the Titans won after blocking a field goal in the waning seconds. 

It really can depend on who scores first in this matchup. Let’s look at both sides of the game here. If the Titans score first, they will be leaning on the shoulders of Henry, who has rushed for over 180 yards three games in a row and is on a historic tear. If the Chiefs score first, that will force the Titans to be relying on the passing game, which isn’t exactly electric. 

On defense, I’d give the advantage to the Titans, especially if Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones is out once again. Defense has been Kansas City’s weakness for the past couple of years.

Overall, I believe Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense will be too much to handle for Tennessee.

Prediction: Chiefs: 31, Titans: 28

Ben Olson, staff writer

Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce could play a big role in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Tennessee Titans. Photo courtesy of SBNation.

Well, we were not expecting this.

The Kansas City Chiefs will host the… Tennessee Titans? In the AFC Championship Game? Huh. 

The Chiefs advanced after an exciting comeback victory over the Houston Texans. The Titans will go into Arrowhead Stadium after a shocking, convincing victory over the top seeded Baltimore Ravens, who were perceived as a lock for the Super Bowl.

The Chiefs were a tale of two halves against the Texans. Down 24-0 against the Texans after 20 minutes, the Chiefs used an offensive onslaught to take a 28-24 lead at halftime, a lead they would never relinquish en route to winning 51-31. 

The Titans used a stifling defense to shut down likely 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson. From there, they rode running back Derrick Henry to a resounding 28-12 victory. 

The game plan for both teams is pretty simple: shut down the other team’s top guy. For the Chiefs, that would be quarterback and 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes, who was electric against the Texans last week. For the Titans, obviously, Henry is their guy.

The Chiefs will likely need their offense to carry the load. Although the Chiefs defense was solid in the second half against the Texans, it was incredibly suspect in the first half, allowing 21 points after just one quarter.

But for the Chiefs, 31 points allowed might be more than good enough for the offense. Their offense just that good when they’re clicking.

For the Titans, they’ll once again need their defense to stall a red hot hot offense. They shut down the Ravens last week, but can they do it again? Jackson was amazing this year, but come playoff time there’s a strong difference between a running quarterback, and a quarterback who can run. Expect the Titans to have a hard time containing Mahomes in the pocket and when he scrambles.

For the Titans to to stay in it, they’ll need quarterback Ryan Tannehil to have a great day. His 77 yards passing last week likely won’t cut it when the Chiefs are scoring touchdowns on almost every drive. If Tannehill can control the tempo and make timely throws, then the Titans can keep the Chief’s offense off the field and put themselves in an opportunity to steal yet another road playoff win.

Prediction: Chiefs: 31, Titans: 14

The Chiefs will come flying out of the gates, quickly building a big lead. The Titans will slowly try to chip away at the lead, but Henry will cool down and Tannehil will make just a few too many bad decisions. The Chiefs will win comfortably and move to a much warmer setting for Super Bowl LIV.

Andrew Sousa, sports editor