This year’s conference title games feature three teams that enjoyed first-round byes, plus one serious party crasher. And both home teams are favored by at least seven points.
The Kansas City Chiefs, who pulled off a 24-point comeback against the Houston Texans in the divisional round, will host the AFC title game at Arrowhead Stadium. They will face the sixth-seeded Tennessee Titans, who pulled off a second straight road upset in the divisional round, this time against the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens. The NFC championship game is at Levi’s Stadium, where the top two seeds in the conference, the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers, will meet for the eighth time in the postseason.
Here is how we expect those teams to fare against the consensus point spreads (as of Thursday morning) from multiple sports books in Las Vegas.
No. 6 Tennessee Titans at No. 2 Kansas City Chiefs (-7½)
Pick: Tennessee Titans +7½
Running back Derrick Henry ran for 188 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-32 win over the Chiefs in Week 10. Since then, Henry has topped the 100-yard mark in six of the seven games he’s played. He’s gained at least 182 yards in each of his last three games, two of those in playoff elimination games. He’s on an unprecedented run, at a time when running backs are supposed to be of declining importance.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, have the NFL’s fourth-worst run defense, per Football Outsiders, which measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every play to a league average based on situation and opponent. And the Chiefs stop just 14 percent of rushers at or behind the line of scrimmage, the lowest mark in the NFL during the regular season and playoffs combined, per data from TruMedia. It could be an ideal spot for Henry and the Titans.
No. 2 Green Bay Packers at No. 1 San Francisco 49ers (-7½)
Pick: Green Bay Packers +7½
Look for an improved Packers offensive line to protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the pocket. During the first 11 weeks of the season, Green Bay’s offensive line was responsible for 27 percent of the sacks, hits and hurries endured by Rodgers, according to the game charters at Pro Football Focus. That peaked in Week 12 against the 49ers (29 percent) before improving slightly to 24 percent from Week 13 until Green Bay’s divisional-round win over Seattle.
Rodgers’s passer rating, meanwhile, improves from 73.0 to 105.9 this season (including the playoffs) when he isn’t facing pass pressure in the pocket. That’s roughly the difference between playing like a Top 5 passer and one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL.
More time for Rodgers will help Green Bay sustain drives, a key to avenging the team’s blowout Week 12 loss to San Francisco. In that matchup, the 49ers forced the Packers to go three-and-out on almost half their drives (5 out of 11) while holding Green Bay to less than a point per drive. The Packers were forced to go three-and-out less than a third of the time (30 percent) during the rest of the regular season and playoffs, and scored 2.3 points per drive.