Four teams remain and they are only one win away from a place at Super Bowl LIV. Regardless of how they got here, they all have a chance.
Yes, even the Tennessee Titans.
There’s no doubt they are the long shot of four, but after coming back from a 2-4 start to the season, in consecutive weeks they’ve beaten the New England Patriots at Foxborough and downed Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens.
At some point, you have to start believing they have a chance at going all the way, at least to February’s showcase in Miami.
Taking on the much-fancied Chiefs, the last remaining AFC South team will need to be at their best, but they are at least in a better place than the Houston Texans. There are three key areas where they have the edge over their division rivals:
Derrick Henry and the running game, a more dominant secondary, and a head coach, offensive play caller and general manager not called Bill O’Brien.
It is believed the Chiefs defensive front is the strength of their defence, but they finished 26th in terms of running yards conceded and with Defensive End Chris Jones still not practicing, the Titans will be confident of pushing the ball on the ground.
The Ravens failed to slow down Derrick Henry despite stacking the box (8+ defenders) on 63% of Henry's rush attempts (Henry Avg: 37%).@KingHenry_2 finished with 124 yards (19 attempts) vs 8+ defenders in the box, most in a game by any player this season.#TENvsBAL | #Titans pic.twitter.com/LZJUtR73cY
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 12, 2020
Keeping the clock running and limiting Patrick Mahomes time on the field is vital to stopping their high power offence.
Before Mahomes, the Chiefs lost 22-21 to the same team in the Wild Card round, and then this season, in the star QBs first game back from his knee injury, the home side needed a FG block touchdown return to pick up the victory.
Most importantly, the Titans were within one score all the way to the death and with momentum and Mike Vrabel guiding his men to the best form they’ve found all season, even if they don’t win, this will not be a blowout.
Damien Williams, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Mahomes himself. Any game plan you devise to contain the Chiefs is almost guaranteed to fail if you think you are going to stop all of them.
In the 2018 Wild Card game, Hill went for 87 yards, which was before we fully knew of the extent of his skills.
Kelce needs attention, and in the Week 10 meeting the tight end had seven catches for 75 yards and one touchdown, but it was the speedy wide receiver who did the most damage.
The 25-year-old had his highest number of receptions – 11 – and was targeted 19 times, finishing with 157 yards and one touchdown. No team suffered more at the hands of the speedster, and yet the Titans came out winners.
Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees may try something different, but if the plan remains the same, Hill can have a huge day and Tennessee can still make it to Miami.
Only one of the playoff games this year has been decided by a field goal. Special Teams have played their part though. Brett Kern’s punting against the Patriots was key in pinning them deep in their own half of the field and asking too much of Tom Brady.
It’s not been the same story for the place-kicking though, where the Titans have fallen down too often this season. Ryan Succop was brought back too early from his injury and now Greg Joseph is the fourth kicker they have used this campaign.
In four games, the former Cleveland Brown has yet to attempt a single field goal.
He is 15 from 15 in extra-point attempts, but at no stage has Vrabel let Joseph kick for three.
In contrast, Harrison Butker, the Chiefs kicker is one of the best in the league. He has only missed four of his 38 attempts, including being perfect from 40 to 49 yards.
Although they have the offence to go for it on fourth down, Andy Reid obviously has more faith in his man than Vrabel and having that ability from range could be key.
Add to this the fact Ryan Tannehill has been successful in 31 of 35 red zone visits since taking over, the Chiefs will very likely be the first team to settle for three on Sunday.
*All odds correct at time of publication