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Straight Up Picks for the Conference Championships (2020)

by January 15, 2020

There are just two games remaining to decide who plays in the Super Bowl. Three of the top four overall seeds have advanced to the Conference Championship round. The lone party-crasher is the sixth seed Tennessee Titans. The Titans are looking to become the first sixth seed to advance to the Super Bowl since the 2010 Packers. Interestingly, both conference championship games are rematches of games played earlier in the season. How will these prior matchups affect this week’s games? What adjustments will be made? Let’s dive in and pick who our Super Bowl contestants will be.

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Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers drubbed the Packers 37-8 in San Francisco in Week 12. That game ended up having huge playoff implications, as it ultimately decided where the NFC Championship was played. That game had the feeling that it was over from the get-go. Aaron Rodgers fumbled deep in his own territory on the first possession, and the 49ers scored on the next play. The 49ers went on to lead 23-0 at halftime, and the second half was all but a formality. Aaron Rodgers had his second-lowest passing total of the season in this game and averaged a paltry 3.2 passing yards on 33 attempts.

Both coaches are sure to have their teams prepared for a much different game this week. One huge advantage that I give the 49ers is that they did not have the services of left tackle Joe Staley, defensive end Dee Ford, linebacker Kwon Alexander, running back Matt Breida, or kicker Robbie Gould in the first game. Coach Kyle Shanahan has said the team appears fully healthy and he will have a full complement of players for Sunday. 

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, this is the fourth time in 191 career starts that Aaron Rodgers has been an underdog of a touchdown or more. He is 0-3 SU all-time in these spots. Also, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the 37th time in the Super Bowl era that teams will meet in the playoffs after one team beat the other by 25 or more points in the regular season. The team that won the first meeting is 22-14 and holds a 7-2 edge in conference championships. 

As talented as Aaron Rodgers is, the San Francisco 49ers are the more complete team in all three phases. This game will be tighter than the first game. However, I do not see how the Packers can flip the script enough to beat a completely healthy 49ers team.

PICK: San Francisco 49ers 

Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs

Maybe I am just an optimist, but instead of focusing on the fact that the Chiefs got down 24-0 to the Texans, can we all marvel at how impressive outscoring them 51-7 for the rest of the game was? The Chiefs scored 41 unanswered points in a playoff game, something that had not been done since the Jets did it to the Colts in a 2002 Wild Card game. 

The Titans continue to win on the road in tough environments and continue to be big underdogs as well. Tennessee sets up as the perfect “kryptonite” for what the Chiefs do. The Chiefs ranked 26th in the league in rush defense, allowing an average of 128.2 YPG. That is not a great recipe for success against Derrick Henry, who is on an unprecedented tear. In addition to his gaudy yardage totals, Henry has carried the ball 34, 32, and 30 times over his last three games. These are the three-highest carry totals of any running back for the entire 2019-2020 season.

One way the Chiefs can ensure Henry does not carry 30 times is to make the Titans play from behind. While they may not be able to stop Henry completely, they should be able to force Ryan Tannehill to have to do more than he has the last two games. When these teams met in Week 10, Patrick Mahomes carved up the Tennessee secondary for 446 yards and three touchdowns. Titans coach Mike Vrabel will make adjustments, but there is still too much firepower to overcome once again. Look for the Chiefs and head coach Andy Reid to get to the Super Bowl, where he will chase that championship that has eluded him thus far in his career.

PICK: Kansas City Chiefs

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Mike Spector is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeSpector01.