NFL conference championship previews, picks
In the Titans' 35-32 regular-season win over the Chiefs, Derrick Henry rushed for 188 yards.  Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Yardbarker's NFL conference championship previews, picks

Sunday's conference championship games are rematches of regular-season games. In Week 10, the Titans beat the Chiefs, 35-32, in Nashville, but they face a huge challenge in the AFC Championship Game. In the divisional round, the Chiefs outscored Houston, 51-7, after spotting the Texans a 24-0 lead. Kansas City's offense seems unstoppable. In the NFC, the Packers get another crack against the 49ers, who humiliated Green Bay in a Monday night game, 37-8, in Week 12. 

Yardbarker previews each game with a pick against the spread. Weekly point spreads are from BetOnline.ag. They are current as of 10 p.m. ET Tuesday. For the latest spreads, check BetOnline.ag.

NFL playoff schedule


Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill scrambles for a first down on the winning drive in the fourth quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week X. Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee (11-7) at Kansas City (13-4), Sun., 3:05 ET

TV: CBS     LINE: Kansas City -7.5

What you need to know: RB Derrick Henry, the first player in NFL history to run for at least 180 yards in three straight games, is the Titans' driving force. The Chiefs couldn't slow him (23 carries, 188 yards) during a regular-season loss. Henry averages 4.7 yards gained after contact per attempt this postseason, per Pro Football Focus. The Chiefs have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL (4.9 yards per carry, 29th in league). Tennessee should be able to take away Kansas City’s running attack; the Titans were seventh in the NFL in yards per carry allowed, and the Chiefs were just 20th in the league in yards per carry. With Henry running wild in the playoffs, Titans QB Ryan Tannehill hasn't had to throw much (160 yards, 29 attempts, 3 TDs) in two games. Tannehill’s battle against a stingy Chiefs secondary should be fun to watch. 

Patrick Mahomes’ arm is the most dangerous weapon Kansas City has, but his legs are an important variable. In the divisional round against Houston, Mahomes ran for 53 yards on seven carries, his third game this season with 50-plus yards on the ground. CB Adoree’ Jackson will likely draw the assignment against Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill (58 catches, 860 yards). Good luck. Jackson has been strong all season, but Hill is a unique weapon. Tight end Travis Kelce (10 receptions, 134 yards, 3 TDs) is coming off the best game of his career, and if Tennessee is without linebacker Jayon Brown (shoulder) again, he will be primed for another outburst. Safety Kevin Byard is one of the NFL’s most underrated players, and figures to have multiple different coverage assignments versus Kansas City. Punter Brett Kern is an All-Pro and a major weapon for Tennessee, but the Titans, incredibly, have just eight made field goals all season. Conversely, the Chiefs' Harrison Butker led the league with 34 made field goals, and his 89.5 percent conversion rate was sixth in the NFL.

On the spot: Titans QB Ryan Tannehill. In the divisional-round upset of Baltimore, his quick-change touchdown to Kalif Raymond was a turning point. If the Chiefs take an early lead, he must prove that his stellar regular season (70.3 % completion percentage, 22 TDs) was no fluke. 

Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu: Defenses have used eight defenders in the box and still failed to stop Henry, who emasculated Baltimore safety Earl Thomas on a highlight-reel run in the divisional round. Whether or not Mathieu can tackle effectively and make plays near the line of scrimmage could be a determining factor. 

Betting nuggets:  Tennessee is 6-3 ATS on the road this season; Kansas City is 5-3 ATS at home this season.

The pick: Titans 30 Chiefs 28


Packers tight end Jimmy Graham  Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Green Bay (14-3) at San Francisco (14-3), Sun., 6:40 ET

TV: FOX     LINE: San Francisco -7.5

What you need to know: Aaron Rodgers gets a chance to avenge one of the worst performances (20-for-33, 114 yards) of his career and return to the Super Bowl for the first time since his 2011 (2010 season) triumph over the Steelers. Green Bay ranked 18th in yards allowed and yards gained; the Packers’ major strength is its ability to protect the football and take it away. Green Bay was second in the league with just 13 turnovers, and its 25 takeaways ranked seventh. San Francisco was even better at taking the ball away (27 turnvers), but it was sloppier with it, turning it over 23 times. QB Jimmy Garoppolo was responsible for 18 of those (13 interceptions, five lost fumbles). His play remains a question; Garoppolo attempted a only 19 passes in the divisional-round win over the Vikings, managing just a 74.7 passer rating, well below the NFL average.

Garoppolo’s ability to attack a ball-hawking Green Bay secondary is the most important variable for the 49ers’ offense. His task will be easier if San Francisco can run the ball effectively against a defense that ranked just 24th in the league in yards per carry allowed. The game’s pivotal matchup will happen when the Packers have the ball. San Francisco CB Richard Sherman has had a marvelous season, arguably the best of any corner in the NFC, and perhaps third only to New England's Stephon Gilmore and Buffalo's Tre’Davious White in the league.  Sherman will be matched up against Davante Adams; if he can neutralize the wide receiver, Green Bay’s offense could grind to a halt. RB Aaron Jones (1,084 rushing yards, 16 TDs) must give the Pack some semblance of offensive balance; the Niners can be had against the run, as they were 23rd in the league in yards per carry allowed. San Francisco’s offensive game plan will no doubt involve a heavy dose of rushing, as the Packers were way below average defending the ground game (24th in yards per carry allowed). Green Bay’s Mason Crosby was the fifth-most accurate kicker in the NFL this season.

On the spot: Packers TE Jimmy Graham. Adams will attract most of San Francisco’s attention, so Graham -– whose four targets against Seattle in the divisional round were second most on the team behind Adams’ 11 –- must exploit favorable matchups, particularly if Green Bay is in the red zone.

49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo: He was sharp (14-for-20, 253 yards) when the Niners pasted Green Bay in Week 12; but he has zero experience in this high-pressure environment. San Francisco is unlikely to rout the Packers again, so can Garoppolo outplay Rodgers when it matters most?

Betting nuggets:  Green Bay is 5-2 ATS on the road this season; San Francisco is 5-3-1 ATS at home this season.

The pick: Packers 28 49ers 27

Chris Mueller is the co-host of The PM Team with Poni & Mueller on Pittsburgh's 93.7 The Fan, Monday-Friday from 2-6 p.m. ET. Owner of a dog with a Napoleon complex, consumer of beer, cooker of chili, closet Cleveland Browns fan. On Twitter at @ChrisMuellerPGH – please laugh.

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