2019-20 NFL Playoffs – Conference Round

Last week was more successful than the wild card round, with my predictions going 3-1 (up from 1-3), giving me a very mediocre 4-4 postseason record in my picks this year.

Fortunately, I’m very confident in my picks this weekend. For the viewer, this may be a negative, as I don’t expect close games this weekend. I suspect this will be the dud week in this year’s postseason for action, but well see.

Last week’s surprise losers were the Baltimore Ravens, but you’ll see me argue, this was more down to the Ravens than the Titans. Anyway, let’s get on with predicting this week’s games, and I’ll fill you in as we go.

Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs

Both these teams featured in wild action last week. The Titans beat the #1 seed in the AFC by 28-12 – a big win; meanwhile, the Chiefs came from 24-0 a few minutes in the second quarter to lead before halftime, and win 51-31 overall. We certainly weren’t short-changed for entertainment.

So, how did the Titans win their game?

Well, it was Derrick Henry, obviously. Everyone knows that.

Except, no, that’s not how it happened. Yes, the Titans had more rushing yards, but not so many more (217 versus 185). In terms of yards per carry, the Ravens were better (6.3 versus 5.8).

The real problem was the lack of any balance in the Ravens’ offense. They ran 88 plays on offense, of which 79 involved Lamar Jackson throwing it (59 times), or running himself (20 times).

The running backs? 9 carries and 2 targets. A little predictable, especially when 5 of those carries came on the first two drives. The first drive ended on an interception. The second drive ended with a turnover on downs.

The Ravens shot themselves in the foot repeatedly, with three turnovers, all on Jackson (2 INT, 1 FUM), and four times turned over on downs (twice in the fourth quarter in desperation mode, twice in the first three quarters, both on 4th and 1, both with Jackson straight up the middle).

In short, this was a team determined they could only win with Lamar Jackson. They discovered, unfortunately, that they couldn’t. The Titans had 11 possessions, punting six times, scoring four TDs, and finishing up in victory formation on their final possession. Meanwhile, the Ravens also had 11 possessions, punting only once, because they turned over on downs four times, gave away a fumble and two interceptions.

In fact, all four Titans TDs came in possessions gained from turnovers (1 INT, 1 FUM, 2 DOWNS), and three of them with field position past halfway. The Titans were outgained by 530 yards to 300. Yes, that was partially because of the field position, but just look at that and realise how many points the Ravens left off the scoreboard, and how much easier they made it for the Titans.

The Chiefs experienced a very different game. On their first possession, trailing by 7 to an opening drive field goal, they punted, but it was blocked and returned for a score. Five minutes in, they trailed by 14. After being held to another (successful) punt on their next possession, they then held the Texans to a punt and a chance to get on the scoreboard.

Except, Tyreek Hill muffed the punt and, one play later, it was 21-0 to the Texans. You didn’t feel like it was over (it was early still), but it was close.

To make things worse (could they be? Oh yes!), the following kickoff was also muffed and the Chiefs went 3 and out. The Texans then took 5 minutes to drive up for a field goal, making it 24-0 only 20 minutes into the game. The Chiefs were losing the time of possession by about 15 minutes to 5. Whilst at 21-0 it looked hard, but doable, at 24-0 it was looking like a game that was pretty much over.

But the Kansas City Chiefs aren’t a normal football team. They’re an exceptional team, and from then on justified why I keep saying they’re going to be in the Super Bowl. Suddenly, everything seemed to click, helped by a 58 yard kickoff return to, ahem, “kick” things off.

The Chiefs scored three touchdowns and a combined time of possession of less than three minutes. Their defense probably weren’t happy about the speed of scoring, but it dramatically altered the feel of the game. Although down by 3, having been so far down, and playing at home, it was now hard to see how the Texans would hold things together.

In fairness to the Texans, they tried to keep pace, but once the game became a shootout, they just didn’t have the firepower. The stats books will say they were seriously outgunned, but in terms of yardage, the game overall as fairly level. The difference is, the Chiefs scored touchdowns on 7 consecutive possessions.

The Texans aren’t a great team, but they’re a good team. I’d put them in a similar bracket to the Texans. However, I would say these two things, that go against the Titans this week:

  • The Texans have a better offense overally, yet couldn’t keep up with the Chiefs once they hit their stride, even with a massive head start;
  • The Titans have a better defense, but even the New England Patriots, who held opponents to a QB Rating of less than 65 over the season, couldn’t stop the Chiefs when they played.

The Chiefs won’t score 51 points, but they might score 30. Can the Titans score 30? I doubt it. The Chiefs average 20 points per game allowed this season.

The Chiefs are ranked #5 in my Power Rankings, #6 at home, #3 for point scored, #11 for points allowed.

The Titans are ranked #9 overall, #10 on the road, #8 for points scored, #10 for points allowed.

Both teams are 4-3 against playoff opponents. The Chiefs are 3-2 at home. The Titans are 3-0 on the road, all in the last three weeks. That stops now.

The predictor picks: the Chiefs.
I pick: Kansas City Chiefs.

Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers

I think most people will be tempted to think this is a closer game. The 49ers are 6-2 at home in the regular season. The Packers are 6-2 on the road. The Packers have 13 regular season wins, as do the 49ers. Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback the world has ever seen and Jimmy Garoppolo is just a backup QB made to look good in the New England offense, and it’s just good fortune the magic hasn’t worn off yet…

That’s basically what people seem to be saying. What does Jimmy G need to do to prove himself to people?

Garoppolo has a better passing completion percentage than Rodgers this season (69% to 62%), more touchdowns (27 to 26), more yards per attempt (8.4 to 7.6), a better QB Rating (102.0 to 95.4) and more game winning drives (4 to 2).

Anyone telling you Rodgers is the greatest, and that Garoppolo still needs to prove himself, isn’t worth listening to. Yes, Rodgers is a very good, but he’s not doing anything right now, that other quarterbacks, Garoppolo included, aren’t.

For me, the key matchup in this game is the Packers’ offense vs the 49ers’ defense. The 49ers have the #2 defense in the league in terms of yards per game, yards per play, and are #8 in terms of point per game allowed.

The Packers are #18 in terms of yards per game and yards per play, and #15 on total points.

Going back to the Packers’ Divisional Round game, the interesting thing to note is all 7 TDs in that game (four for the Packers, three for the Seahawks) came on drives of 60 yards or more. The Seahawks had drives of 9, 10 and 12 plays, and the Packers had drives of 5, 8, 9 and 11 plays.

The 49ers don’t give up many long plays either on the ground, and neither the Packers nor the 49ers are known for their big play explosiveness. However, there is one small difference: in the NFC, the 49ers give up the fewest number of plays of 40+ yards (5), whilst the Packers give up the most (15).

If the 49ers take an early lead, I don’t see an easy way for the Packers to get back into it. If, however, the Packers can get the early lead, it could be a more interesting game, because whilst favourites, and with a great offense (especially the receiving corps), the 49ers aren’t a team than can score with the explosiveness of, to pick a random example, the Kansas City Chiefs.

The predictor picks: the 49ers.
I pick: San Francisco 49ers.

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