Bengals @ Titans
The Titans are a sleeping giant in these playoffs. Despite being the #1 seed in the AFC, they have been overshadowed and rarely discussed. The Titans were plagued with injuries to their skill position players all season long, but now it appears they will have Derrick Henry, AJ Brown, and Julio Jones healthy for the playoffs. The Titans newest addition, Julio Jones, although looking looked pretty spry and healthy in the last game of the regular season, has not done much this year. He looked pretty spry and healthy in the last game of the regular season, going for 58 yards and a touchdown. We are all aware of what Derrick Henry and AJ Brown bring to the table, but Jones very well may be the X-factor in this game.
The Titans are a very well-coached team. They also boast some wins against rosters that appear more talented on paper such as the Bills, the Chiefs, and the Rams. The Titans can compensate for a slight talent deficit by controlling field position and time of possession. The Titans do not tout any dominant statistical achievements, aside from having a top-5 run defense, but it is irrelevant because they win their games in the margins.
Tennessee ranks 8th in average starting field position and their average time of drive ranks 4th. They convert 43.6% of their third-down attempts, and their defense surrenders a conversion rate of 36.7%. In addition, the Titans convert 63.9% of their opportunities into touchdowns in the red area, while the defense gives up touchdowns at a 51.7% clip. All of these metrics rank top 8 in the NFL.
For Joe Burrow and the Bengals, the game will come down to these third down and red zone opportunities. If they can flip the script, they have a great chance to pull the upset. Burrow has a knack for stepping up in big games, and this matchup presents another opportunity for him to add to his young legacy.
While Derrick Henry’s return is heralded, he averaged the same yards-per-carry this season as his replacement D’onta Foreman. If the Bengals can stop Henry from breaking a long run, they should be able to stifle the Titans in the run game.
This game will ultimately come down to a battle of the offenses, and both teams have more than serviceable quarterbacks with a slew of weapons around them. While the defenses will be expected to struggle, both these teams sport an all-pro caliber safety in Kevin Byard and Jessie Bates, both of which can force game-changing plays. While the Titans are the more well-rounded and better-coached football team, they will be lining up Janoris Jenkins, Kristian Fulton, and Elijah Molden against Jamarr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd, which is the matchup that I think will decide the game.
This Bengals offense averages over seven net yards per pass attempt, and if they can maintain that success, the Titans won’t be able to keep up by running the football. It is a bad matchup for the Titans secondary, and they will need the range of Kevin Byard more than ever. The Titans will have a chance to counter the Bengals passing attack with their trio of pass rushers in Denico Autry, Harold Landry, and Jeffery Simmons, who combined for 29.5 sacks. Ultimately, I think the Bengals offensive line will hold up, and the Bengals wide receiver’s matchup is too good to ignore. The team with the better quarterback will win, and the Bengals will pull the upset.
Bills @ Chiefs
After being pummeled by the Chiefs in last year’s AFC championship game, the Bills dedicated their offseason to building a team that could defeat the Chiefs. They watched how the Buccaneers systematically took apart the Chiefs in the Super Bowl last year, and as a result, they used the draft and free agency to bolster their pass rush. The first chance the new-look Bills got to match up with the Chiefs; Buffalo looked like world-beaters beating the Chiefs 38-20 in Kansas City. The new additions shined as top draft picks Gregory Rousseau, and Boogie Basham each registered sacks.
The Bills pass defense was lackluster a year ago which allowed Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill to combine for 22 catches, 290 yards, and two scores in the AFC title game. Without making any significant personnel changes, the Bills pass defense was the best in the NFL this season, allowing just 5.2 yards per pass attempt and 9.7 yards per completion. They allowed a staggering 163 passing yards per game and just 12 passing touchdowns all season. When the Chiefs throw the ball, it will be strength on strength. Despite missing Tre White since Thanksgiving, the Bills still possess the league’s top passing defense.
In their regular season matchup, Kelce and Hill were held to a combined 13 catches for 120 receiving yards despite Mahomes throwing the ball 54 times. The Bills pressured Mahomes 11 times in that matchup compared to just three times in the championship game.
This Chiefs offense averages over 7 yards per pass attempt and led the NFL in first downs. After some early season struggles, they finished the season #1 in the league in percentage of drives ending in a score at 48.2%. The Chiefs also led the NFL in plays, yards, and points per drive. Following some early season concerns, this unit is back to being the best offense in the NFL.
While the Bills offense doesn’t have the consistency of the Chiefs, when they play their best football, they are unstoppable. After some midseason turmoil, the Bills offensive line has come together and hasn’t allowed a sack the last four weeks. This coinciding with the Chiefs struggling to get pressure all year will heavily favor the Bills.
Josh Allen has closed the gap on Patrick Mahomes since last year’s AFC championship, and there is a real possibility that he could outplay Mahomes on Sunday night. Both quarterbacks flexed last week as Allen led the Bills to seven touchdowns on seven drives, while Mahomes and the Chiefs went on a second and third quarter run where they put up 35 points in less than 11 minutes of game time.
Mahomes has a tougher test ahead as the Bills defense is significantly better than the Chiefs. With that said, Mahomes is perhaps the greatest quarterback we have ever seen from a talent perspective, and he still has his ole’ reliables in Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. With these two quarterbacks, the game will likely be a shootout, so it will come down to which defense can create turnovers and get off the field on third downs. Both defenses were very opportunistic and ranked top-5 in forced turnovers. Despite ranking 27th in the NFL in yards allowed, the Chiefs were 8th in points allowed. This was in large part due to the turnovers they created.
The third down battle will be another game-deciding metric. The Chiefs third-down offense ranked #1 and converted over 52% of their opportunities. Compare this with the Bills third-down defense that ranked #1 and held opponents under 31% on third down conversions.
By nearly every statistic, the Bills have the best defense in the NFL, and their offense is coming off possibly the most dominant performance in NFL history. These Chiefs are tremendous, but the Bills are on the brink of becoming historic. Josh Allen and company win a shootout in Arrowhead.