The 2020 AFC Championship Game pits the Tennessee Titans against the Kansas City Chiefs, with the winner earning the right to play in Super Bowl LIV in Miami.
These two teams met in Week 10, when the Titans prevailed with a 35-32 victory in Nashville. How do they stack up in key categories heading into the rematch? Let’s find out.
Patrick Mahomes may be the best quarterback in the NFL. The reigning MVP wasn’t quite as prolific in the regular season as he was last year, but he still eclipsed 4,000 yards and tossed 26 touchdowns against five interceptions. The 24-year-old showed just how dangerous he can be in the divisional round, throwing five touchdowns against the Houston Texans and leading the Chiefs back from a 24-point deficit.
After beginning the season on the bench, Ryan Tannehill came on to have the best year of his career. The Titans acquired the 31-year-old in an offseason trade with Miami Dolphins to have him back up Marcus Mariota. Since being inserted into the starting lineup in Week 7, he’s thrown 25 touchdowns against six interceptions, and Tennessee has won in nine of his 12 starts. While he’s made plays in pivotal moments throughout the playoffs, Tannehill has thrown fewer than 100 yards in both postseason outings and has gotten away with a few dangerous ducks.
Kansas City used a committee approach at running back in 2019 – due in part to injuries – and none of their rushers surpassed 500 yards on the ground. Damien Williams led the attack with 498 yards and five touchdowns across 11 games, and he was the featured running back in the divisional round versus the Houston Texans. LeSean McCoy was the Chiefs’ No. 2 running back in the regular season but didn’t receive a single handoff in Kansas City’s playoff opener.
The Titans feasted on the ground this season. Derrick Henry managed a league-high 303 carries, which he turned into 1,540 yards, 16 touchdowns, and a rushing title. The 6-foot-3, 247-pounder bowled over the New England Patriots on Wild Card Weekend with 182 yards and a score, and he somehow topped that output one week later with a 195-yard performance versus the Baltimore Ravens. Needless to say, tackling the behemoth of a running back is much easier said than done.
The Chiefs have one of the NFL’s most explosive receiving cores, and it’s headlined by Tyreek Hill, whose blazing speed requires extra attention at all times. Travis Kelce is the best receiving tight end in the league and also commands frequent double-coverage. Sammy Watkins is pretty decent, too, and we haven’t even delved into the Kansas City’s screen game yet.
Rookie A.J. Brown was the only Titans player to catch for 1,000. After him, the production plummeted: Corey Davis had 601 yards, Jonnu Smith had 439, and the injured Adam Humphries had 374. Kalif Raymond sits a few spots further down the list, but the 5-foot-8 Holy Cross product – believe it or not – leads Tennessee in receiving during the postseason thanks to his one and only reception, which went for 45 yards and a touchdown.
The Chiefs have always fielded a strong offensive line under Andy Reid. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz highlights the group, as he continued to operate as one of the NFL’s most underrated players in 2019. The unit has benefited from continuity, as it understands how to play together.
You don’t possess the leading rusher in the league without a really good offensive line, and that’s precisely what the Titans boast. Rodger Saffold recovered from a slow start at left guard after inking a lucrative contract in free agency. Ben Jones is one of the top centers in the AFC. Taylor Lewan’s penalties at left tackle are problematic, but he doesn’t give up many pressures.
Defensive front 7
Kansas City finished 11th in sacks this year after revamping its defensive line last offseason. The unit showed improvement later in the campaign with healthier versions of Frank Clark and Chris Jones. The linebacker position is a weakness, as Anthony Hitchens, Reggie Ragland, and Damien Wilson are all vulnerable in the passing game. Hitchens also struggles to finish tackles, which will be a concern against a powerful runner like Henry.
Tennessee ranked in the top half of the league in rushing yards allowed per game and in sacks. The Titans received a boost up front when first-round rookie Jeffery Simmons returned early from a torn ACL to jump into the trenches next to Jurrell Casey. On the edge, Harold Landry doubled his sack total from his rookie year, going from 4.5 to nine. Jayon Brown can drop into coverage effectively from the linebacker spot, and he, Wesley Woodyard, and Rashaan Evans have all shined at various points during the postseason.
It stumbled out of the gate, but Kansas City’s secondary made major strides as the campaign progressed. Thanks to Tyrann Mathieu’s versatility and coverage skills, the Chiefs are no longer resigned to playing zone defense as they had been in previous years. His running mate, Juan Thornhill, tore his ACL in Week 17, however, and that could set the secondary back.
The Titans also received strong play on the back end down the stretch despite losing top cornerback Malcolm Butler to a broken wrist in Week 9. Kevin Byard and Kenny Vaccaro quietly formed one of the top safety tandems in the league, while Logan Ryan and Adoree’ Jackson have been rock solid on the perimeter in recent weeks. Tennessee has three interceptions in two postseason games.
Chiefs rookie Mecole Hardman made the Pro Bowl as a return specialist, following in the footsteps of Hill, who was a prolific returner at the beginning of his career. Kansas City also boasts one of the most consistent kickers in the league in Harrison Butker and a punter in Dustin Colquitt who allowed just 4.7 yards per return in the regular season.
The Titans aren’t as explosive in the return game as their counterparts, but they do have someone who can neutralize opponents in that department. Brett Kern pinned the Patriots inside their 20-yard line four times on six punts on Wild Card Weekend and didn’t allow a punt to be returned versus the Ravens in the divisional round. Kicker is a major question mark for the Titans, though. Tennessee went through kickers at a rapid rate during the regular season, and the man with the job right now – Greg Joseph – has yet to attempt a field goal in four contests.
Many tout Reid as the greatest coach to never win a Super Bowl. His offensive creativity, unpredictability, and innovative play designs have helped get the best out of every quarterback he’s ever worked with. “Big Red” has led the Chiefs to six playoff appearances in seven seasons, repeatedly knocking on the door that keeps the Lombardi Trophy out of sight. The only bugaboo in his game is clock management.
Mike Vrabel and defensive coordinator Dean Pees have been lauded for their tactics over the last two weeks, even though the Patriots and Ravens had a fair share of success moving the ball between the 20-yard lines. While offensive coordinator Arthur Smith helped revive Tannehill’s career, he and the Titans haven’t been forced to play from behind – which changes the dynamics of a game – since they trailed the Patriots 3-0 early in the first quarter.