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Sunday NFL Playbook

49ers, Chiefs look unbeatable heading into conference championship games

When NFL teams turn in performances as dominating as the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs did last weekend in the divisional round of the playoffs, it appears there is no way they can lose.

But think back to other NFL teams that looked unbeatable in January: the 1990 Bills and their K-Gun offense, the 2001 St. Louis Rams and their Greatest Show on Turf, the 18-0 New England Patriots in 2008. Makes you wonder if the underdog Tennessee Titans against the Chiefs in Kansas City and Green Bay Packers against the 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., can upset things on Sunday in the conference championship games.

Basketball coaches always point out that you can't teach height. You can't teach size and speed, either. Those qualities are what make the 49ers and Chiefs exceptional.

The 49ers have size and quickness, especially on its rangy front four on defense. No team can match the Chiefs for speed at the offensive skill positions. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes, wide receivers Tyreek Hill and receiver/return Mecole Hardman have it in abundance. Sammy Watkins, the Bills' former great receiving hope, takes a back seat when it comes to speed when compared to his Kansas City teammates.

They can turn the momentum of a game in a blink of an eye as Hardman did with one kickoff return against the Houston Texans last week. And tight end Travis Kelce is as difficult cover in the short to medium areas as Julian Edelman of the Patriots.

No wonder the 49ers and Chiefs are solid one-touchdown favorites in Sunday's games.

A capsule look at Sunday's NFL conference championship games:

Titans (11-7) at Chiefs (13-4)

TV: CBS, 3:05 p.m.

The line: Chiefs (-7½).

Record ATS: Titans 11-7;  Chiefs 8-9.

Over/under: 53.

Times over/under: Titans 9/9; Chiefs 8/9.

The scoop on the Titans: After upsets at New England and at Baltimore, does coach Mike Vrabel's team have anything left to deal with the explosive Chiefs? The Titans are difficult to judge because they were two different teams in the 2019 season. They were the plodding 2-4 Titans with Marcus Mariota at quarterback, then morphed into the efficient 9-3 team with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback and Derrick Henry running over and around tacklers to become NFL rushing champion. In two postseason games so far, Henry has rushed 34 and 30 times for 182 and 195 yards. Does he have anything left so he can take advantage of the Chiefs' 26th-ranked rushing defense (128.2 allowed per game)? Henry scored only one rushing touchdown in the two postseason games. ... Tannehill is 2-0 in the first postseason of his career. There are no household names in the Titans' receiving  corps. Rookie A.J. Brown leads with 52 receptions and eight touchdown receptions. What are the chances of Tennessee's defense stymieing Mahomes and the Kansas City offense? Statistically, the Titans were only 21st in the league in total defense. They had 43 sacks and a plus-6 takeaway margin. They registered four sacks in each of their postseason wins.

The scoop on the Chiefs: Getting Kansas City off the field on third down is a huge problem. Mahomes stays alive in the pocket and usually finds Kelce when a third-down conversion is needed. The Chiefs led the NFL with a 47.6 third-down conversion rate. They were second in the league on first down, averaging 6.43 yards. Mahomes passed for 26 touchdowns despite missing what amounted to four games. Kelce had 97 receptions for 12.7 yards per catch. Hill had 11 catches for 157 yards and a touchdown in the Chiefs' 35-32 loss to the Titans in Nashville on Nov. 10. Mahomes passed for 446 yards and three touchdowns in that game, including a 63-yard scoring pass to Hardman, giving the Chiefs a 29-20 lead early in the fourth quarter. Tennessee won on Tannehill's 23-yard pass to Adam Humphries with 23 seconds left. Henry rushed for 188 yards and two touchdowns in the contest. Kansas City ranked 17th in the NFL in total defense and had 45 sacks. Nine sacks came in a game at Denver against Joe Flacco.

Outlook: Unless the Tennessee defense can contain Mahomes and his receivers, the only way the Titans win is with Henry keeping the Chiefs' offense off the field with his running. Even that may not be enough. Chiefs, 35-20.

Packers (14-3) at 49ers (14-3)

TV: Fox, 6:40 p.m.

The line: 49ers (7½).

Record ATS: Packers 9-8; 49ers 7-10.

Over/under: 45.

Times over/under: Packers 9/7/1; 49ers 9/8.

The scoop on the Packers: This is the second postseason game for the 49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo. The Packers' Aaron Rodgers will be making his 18th postseason start. He is 10-7 with a 63.3 completion percentage, 38 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. Rodgers is a cool customer, but can he come through against the Niners' front four of Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Sheldon Day? Also, San Francisco is best in the league at defending third down, allowing only 33.3 conversions. The Niners had 48 sacks. A key matchup will be Packers WR Davante Adams (87 receptions, 997 yards, 5 TDs) against 49ers veteran Richard Sherman when it occurs. Green Bay will have to be able to run the ball with Aaron Jones (1,084 yards, 16 TDs) against the No. 17 rushing defense in the league. Jones has scored 21 touchdowns, including the postseason. ... Green Bay ranks 18th in the league in total defense, 23rd against the run, which will be a problem against the 49ers. ... The Packers fumbled on the opening series in their game at San Francisco on Nov. 24. The Niners converted the opportunity into a touchdown and won, 38-7, limiting the Pack to 196 yards of offense. Rodgers completed 20 of 33 passes, but for only 114 yards. He was sacked five times for 38 yards. His longest completion was for 15 yards.

The scoop on the 49ers: San Francisco rushed for 991 fewer yards than the Baltimore Ravens in the regular season but were second in the league. Also, the Niners led the league in first-down yardage at 6.65, which opens a lot of options on offense. Significantly, three of the four teams left in the playoffs rank in the top three in first-down yardage. The Niners were fourth in offense and second in defense. ... Garoppolo passed for 3,978 yards and 27 touchdowns in his first full season as a starting quarterback in the NFL. San Francisco was 4-12 just two seasons ago, but good drafting, smart free-agent signings and culling talent from undrafted college players and other rejects have allowed the Niners to build a strong roster in a relatively short time. For example, All-Pro tight end George Kittle (85 receptions) was a fifth-round pick in 2017. RB Tevin Coleman was a free-agent signing from the Falcons, but his alternate, Raheem Mostert, entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Dolphins and played mostly special teams with four teams until the 49ers picked him up in 2016.

Outlook: The 49ers were so physically overwhelming against the Vikings in the divisional round that a Green Bay upset doesn't seem likely. San Francisco limited Minnesota to 147 yards of offense, just 21 rushing. That's total domination unless the Vikings were just too worn out after their emotional road win at New Orleans to deal with a rested opponent. 49ers, 23-10.

Last week: Favorites were 3-1 in divisional round games, and 3-1 against the spread. Kansas City-Houston (82) and Green Bay-Seattle (51) went over the number.

Last week's results: 3-1 straight up; 1-3 against the spread.

Season record: 153-93-1 straight up; 119-124-4 against the spread.

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