NFL: Tennessee Titans-Training Camp
Jul 26, 2014; Nashville, TN, USA; during training camp at Saint Thomas Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

AFC Championship Game preview: 5 keys to watch

The Tennessee Titans are trying to suck the world. They beat the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens. Now, they only need to beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. If they do, they will finish off the AFC’s top three seeds and reach the Super Bowl.

As for Kansas City, it is trying to reach its first Super Sunday in 50 years, and is doing so as the pronounced favorite. The Chiefs have overcome their own adversity in the playoffs erasing a 24-0 deficit against the Houston Texans before winning 51-31. Now, the AFC Championship Game.

Here are five keys to watch for in the AFC Championship Game.

 

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5. Who wins the toss?

This is oddly important. If the Chiefs win the toss and take the ball (typically they defer to the second half, but hear me out) they could be thinking about trying to build a lead, thus taking Derrick Henry out of the gameplan quicker for the Titans. However, if Tennessee wins the toss and decides to receive, it can theoretically go on a long, methodical drive to get a lead and take the crowd out of things early. Worth monitoring who takes the ball first here.

4. Where is Tyrann Mathieu?

The Chiefs love to move Mathieu all over the field. Last week, he was used as a blitzer, a deep safety, an extra linebacker and as a corner. Expect more of the same this weekend. Does he come down into the box to primarily help out against Henry, or does Kansas City leave him in coverage? Considering how effective the former LSU star has been this season, his positioning is key.

 

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3. Ryan Tannehill needs to pick a few big plays

If the Titans are going to win, Tannehill can’t throw for under 100 yards. While Tennessee doesn’t need him to match Patrick Mahomes, Tannehill will need to convert some third downs, hit the occasional tight window and so forth. Without making some plays, the Titans are going home.

2. Derrick Henry needs to eat early and often

The last two are obvious but so true. Henry may not need another 188 yards as he had in the Titans’ Week 10 victory over the Chiefs. However, he’s going to be the biggest factor in Tennessee’s offense, as he typically touches the ball at least 25 times. If Henry is rolling, the Titans can dictate the pace of the game with a little defensive help.

1. Protection for Patrick Mahomes

If the Chiefs protect Mahomes as they did last weekend, they’re going to the Super Bowl. Mahomes was only hit three times against the Texans and was never sacked. The result was 321 passing yards, five touchdowns and the team scoring 51 points. To beat Kansas City, the Titans need to hit Mahomes and make him uncomfortable.

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