There will be unexpected heroes in this weekend’s NFL conference championship games. The outcomes will still be decided by stars.
Big players become more important as the stage gets bigger, and this stage is enormous. The winners of the Tennessee Titans-Kansas City Chiefs AFC championship game and the Green Bay Packers-San Francisco 49ers NFC championship game will move on to Super Bowl LIV in South Florida. Both conference championship games can be live-streamed on the Yahoo Sports app.
One offensive star in each game, and the defense’s ability to slow them down, will go a long way in determining who plays for the Lombardi Trophy:
Slowing down Derrick Henry will be Chiefs’ focus
Derrick Henry is on a historic run, and it’s easy to see when it started.
Henry was having a good season before meeting the Chiefs on Nov. 10. He had just 100 yards one time, and had exactly that against the Falcons. Then he went for 188 against the Chiefs, and his season went to a different level after that.
He has averaged 159.1 rushing yards per game, counting the playoffs, starting with that big game against the Chiefs. He has averaged 6.3 yards per carry. He’s the first player in NFL history to rush for more than 180 yards in three straight games. Henry, who can become a free agent in March, has made himself a lot of money over the past eight games.
The Chiefs’ defense started to turn around after that 35-32 loss to the Titans as well. The Chiefs beat the Chargers 24-17 the next week, had a bye, and came back from the week off as a different defense. After the Chiefs’ bye, they allowed 10.2 points per game in their final five regular-season games. They have allowed just 94.9 rushing yards per game since the first Titans game.
Henry has become the talk of the NFL with his dominant play this postseason, and the Chiefs know they have to slow him down to win. The Ravens and Patriots knew that too. It’s easier said than done, especially considering he’s 247 pounds.
“He tends to carry you for about 5 more yards,” Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens said. “Hit him low. All legal within the game, but you have to hit him lower.”
If Henry can have another big game, that would keep Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense off the field, which is what any team wants. Henry’s production will go a long way in determining the AFC championship.
Packers’ passing game revolves around Davante Adams
The Packers passing offense isn’t too hard to figure out. It’s Davante Adams and that’s about it.
Adams had at least 10 targets in nine of his past 10 games. Adams missed four games and still had 127 targets. Second among Packers wide receivers was Marquez Valdes-Scantling at 56. Running back Aaron Jones had 68 and tight end Jimmy Graham had 60. Adams is the focal point of the Packers’ passing game, and it’s because they don’t have much choice.
In the 2018 draft the Packers drafted three receivers: J’Mon Moore, Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown. Moore and St. Brown washed out entirely, and Valdes-Scantling has not developed as hoped. That left the Packers with a big hole on the other side of Adams. Aaron Rodgers simply doesn’t have much to work with, other than Adams.
Adams is a great start though. He was fantastic in the divisional round against the Seahawks, with a franchise playoff record 160 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He’ll get as many targets as he can handle against the 49ers.
In the first meeting between the teams, Adams was held to 43 yards on seven catches. According to Pro Football Focus, the 49ers didn’t use any particular defensive back on Adams. Seven different defenders were in coverage on Adams’ catches, according to PFF. Expect a similar team effort against Adams on Sunday.
The Packers will need to figure out something on offense. The first time the two teams met, the Packers had 198 yards in a 37-8 loss. Rodgers had one of the worst games of his career, with just 102 yards on 20-of-33 passing. It’s the fewest yards in NFL history for a quarterback with 20 completions in a game. Packers coach Matt LaFleur will have to make significant adjustments to get better results against a 49ers defense that is coming off a fantastic game against the Vikings.
Whatever the Packers’ game plan is, it is sure to heavily involve Adams and the 49ers know that. Slowing Adams down again will be key to San Francisco advancing to the Super Bowl.
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