Championship Sunday is upon us and full of subplots as the Titans prepare to battle the Chiefs before the Packers square off vs. the 49ers. This is your Weekend Primer.
FIVE HOT TOPICS
1. All clear for Kittle: George Kittle returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday with ankle soreness. Bettors need not worry about the star tight end’s status, though, as he’s set to play on Sunday.
2. Championship game blues: Andy Reid has coached in six conference championship games, but has just one win to show for it. That includes last year’s home loss to the Patriots, only adding to the pressure on the Chiefs head coach.
3. Packers staying fresh: First-year head coach Matt LaFleur has prioritized freshness over physicality in practice this week. Noting that the Packers made their fewest mental errors all season last week, LaFleur has limited full-pads training to keep his troops fresh.
4. Feed the beast: Titans running back Derrick Henry has been unstoppable of late. In his last eight games, he has topped 100 yards on the ground in seven of them while amassing 11 rushing touchdowns. If the Titans are going to advance to Miami, Henry will need to add another chapter to this unprecedented stretch of individual dominance.
5. Fade home chalk: Home favorites of more than a touchdown on Championship Weekend are just 1-4 ATS over the last decade. The 49ers have held steady as 7.5-point favorites vs. the Packers, while the Chiefs have been bet down to 7 off an opener of 9 vs. the Titans.
Sharp money came in hard and fast on Tennessee at the opener of +9, giving way to an initial adjustment down to 7.5. Public money has since fueled a subsequent move to 7. In the NFC Championship Game, the total has generated more interest from professionals, with over money later throughout the latter part of the week pushing the number up to 46.5 from 45.
Packers (+270) at 49ers: The Packers have covered seven of their past eight against teams with a winning record and five of their last six playoff games overall with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. The Niners, conversely, are just 7-20 ATS in their last 27 as a home favorite and are appearing in their first NFC title game with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback. If this game is tight in the fourth quarter, the edge is squarely with Green Bay.
Titans (+7) at Chiefs: The Titans, who have gotten to this point by riding Derrick Henry, will undoubtedly strive to replicate the same recipe they used to spring upsets in New England and Baltimore. But will it even matter? The Chiefs illustrated last week that neither facing a huge deficit (24-0) nor losing the time-of-possession battle (34:35-25:25) can thwart them. The AFC Championship Game is nonetheless shaping up as an intriguing contrast of styles.
Packers (+7.5) at 49ers: The NFC title game is an outstanding matchup between two traditional powerhouses. The Niners go in as significant favorites, but the Packers have flown under the radar all year and have thrived in one-score games, going 9-1. If Green Bay can protect Aaron Rodgers, expect a vintage performance from the future Hall of Famer, who remains driven by San Francisco passing on him in the 2005 NFL Draft.