Gail Burton Titans running back Derrick Henry.
# championship calling
Why Derrick Henry and Adriano from Pro Evo 6 are the same person, and your NFL weekend preview
Buckle up, as Paul Hosford takes a look at the NFL Championship weekend ahead.

Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday 8.05pm

ANYONE WHO HAS ever played a video game will recall their favourite or least favourite bosses.

Those extra-difficult opponents who seemed to take the game’s internal logic and blow it to pieces, just to make your life more frustrating.

For anyone who played sports games, a list of the top-10 most hateful game baddies will no doubt include Adriano in Pro Evolution Soccer 6. While the Brazilian striker was a wonderful player on his day, game developer Konami blessed his virtual version with a mix of balance, speed and shot power that rendered him unstoppable in the game.

In the NFL, it kind of feels like the Tennessee Titans’ running back Derrick Henry has been overpowered by the designers.

Last Saturday, in the home of the NFL’s best regular season team the Baltimore Ravens, Henry carried the ball 30 times for 195 yards – oh, and he threw a touchdown, too.

Henry’s outrageous playoffs thus far – 64 rushes for 377 yards and a touchdown – has him on pace to smash the single season record, but there’s so much more that’s impressive about the Alabama alum.

Henry is doing all of this without two of the things that make running the ball easier – having a decent passing game and taking a break every now and then.

In Ryan Tannehill, the Titans have found a signal caller who can help them win games. He has consistently played well since taking over as the starter and, crucially, he doesn’t turn the ball over much which allows the Titans’ running game and defense to have a say in the result.

But in two playoff games, Tannehill has completed 15 passes. Not per game – combined. His 160 yards in two playoff games makes him the first quarterback to win consecutive elimination games with less than 200 yards passing since 1974.

In addition, Henry is getting a lot more work. In the wins over the Patriots and Ravens, Henry has been on the field for 80% and 82% of available snaps, respectively, having never hit 80% in his career. In his time in Tennessee, Henry was a backup to DeMarco Murray, starting three games in his first two years, and then split carries with Dion Lewis.

If you need context for how dominant Henry has been, look at the statline of Lewis – a man the Titans are paying $4.8 million (€4,310,460 million) this year – from Saturday night at Baltimore: 0 carries for 0 yards on seven total snaps.

If you’ve never played defense in a game of American football, let me tell you: knowing what’s coming next makes it a lot easier to defend. In the NFL, knowing that you can afford to put one more elite athlete in the box (the area around the line of scrimmage, between the two offensive tackles), should make life easy.

But, like a Madden video gamer who has found one scauldy play that they keep running until you smash the control pad, the Titans keep handing to Henry and making six or eight yards. It is a throwback style of football that relies on an offensive line that has become of the league’s best in recent weeks and on a back who is 6’3” and 247lbs. Tackling Henry looks about as comfortable as a root canal (just ask Earl Thomas) and his ability to keep wearing teams down means that if the Titans are in touch of the Kansas City Chiefs late into Sunday’s AFC Championship game, they have a shot – just like Adriano from the halfway line.

Rollin’ with Mahomes

On the other side of Sunday’s game, you have the Chiefs. Beaten at this stage last year, Andy Reid’s side will look to banish last year’s defeat to the Patriots and advance to a Super Bowl.

On paper, it’s easy to see why the Chiefs are 7.5 point favourites for the game. Having come back from 24 points behind at home to the Houston Texans last week, confidence in their camp must be sky-high. And when you look at their offense, you can’t dispute that confidence. Patrick Mahomes, last year’s MVP, leads a unit with an embarrassment of riches which put up 51 points in a playoff game – after taking the first quarter off.

nfl-jan-12-afc-divisional-playoff-texans-at-chiefs Scott Winters Patrick Mahomes has starred for the Chiefs. Scott Winters

The game itself will come down to the Titans’ ability to limit those opportunities. If Henry can have a night like he has in the last two weeks, the Titans have a shot at upsetting the Chiefs for a second time this year.

As a Titans fan, I have been accused of applying a reverse jinx on my team, picking their playoff opponents twice in a row. Well, this week I’m not breaking that habit. Not because I believe in the jinx, but because I believe the Chiefs are the better team right now.

Pick: Chiefs 28-17

Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers, Sunday 11.40pm

Over in the NFC, there is another intriguing and potentially excellent championship game.

In San Francisco, Kyle Shanahan has become one of the most fun play designers in the league. His invention and ability to find soft spots in defenses makes the 49ers a team with the ability to change up everything on any given day.

It helps that in Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle he has what some might suggest is a Brady – Gronkowski hook up for the new decade and that Garoppolo’s injury last year led the 9ers to be able to add Nick Bosa to an already talented defence.

Coming from the frozen north, Green Bay will be looking to make a first Super Bowl since 2011. It seems crazy to see those words, doesn’t it? Given Aaron Rodgers’ play over the last number of years, the moments that he’s given us. But Rodgers hasn’t been to the show since his third year as Green Bay’s starter.

Now 36 and with the end of his career closer than the beginning, the former University of California quarterback will put everything he has into getting back to the biggest stage of them all.

The problem is that Green Bay’s offense isn’t that good. This year it has ranked 15th in rushing yards per game, 16th in pass yards and 14th in points per game. Up against San Francisco, with the number one scoring offense per game and the number three defense? That spells one more year of waiting for Rodgers.

Pick: 49ers 27-20

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