Monday night’s LSU vs. Clemson game was a classic analytics vs. eye test matchup. Power ratings said the game should have been closer to a pick’em and getting close to a touchdown with Clemson was a gift. The eye test said no one has stopped LSU all season.
You’re going to have to make a similar decision in this contest. The numbers say that Kansas City should coast into Super Bowl 54. The Chiefs are enjoying a +0.9 yards per play advantage over their opponents this season. Since Patrick Mahomes returned from his knee injury, Kansas City is 6-1-1 against the spread with wins by 31, 20, 10 and 20 at home.
Tennessee was out-gained by 159 yards and nine first downs in their first meeting with Kansas City in Week 10. Tennessee was out-gained by 35 yards and lost the yards-per-play battle (-0.4) against New England. Tennessee was out-gained by 230 yards and 14 first downs against Baltimore.
Tennessee also won all three of those games.
That’s where the eye test comes into play. The Titans were in control of both the New England and Baltimore games despite those statistical shortcomings. Tennessee has found a winning formula behind Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry, and a defense that defies most analytics. Tannehill has thrown for 160 yards combined in the Titans’ two playoff games.
Can they keep this run going for another week? This is Tennessee’s fourth-straight road game – all coming against division winners. Henry is the first NFL running back to rush for 185+ yards in three straight games. Henry’s stat line was the talk of the town against New England, but Tennessee’s offense was largely inefficient. The Titans had nine drives against the Patriots. They scored two touchdowns, punted six times and threw one interception.
Against the Ravens, 21 of Tennessee’s 28 points came from Baltimore turnovers on the Ravens’ side of the field. When forced to start a traditional drive on their side of the field, Tennessee generated one scoring drive and punted six times.
The Titans beat Kansas City thanks to a blocked field goal in early November, but you can’t count on Tennessee holding an edge in special teams on Sunday. According to Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings, Kansas City has the league’s best special teams unit, while Tennessee is 26th. Titans kicker Greg Joseph hasn’t attempted a single field goal this season. He’s 15-for-15 in extra points, but hasn’t attempted a field goal since December 2018.
WagerTalk handicapper Tony Finn has some numbers to share on how much Kansas City’s defense has improved over the past year: The Chiefs were 31st in total defense in 2018-19. They finished the 2019-20 regular season 17th in total defense. Kansas City was giving up 148.1 rushing yards in Weeks 1-10 to start the year. The Chiefs allowed 95 rushing yards per game in Weeks 11-17.
When handicapping the NFL, you generally want to stick with the x’s and o’s and avoid narrative and intangibles, but let’s be honest: Andy Reid needs another shot at the Super Bowl. No Patriots. No Ravens. No Steelers. No Saints. The path has never been this clear. He’s always been regarded as a player’s coach. Tennessee certainly won’t roll over and hand it to them, but the stars have certainly aligned for Reid to get this Kansas City team to the big one.