NFL Playoffs: The stories to know before the Super Bowl

Courtesy of US Air Force

The NFL’s 100th season caps off with one of the most exciting Super Bowl matchups in recent memory — a historically great 49ers defense will take on a generational talent in Patrick Mahomes and his Kansas City Chiefs. In a year that saw five new teams enter the playoff arena, the 2019-20 postseason was no stranger to shockers and spectacle. Here are the three narratives that led up to the big showdown.

The Titans shocked the football world — twice

If you’re a fan of the underdog, chances are you were rooting for the Cinderella story that were the Tennessee Titans. The magic began during the Titans’ week seven matchup against the Broncos, when the team decided to bench the ailing Marcus Mariota in favor of backup quarterback and former Miami Dolphins starter, Ryan Tannehill. After that game, Tannehill led the Titans to a 9-3 record as a starter, reinvigorated his career and established Tennessee as a contender in the AFC. The Titans also enjoyed a breakout season from 6-foot-3-inch running back, Derrick Henry. Henry took home this year’s rushing title, finishing the season with a whopping 1,540 rushing yards. Known for his explosive play-style and aggressive down-the-field running, Henry has imposed his will on nearly every team this year, and his play only improved during Tennessee’s playoff run. 

With many rooting for the downfall of a dynasty, the Titans delivered. It is no small feat to make Tom Brady look his age, and the Titans defense did just that in their wildcard game, forcing two turnovers from the legendary QB — one of which came in the final moments of the game. Tennessee’s front seven showed up to play, accounting for several goal-line stops that kept the Patriots from pulling ahead. Derrick Henry ran for 204 total scrimmage yards, rendering New England’s defense completely ineffectual against the run. 

In short, the Titans ended a dynasty on wildcard weekend — but their story doesn’t end there.

Next in line was the seemingly unstoppable Baltimore Ravens squad. Coming off Lamar Jackson’s electric 2019 MVP season, no one expected the Titans to put up a fight, much less, emerge victorious. Derrick Henry and the Titans defense had other things in mind. Baltimore struggled to keep the ball safe, turning it over three times. Tennessee capitalized on all three mistakes and forced three additional fourth-down stops, propelling them to a 28-12 victory. 

Within a two week span, the Titans toppled a dynasty and ripped out the hearts of the Baltimore faithful.

Mahomes on a mission 

The Chiefs entered their divisional bout with the Texans with redemption on their minds – one year removed from a gut-wrenching AFC championship defeat to the New England Patriots. After falling 21-0 in the first quarter, the Chiefs were in danger of another disappointing postseason exit. Just as the game seemed to be slipping away from Kansas City, the Chiefs offense exploded, scoring 28 points in the second quarter alone giving them the halftime lead. Muffed punts and dropped passes proved costly for the Texans, as they only managed to put up a measly 10 points, not nearly enough to keep them in the game. The Chiefs’ wild comeback victory put the world on notice and lifted Patrick Mahomes to modern-day icon status after one of the greatest playoff performances in sports history. 

The Chiefs went on to take care of business against the Titans in the AFC Championship. After a convincing 10-point lead early in the game, Kansas City again stormed back with their high-octane offense. They were able to establish a 21-17 lead going into halftime, in large part due to Mahomes’ brilliant 27-yard scramble into the endzone with 23 seconds left in the first half. The Titans’ Cinderella run ended on Championship weekend with a 35-24 defeat. Up next for Mahomes and company is the pinnacle of sports entertainment: Super Bowl LIV.

Kirk Cousins likes that: more heartbreak in New Orleans

If you tuned into last year’s postseason, then you might have heard about the Rams controversial overtime win over the New Orleans Saints which was thanks in large part to a missed pass interference call. 

Kirk Cousins and the Vikings traveled to New Orleans to take on a heavily energized Saints squad looking for a shot at redemption. Despite efforts from the likes of the multi-position phenom, Taysom Hill, who delivered a 50-yard strike to rookie WR Deonte Harris, the Saints were unable to get out of their own way. Minnesota’s defense forced three turnovers from QB Drew Brees and Vikings DE Everson Griffen sacked Brees early in the first half, limiting the Saints’ scoring. Cousins on the other hand, delivered spectacularly. With the game on the line, Cousins threw a 43-yard bomb to Adam Thilen, setting up the Vikings for the game-ending touchdown, and putting to rest any concerns about his ability to perform under the spotlight.

In a close game that came down to a costly penalty and a missed field goal, New Orleans fell 26-20 to the Minnesota Vikings.

Superbowl Preview

A recent report suggests that executives around the league believe the Chiefs will “win big” against San Francisco, per Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report. This headline should come as no surprise, especially after a dominant two-week playoff run orchestrated by an speed-heavy offense. Not to mention, the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes on the roster to lead the charge. The Chiefs offensive powerhouse isn’t afraid to run either, with Damien Williams showing flashes of speed and reliability in the red zone and Mahomes’ uncanny scrambling prowess. While the Chief’s offense may be explosive, San Francisco’s defense excels the most against such offenses. The 49ers have allowed only 2 completions of 30 or more air yards in the 2019 season, including the postseason per NFL Network. Niners QB Jimmy Garrapolo has proven to be reliable all year long, and RB Raheem Mostert is coming off a 200-plus yard game against the Packers. Predicting the victor has never been more precarious, but one thing’s for certain, this year’s Super Bowl is sure to be among the most anticipated sports games of the new year.