NFL playoff predictions: Picks for 2020 AFC, NFC Championship Games

NFL playoff predictions: Picks for 2020 AFC, NFC Championship Games

And then there were four.

The NFL divisional round saw the Tennessee Titans spring yet another upset, this time knocking off Lamar Jackson and the top-seeded Ravens. It saw the 49ers flex their muscles in a dominating win over the Vikings. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers ended Russell Wilson's do-it-all campaign in the cold of Lambeau Field, and Patrick Mahomes spotted the Houston Texans 24 points before blowing past them 51-31.

So, Championship Weekend is set. The No. 2-seeded Packers will travel to Levi's Stadium to face the 49ers, while the Chiefs will host the Cinderella Titans at Arrowhead Stadium. 

The 49ers already drug the Packers up and down the Bay in Week 12, winning 37-8. Mike Vrabel's Titans are a nice story, but running back Derrick Henry only can carry the entire team on his back for so long.

So, the title game predictions should be easy, right? Let's see.

AFC Championship Game

This game seems like it could go one of two ways. Either the Chiefs are going to string Ryan Tannehill up by his jockstrap and roll to a blowout win, or this game is close and it's up to a Chiefs defense that might not have defensive tackle Chris Jones to do something the New England Patriots and Ravens failed to do -- tackle Henry in the cold with the game on the line.

For the sake of television ratings, Vrabel's anatomy and my own sanity, I'll take the former.

Mecole Hardman takes the opening kickoff back to the Titans' 20-yard line and Mahomes finds Travis Kelce one play later for an easy score. Tannehill finally folds like a cheap chair, tossing a pick-six on the Titans' second play from scrimmage and the flood gates open early at Arrowhead. Henry never factors into the blowout. 

Prediction: Chiefs 42, Titans 17

[RELATED: Super Bowl is 49ers' to lose with Ravens, Lamar out of the way]

NFC Championship Game

Over/Under on how many times we're going to hear about the 49ers not drafting Rodgers this week? 200? Seems low.

This is a different Packers team than the one that was thoroughly embarrassed two months ago. They've won six straight games, almost all in ugly fashion. But a win is a win.

The 49ers go 78 yards on the opening drive, with Jimmy Garoppolo capping it with a 9-yard strike to Deebo Samuel to blow to roof off Levi's Stadium.

But this time the Packers don't fold. Davante Adams smolders Emmanuel Moseley on a 47-yard touchdown to knot the score early. After a nice punting exhibition, Rodgers engineers a 10-play, 86-yard drive that ends with an Aaron Jones 5-yard touchdown run to take a 14-7 lead. The Niners get a field goal before the break to trail 14-10.

As they have done time and time again, the 49ers' defense steps up to begin the second half. Nick Bosa sacks Rodgers and jars the ball loose. Kwon Alexander dives on the rock and sets Jimmy G and the offense up with a 19-yard field.

On second-and-7 Raheem Mostert blows through the line, shakes Blake Martinez and strolls into the end zone to give the 49ers the lead.

A Mason Crosby field goal makes it 17-17, but the 49ers begin to assert their will, running the ball on seven of nine plays before Garoppolo finds George Kittle from 11-yards out to re-take the lead.

It falls on Rodgers' shoulders to save the Packers season. He digs deep and accounts for all 75 yards on a seven-play drive, rushing in from 2 yards out to tie the game at 24 with 1:11 to play.

After two incomplete passes, the 49ers take the game to OT, believing they have the edge with The Faithful roaring louder than ever.

Sure enough, the Niners win the toss and elect to receive. Garoppolo drives them into the red zone, but the drive stalls when Za'Darius Smith sacks him on third-and-6 to bring out Robbie Gould for a go-ahead 39-yard field goal. Good.

Rodgers gets the ball, hoping he has enough magic beans to pay for a trip to Miami. But not so. On fourth-and-7 from their own 42, Rodgers drops back and is forced out of the pocket. He escapes to buy time but is hit by DeForest Buckner as he's letting the ball go and it falls harmlessly to the turf.

Prediction: 49ers 27, Packers 24

NFL: 49ers' Nick Bosa fined for blindside block on Vikings lineman

NFL: 49ers' Nick Bosa fined for blindside block on Vikings lineman

The NFL on Saturday fined 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa $28,075 for his blindside block on Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Brian O'Neill in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.

Bosa was penalized 15 yards for unnecessary roughness on the play, which came on Richard Sherman’s interception return in the third quarter of the 49ers’ 27-10 victory over the Vikings.

Afterward, Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said he believed the block on O’Neill was a “cheap shot.”

[RELATED49ers' Kyle Shanahan defends Nick Bosa from 'cheap shot' allegations]

Coach Kyle Shanahan defended Bosa, saying that he did not have any intent to injury O’Neill.

“I think people say ‘cheap shot’ when somebody gets hit violently and to me ‘cheap shot’ means your intent is to try to hurt someone,” Shanahan said Monday. “And I don’t think he’s thinking about that at all.

"That’s a normal block in football for a long time. The guy wasn’t completely out of the play. It was a guy who could’ve made the tackle, and Bosa went and hit him. That’s a rule. You can’t do that right now. You can’t hit a guy in that position.”

In the spring, the NFL adopted a rule making it illegal for a blocker to initiate forcible contact with his head, shoulder or forearm when his path is toward or parallel to his own end line.


49ers Mailbag: Dante Pettis awaits next opportunity to make difference

49ers Mailbag: Dante Pettis awaits next opportunity to make difference

Who will it be next?

Who will be the unexpected player who ends up in a significant role for the 49ers on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game?

The 49ers play the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium with a trip to Super Bowl LIV on the line. And on the eve of the big game before the big game, we have another edition of the 49ers Mailbag.

Here we go. 

San Francisco receiver Dante Pettis sits at his locker every day during the time when the doors are open to the media around the lunch hour.

It had been a while since I wandered over to chat with Pettis. But on Friday, I wanted to check in with him to gauge how he was holding up during a stretch in which he has not gotten into a game since playing seven snaps against the Green Bay Packers in Week 12.

Pettis has suited up for the past four games, but he has not gotten off the sideline. He has not caught a pass since he had a 21-yard reception on Oct. 31 against the Arizona Cardinals. 

“I’m ready whenever that time comes,” Pettis told me. “Just waiting for that time now.”

Pettis, a second-round draft pick in 2018, was expected to be a starter and the team's top receiver after last season. Other than a game-winning touchdown catch with 1:15 remaining in a Week 3 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pettis has been quiet.

But Pettis knows at any moment he might be needed to go into a game for Emmanuel Sanders or Deebo Samuel. it has been one of the hallmarks of the 49ers this season. A seldom-used player is called up, and he takes advantage of the situation.

That’s the nature of this year’s team. Guys have stayed ready and routinely taken advantage of their opportunities.

“You know that’s the reality when you have one play or whatever, you just have that in your mind,” Pettis said. “This is the play I have, I have to make the most of it. A lot of people have done a good job of that.

“We have a lot of depth on our team, and everybody can see that. The guys are backing up, they feel like they are good enough to play. When I get my shot, I’m going to be ready because I know I’m good enough to be out there to compete with these guys.”

Pettis said he has worked a lot with assistant receivers coach Miles Austin, who has emphasized to him that he does not have to do “fancy stuff” on every route. Just take the leverage you have, Austin has told him, be quick and decisive.

After speaking with Pettis, I went over to see running back Jeff Wilson. He provided one of the big moments of the season on Nov. 17 against the Arizona Cardinals. Wilson played one snap in that game. In the final minute, he ran a great route of the backfield, caught a pass from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and turned it into a game-winning 25-yard touchdown.

But with Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida ahead of him on the depth chart, Wilson has been inactive for four of the past five games.

Still, he remains ready with a great attitude.

“I just go out there and play like my life and my career depends on it because it actually does,” Wilson said. “I have a lot of stuff I’m trying to do, and I want to play this game for as long as I possibly can. And I know to do that, you have to make those plays whenever you’re called upon. Whether it’s one play or two plays, or if you go in to block, you have to do whatever it takes.”

Pettis and Wilson both said they feel energy and get inspiration from their teammates. Pettis said it’s exciting for him to see his friends in the receivers room experience individual success. Wilson said the other running backs treat him as an equal and he, in turn, feels an obligation to work hard and support them, too.

Oh, man, what a good question.

Ward is such an important part of the defense, so he gets the nod. He probably will not cost as much to retain, either.

But the 49ers have to feel pretty good about their options at both spots. There will be a time when Tarvarius Moore is a starting safety in the NFL. And at wide receiver, the 49ers hope to get Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd at full strength next season.

But let’s not for a second downplay Sanders’ importance to the 49ers. He has been so good in so many different ways since arriving in an October trade from the Denver Broncos. But Sanders will be 33 next season, and difficult decisions must be made.

From the beginning of the offseason program, the 49ers have thoroughly impressed me with their approach. They are focused on business while also maintaining balance, being loose and having a lot of fun. I saw absolutely nothing different in their approach this week. It starts at the top, and I feel as if coach Kyle Shanahan was built for this.

[RELATEDKittle takes center stage in NFC title game vs. Packers]

My guess is that TVs in the locker room will have the AFC Championship Game on, but there will be nobody pulling up a stool to watch. Dee Ford will be interested, for sure. The former member of the Kansas City Chiefs will check the score from time to time, but all the focus will be on the game that kicks off at 3:40 p.m.

Shanahan was not saying this week who will start at right cornerback. One would think Emmanuel Moseley will get the call, but Ahkello Witherspoon has to be ready to go. At the very least, he’ll play special teams, where he can make an impact in that area.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers playoff coverage at 2:30 p.m. Sunday for “49ers Pregame Live,” with Laura Britt, Jeff Garcia, Donte Whitner, Ian Williams and Grant Liffmann previewing the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on “49ers Postgame Live,” starting at approximately 6:30 p.m