NASHVILLE — Mike Keith, the longtime radio voice of the Tennessee Titans, isn't necessarily predicting a victory for the many hues of blue crew when it visits Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium to face the Chiefs in the AFC championship game.
He knows the Chiefs and their magical quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, are seven-point favorites. He also knows that only twice since the NFL expanded the playoffs to six teams from each conference in 1990 has a No. 6 seed, which Tennessee is, reached the Super Bowl. Both teams — the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers and the 2010 Green Bay Packers — went on to win the Lombardi Trophy, though, knocking off their conference's top three seeds in the process.
The Titans (11-7) would complete the seed-sweeping portion of that feat Sunday with a win against the No. 2 Chiefs (13-4) in their 3:05 p.m. EST matchup that will be televised by CBS. Tennessee beat the No. 3 New England Patriots 20-13 in the wild-card round and the No. 1 Baltimore Ravens 28-12 in the divisional round.
However, Keith also was in Jacksonville on Jan. 23, 2000, when the Titans faced the Jaguars in the AFC title game. Tennessee won 33-14 that day to reach Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta, where the St. Louis Rams held on for a 23-16 win.
"The Jaguars had scored 62 points on Miami the previous week," he said. "They were rolling. We were solid underdogs against a Jacksonville team that was supposed to be at a coronation point."
Background is in order here. Seven-point underdogs though they were (sound familiar?), those Titans had beaten the Jaguars twice during the regular season, handing them their only defeats. These Titans beat the Chiefs this season in their only meeting, though that 35-32 win on Nov. 10 was in the Music City and Sunday's game will be in Kansas City, where the high temperature is supposed to be all of 21 degrees.
"When it's cold and you get hit, it doesn't field good," noted Titans coach Mike Vrabel, who played 14 seasons in the NFL and won three Super Bowls with the Patriots.
The weather will be the same for both teams, though, and the Titans have won twice at Kansas City in frigid conditions the past four seasons, including a wild-card playoff game in January 2018.
The biggest difference in both teams since that postseason meeting, which Tennessee won 22-21, is at quarterback. Kansas City traded Alex Smith a couple weeks later and turned the offense over to Mahomes, who went from 2017 rookie to 2018 NFL MVP. The Titans, after beginning this season 2-4, benched fifth-year starter Marcus Mariota in favor of Ryan Tannehill.
Those changes have led to both offenses being among the NFL's best. In fact, to go back to the Titans' 35-32 win over the Chiefs in November — Mahomes' first game back after he missed two because of injuries — Tennessee has averaged 31.33 points a game from that day forward, including its two playoff victories, while the Chiefs have checked in at 31.25 over that same stretch that includes their comeback win over the Houston Texans last Sunday.
Neither team's defense has been a slouch over that time frame, either. The Titans have given up 21.3 points per game and the Chiefs only 16.8, though their schedule was less daunting in the final weeks of the regular season.
Nor do common scores over that stretch separate them much. The Chiefs won 23-16 at New England on Dec. 8 — a month before Tennessee's victory there — a week after rolling the Oakland Raiders 40-9 in Kansas City. Tennessee won 42-21 at Oakland the same day Kansas City beat the Patriots.
The perceived advantage for the Chiefs, beyond playing at home, seems to center on Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce and an overall edge in team speed, especially as it pertains to versatile wideout and kick returner Tyreek Hill, who recently said of his team's offensive weapons: "Nobody in the NFL can guard any of us."
Tennessee offensive lineman Taylor Lewan won't dispute that.
"Kansas City is faster than us. It is what it is," he said Thursday.
Yet Titans defensive back Logan Ryan, when asked about Hill's remarks, countered: "Last time we lined it up, we won, so I guess we'll see. I guess last time they were coverable and this time they're not, so we'll line it up and I think it'll be a good matchup."
If the Titans' November win was any indication, it should be a great matchup — especially if Tennessee running back Derrick Henry can keep up his pace after averaging 189 rushing through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
"He's big, he's fast," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of Henry, who rushed for 188 yards and two touchdowns in that November victory. "He's a heck of a football player and a good kid, too."
Crunch the numbers from both sides and this should be a heck of a game.
But can it duplicate Tennessee's performance 20 years ago in the AFC title game at Jacksonville? Can it send the Music City to partying like it's the 1999 season all over again? Could these Titans, rated the same seven-point underdogs as those Titans, repeat history and finally return to the Super Bowl?
"It's the NFL," Keith said. "It's why they say, 'On any given Sunday.'"