After both teams held serve at home last week, the AFC Championship Game will feature the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs facing the New England Patriots. Kickoff is set for 6:40 EST on Sunday, January 20, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. The game will be broadcast nationally on CBS.
The Chiefs have opened the week favored by 2.5 points at home. The over/under for the game is set at 59.5 points.
There were plenty of people doubting Kansas City heading into last week’s game against the Colts, especially when the weather became a factor. However, the Chiefs reminded everyone why they went 12-4 and were the top seed in the AFC. The Chiefs dominated the Colts on both sides of the ball. They ran the ball at will, holding the ball for nearly 40 minutes, as Patrick Mahomes worked his magic when needed. Meanwhile, the Kansas City defense had perhaps their best game of the season, keeping Andrew Luck and company under wraps all game.
As for the Patriots, they were arguably more impressive in their first game of the postseason. The 41-28 final score doesn’t do justice as to how much New England dominated the Chargers last week. The Patriots led 38-7 midway through the 3rd quarter before they took their foot off the gas. Throughout the first half, Tom Brady and company were virtually unstoppable, as the bye week served them well. Once again, the Patriots appear to be peaking at the right time of year.
As some may remember, these two teams met in Foxboro back in Week 6 with New England winning 43-40. They combined for over 900 yards of offense, but in the end, it was the Patriots who won on a last-second field goal. Of course, that game was over three months ago and both teams have surely changed and evolved during that time.
From start to finish, the Chiefs were undoubtedly the best team in the AFC. But history is not on their side in this game. Kansas City hasn’t played in a conference championship game since the 1993 season. Also, up until last week, they had a dreadful history with home playoff games. Finally, Andy Reid is 1-4 in conference championship games. The Patriots, meanwhile, are playing in their ninth straight AFC Championship Game. Even on the road, they’ll be able to take care of business. I like New England in the underdog role, so I’ll take the Patriots and the points.
As mentioned, the Kansas City defense almost stole the show from Mahomes against the Colts last week. They did an incredible job of putting Luck under pressure and disrupting his rhythm. The Colts gave up just 18 sacks during the regular season, but the Chiefs managed to sack Luck three times on Saturday. However, after the way the Kansas City defense has played over the course of the season, it’s fair to question if they can perform like that two weeks in a row, especially against Brady and the Patriots.
The Patriots were able to run rampant against a solid Chargers defense last week. Even with Rob Gronkowski being a non-factor in the passing game and New England settling for just two field goals in the 2nd half, the Patriots still put 41 points on the scoreboard. The key was the running back tandem of Sony Michel and James White. Michel ran the ball 24 times for 129 yards while White caught 15 passes for 97 yards. Julian Edelman was also unstoppable out of the slot, catching nine passes for 151 yards.
Kansas City’s defense doesn’t necessarily match up well against that kind of attack. Knowing that the Chiefs have a strong pass rush, Brady will be sure to get the ball out of his hands quickly. With White coming out of the backfield and Edelman in the slot, he has the weapons to execute that kind of game plan. Kansas City’s rush defense is also a potential problem. The Colts only had 14 rushing plays last week, but when they did run the ball, they were effective. Remember, the Chiefs gave up five yards per carry on the ground this season, so stopping Michel could be an issue.
On the other side of the ball, it’d be foolish to think the Patriots will have an answer for Mahomes and company. They clearly didn’t have one when these teams met in Week 6. However, the New England defense has been a little formidable than Kansas City’s defense this season. The Patriots may not have a ton of star power on that side of the ball, but they’re solid at all three levels. Also, they had an excellent game plan for slowing down Philip Rivers last week and should come up with something good this week as well.
If nothing else, Bill Belichick will have learned something from the Week 6 meeting about how to approach Mahomes and the Kansas City offense. Belichick is also a master of taking away a strength of the opposing offense and forcing them to alter how they attack. That could mean taking away Tyreek Hill on the deep ball or doubling Travis Kelce to take him out of the game. One way or another, the Patriots will do their best to deprive Mahomes of one of his preferred targets and force Kansas City’s ancillary playmakers to step up.
Ultimately, it’s tough to bet against Brady and Belichick in a championship game, especially as an underdog. For the record, Mahomes may prove to be the best player on the team. But the Patriots are the more balanced team. More importantly, New England has an immense amount of experience on their side. As a 2.5-point underdog, I’ll take my chances with the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.