Patriots vs Chiefs : This is the second meeting between the AFC’s top two seeds this season, with New England taking the first 43-40 back in Week 6 at Gillette Stadium. The Chiefs are pegged as three-point favorites in today’s rematch, which will be played at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Patriots, who haven’t visited Arrowhead since their infamous Week 4 loss there in 2014, are just 3-5 away from Foxboro, Mass., this season. The Chiefs are 8-1 at home, including a 31-13 victory over the Indianapolis Colts last Saturday in the divisional round.
New England blew out the Los Angeles Chargers 41-28 last Sunday to advance to its eighth consecutive AFC title game. Bill Belichick’s squad is looking to become the first team since the early-1990s Buffalo Bills to reach in three consecutive Super Bowls and the first since the 2012 postseason to win a conference championship on the road.
Alright folks, time for championship weekend. I have many thoughts and I’ve waited to weigh in on the AFC Championship Game until as late as possible to gather as much info as I needed. I’m ready to go. Let’s dive in with the game in Kansas City between the Chiefs and New England Patriots.
This game is a rematch of a Week 6 victory in New England that the Patriots won 43-40 on a late field goal. It was a back-and-forth offensive affair, with the Patriots just making more plays than the Chiefs at the end of the game. While it would be easy to assume the game this weekend might mimic that, I doubt it.
Here are four things to watch for Sunday, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
Will the Chiefs’ homefield advantage be a factor?
The Patriots are an excellent team at home. They were 9-0 and averaged 30+ points at home this season. Their defense allowed just 17 points a game in their friendly confines. On the road, the Patriots are 3-5 this season, allowing almost seven points more a game than at home. They’ve played sloppy on offense and haven’t been able to score.
However, they beat the one playoff team they faced on the road: the Chicago Bears. I don’t buy this “Patriots are bad on the road in the playoffs” stuff, either. They’ve played two, yes TWO, road games in the playoffs since the 2007 season —both in Denver. That’s hardly a large sample size and with a completely different team outside of coach and quarterback.
The Chiefs are similar to the Patriots. They are outstanding at home, and not so hot on the road, especially on defense. For whatever reason, the Chiefs defense is money in Kansas City. They allow almost half as many points at home and force more turnovers. They thrive on the crowd and their pass rush in Arrowhead.
Patriots vs Chiefs : AFC Championship
How do the Patriots stop the Chiefs offense?
In three of the four games between the Patriots and Chiefs since 2014, the Chiefs have scored 40+ points. Two of those games were with Alex Smith under center. With both Smith and Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, the Patriots haven’t had an answer for Tyreek Hill in their last two games. He’s had 20 targets, 14 catches and 275 yards. Beyond that, Kareem Hunt torched them, both on the ground and in the air. He’s off the team, but the option of using the back on Sunday is still there. Last week against the Colts, Damien Williams rushed for 129 yards and a touchdown and caught five passes.
How do the Patriots stop this offensive explosion?
It’s easy enough, but they must mix up coverage against the Chiefs. The Patriots are a high-man coverage team. They typically, or in the past, have taken their best cornerback — which is Stephon Gilmore now — and put him on No. 2, and then doubled the best receiver with their second-best corner and a safety.
Well, against the Chiefs, that’s easier said than done. If you decide to double Hill, then you can’t put Gilmore on the next best receiver, because that player is Travis Kelce. So that’s not happening.
If the Patriots insist on playing man coverage, as I’d expect them to do, they will most likely bracket Kelce, like they did in the first game this season. If Hill is lined up in a stationary position, the Patriots must get in his grill. They can’t allow him to get free releases and run up and down the field without any contact. In fact, I’d expect the Patriots defense to be aggressive in creating contact off the line of scrimmage as much as possible.
Earlier this season, we saw the Ravens go out of their way to chip Kelce if he lined up near the line. The Patriots will do that as well. The Patriots will reroute any crossers and be hands-on as much as possible.