Written by: George Haraktsis
Previous Matchup: The Chiefs hold the lead over the Patriots in their all-time regular season matchups with a 18-14-3 record, but the last time both teams faced off the Patriots won 43-40 in a thriller at Gillette Stadium on October 14th. Both Brady and Mahomes had one of their best games of their years in that one, but the Chiefs could not pull it out in the end. They now face each other for the second time in the playoffs in history. In the only playoff meeting before, the Patriots took a 27-20 win at home in the AFC Divisional Round in 2016. If recent history suggests anything, it’s that the Patriots probably have the upper hand in this week’s AFC championship.
Offense: The Chiefs have been nothing short of spectacular on offense this year. Likely 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes has led the Chiefs’ high-powered offense with 50 TDs, all while racking up highlight-reel play after highlight-reel play. He did not do this all by himself though. This year’s best tight end, Travis Kelce, put up an insane stat line of 103/1336/10 while leading the Chiefs in catches. Speedster Tyreek Hill chipped in as well with a team-leading 1,479 yards 12 touchdown receptions. While the team did lose prolific running back Kareem Hunt, Damien Williams has filled in admirably for him. None of that stopped in the playoffs either. The Chiefs came out firing against the Colts, scoring four touchdowns and beating them comfortably by 18-points. Can they continue this offensive onslaught against the Patriots?
New England is no slouch on the offensive side of the ball either. While Brady wasn’t lighting up the field like Mahomes was, he still held his own all year. The Patriots were 8th in the league as a passing offense with 266.1 yards per game and were 5th as a rushing offense with 127.3 yards per game. In terms of scoring offense, New England was fourth in the league with a cool 27.3 ppg. This was led by Tom Brady’s 4,355 yards, 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. So it’s not like the Patriots will have a tough time scoring, especially after a shellacking of the LA Chargers. The Patriots put up 35 points in the first half by using a combination of their running backs through the air and on the ground, and never looked back all game. But this team is a little different than the last squad that faced the Chiefs in Gillette. The team is missing troubled but talented WR Josh Gordon but now have the versatile Rex Burkhead back. If this team is going to stand any chance of winning in Arrowhead, they will have to use the same recipe as last week. Rely on Sony Michel to grind it out in the running game like he’s capable of. Use James White as a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield and find Julian Edelman early and often. If Josh McDaniels can dial up this same recipe, then this offense could cruise.
While it’s hard to pick against Tom Brady in a Playoff game, I cannot give an advantage on offense to anyone other than the Chiefs this year in any matchup. Mahomes is the most dangerous offensive player in football right now and is about to be an MVP in his sophomore year. The Chiefs take this easily.
Advantage: Kansas City Chiefs
Defense: While the Chiefs offense has been nothing short of a juggernaut this year, the defense has been nothing close to that. The Chiefs defense were a paltry 24th in terms of scoring, allowing 26.3 PPG. This can be attributed to their 31st ranked yards per game allowed with an average of 405.5 total yards per game. But one thing this team can do on defense is get after the quarterback. This squad led the league with 52 sacks and used their terrorizing pass rush to thwart Andrew Luck last weekend. They will need to make Tom Brady hold the ball longer than he should in this one, and if they do that pass rush could be the difference in this one.
On the other hand, the Patriots defense is middle of the pack in terms of yards allowed with a very average 359.1 yards allowed per game, good enough for 21st in the league. But that surprisingly translated to a great 20.3 points allowed per game, ranking them 7th in the league in this category. This is surprising, considering their pass rush was essentially non-existent this year, tying the Giants for 31st in the league with only 30 sacks. The Patriots defensive backfield is what has kept them in games this year, coming up with timely turnovers at the right times. Led by both Devin McCourty and Stephon Gilmore, this has been the focal point of the Patriots defense that will need to step up big time against the league MVP.
While picking the Chiefs offense is a no-brainer, you can almost never pick the Chiefs defense against anyone this year. They have been an absolute sieve of epic proportions this year and will most likely continue to be so. While the Patriots defense hasn’t been lighting it up this year, I think it’s safe to say they’re still better than the Chiefs.
Advantage: New England Patriots
Special Teams: The Patriots have to have the upper hand in this one overall. Yes, the Chiefs have a more explosive return game, with Tyreek Hill always a threat to take any ball back for a touchdown, but that’s about it. Harrison Butker is not bad, but he’s not Stephen Gostkowski who hit 5 field goals in their last matchup, one of which came in the final seconds to win the game. They have veteran special teamers like Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner who show up every play, and have a punt block team who finished third in the league in blocked punts behind only the Saints and Rams. Bill Belichick has always sported a super special teams, and that won’t stop this Sunday.
Advantage: New England Patriots
This one isn’t really a conversation, is it? Bill Belichick has 13 AFC championship appearances. 8 of those wins. 8 Super Bowl appearances with 5 of those coming as wins, and has been lauded as not only the best coach of his generation but maybe of all-time. On the other side of the field, Andy Reid is a great coach in his own right, but he’s no Billy B. He is a powerful offensive mind, and a great delegator but he has clock management issues and has lost to Bill Belichick on the big stage before. This is not a contest.
Advantage: New England Patriots
Prediction: While the public seems to want to take the Chiefs in this one because of their high-powered offense and home-field advantage, I’m taking the Patriots. They don’t have the offense that the Chiefs have, but they may not need it. This team will control the ball with superior blocking, and a powerful run game, all while supplementing with a quick passing offense and an offensive line that will protect Brady, who throws quickly anyways. The Patriots will try to control possession in this one, and keep Mahomes off the field as much as they possibly can. If they can’t manage to do that, Mahomes will most likely torch them, but I don’t believe Belichick will let that happen.
New England Patriots 31, Kansas City Chiefs 28