Chiefs vs. Patriots: An AFC Championship Game Preview!
Photo courtesy of The Kansas City Chiefs Facebook
The drought is over. For the first time in 25 years, when Joe Montana and Derrick Thomas handled both sides of the football, the Kansas City Chiefs won a playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Colts hex is also over. Indianapolis had won four straight playoff games against the Chiefs, each one unique in the annals of epic fail. But the one guy immune to that futility is Patrick Mahomes, who led the Chiefs to a workmanlike 31-13 win over the Colts in a game that really wasn’t in doubt.
So the stage is set, and for Chiefs fans, it can’t get any better than this. The Chiefs play an AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead for the first time in franchise history, and they do so against the villainous New England Patriots, who have been in the AFC Championship Game for eight consecutive years. When the Patriots dispatched of the Los Angeles Chargers in the divisional round, it was almost a welcome relief, if that’s possible. The Chargers waltzed out of Arrowhead with a win on Dec. 13, and their skill players presented a plethora of problems with the Chiefs’ defense. Indeed, the Patriots beat the Chiefs in Foxborough in October, but fresh in everyone’s mind is the fact that Mahomes put 40 on those guys on the road.
And Bob Sutton’s much-maligned defense seems like it’s rounding into form also. It was one of the defense’s most complete performances of the season, just in time for the biggest game of the year. What can we expect in the AFC Championship Game?
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL
One of the reasons why it’s a break for the Chiefs not to play the Chargers is that Mahomes and the offense were held to one of their lowest point totals of the year (28) in their December meeting. They got weirdly bogged down in the second half against the Chargers, a problem that didn’t present itself in New England.
Against the Patriots in Week 6, the Chiefs moved the ball and scored at will against a Patriots defensive unit that simply isn’t all that intimidating. New England was 11thagainst the run and 22ndagainst the pass in the regular season, and Mahomes shredded them for 352 yards, four touchdowns, and 30 second-half points.
The Patriots had no answer for Tyreek Hill (seven catches, 142 yards, three touchdowns) and Travis Kelce is becoming the most reliable target in the NFL that’s nearly impossible to defend. I suppose what we’re saying to the Patriots is, good luck with all this. If coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy keep the play sheet humming and mix things up schematically, the Pats defense will be taxed, and the Chiefs are capable of putting at least 35 points on the board as they do with almost unswerving frequency.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
The task for Tom Brady, who looked nothing like a 41-year-old quarterback as he picked apart the Chargers last week, is probably to hope for a repeat of Week 6. Mahomes is going to get his, so the mentality may just be that Brady has to outscore them in another shootout. But he may be running into a more confident Chiefs defense than he saw in October.
It turned into a batted-ball convention at Arrowhead last week as Colts quarterback Andrew Luck saw four passes get tipped, and he was harassed by a Chiefs front four that has become a focal point of the defense. Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked this week about Chiefs pass rusher Chris Jones, who had a sack in an NFL-record 11 straight games, and the taciturn coach paid Jones two good compliments: that Jones is “definitely a problem” and that he’s a “disruptive player.”
And really, that whole pass rush is disruptive. The Chiefs tied for the league lead with 52 sacks in the regular season and also had a +9 turnover margin, so having a clean pocket for Brady is an enormous key to the Patriots’ success. If the Chiefs can force Brady out of a rhythm, that would put less pressure on a Chiefs secondary that has been whipped often this year. The Chiefs are one of the best in third-and-long situations, a complete reversal of last year, and they didn’t allow a single third-down conversion against the Colts.
The answer to the question of how cold it might get on Sunday evening has fluctuated about 15 different times since the start of the week. What was projected to be a bitterly cold game along the lines of the Ice Bowl in 1967 or the Freezer Bowl in 1981 doesn’t seem as frigid now, but it’s still plenty cold. According to the National Weather Service, highs could reach the upper 20s Sunday, but with a 5:40 kickoff, it should dip into the lower 20s throughout the game with partly cloudy skies.
Has it set in with everyone how momentous this is? For the Chiefs’ first Super Bowl appearance in nearly half a century? Have we fully grasped it? This is a Chiefs team that loves playing together and it has a quarterback who loves the big moments. Although they’re bumping into a lot of history with a perennial power, a Patriots organization that has participated in a ton of games just like this, the Patriots have never had to play at Arrowhead to get to a Super Bowl before. Give me Mahomes, give me the crowd, and give me the defense making big plays to propel the Chiefs to Atlanta and to Super Bowl XIII.