Sunday, 6:40 pm EST, New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs
The MVP vs. the man many consider to be the GOAT. This game has the potential to be an absolute thriller, similar to the Patriots 43-40 win at Gillette Stadium early this year. However, this one is entirely different for a few reasons. Most notably, it is in Arrowhead Stadium, and secondly, it is a playoff game. Will this game be a passing of the torch from Brady to Mahomes? Or will it be one last hurrah for the old guard? Let's dive in to the Xs and Os.
KEYS FOR PATRIOTS
Offense: Find a dynamic playmaker.
With Josh Gordon done for the season and Rob Gronkowski not looking like himself , the Patriots pass catchers are not striking fear into anyone. That said, Julian Edelman and James White did a spectacular job keeping the chains moving last week, but the Patriots will likely need more big plays to win in what should be a shootout. Someone is going to need to step up, whether it is one last Gronkowki throwback performance or Chris Hogan finally delivering this year as he did over the prior two seasons.
The cliche has always been that a team needs to get pressure on Brady to beat them, but New England's pass rush will actually be what decides this game. If Mahomes can either sit in the pocket or (even worse) he is allowed to escape and improvise, he is almost always going to find someone. The guy just makes stuff happen. Especially with Sammy Watkins back and looking as healthy as he has all year, it could be a long day for New England if Mahomes has time. However, it is worth noting that the Patriots pressured Philip Rivers 24 times last week after being a middling unit all season.
Miscellaneous: Find a way to win away from home.
New England comes into this game 9-0 at Gillette Stadium but 3-5 on the road, including losses to Detroit, Jacksonville, and Miami. At home, they are outscoring their opponents by almost 16 points-per-game (ppg) but they are being outscored by about 2.5 ppg on the road. Against a Chiefs team that is now 8-1 at Arrowhead, outscoring opponents by 14.8 ppg, it is safe to say New England is lamenting these losses to non playoff teams that cost them home field advantage. Additionally, New England has lost its last three road AFC Championship games, and they have not won one away from Foxboro since 2005.
KEYS FOR CHIEFS
Offense: Come with the best game plan you have.
Andy Reid is known for developing elite offensive game plans, and after Bill Belichick ran circles around Anthony Lynn and reminded us why he's the best, Reid will need to come prepared. He has enough talent to scheme up a number of different plans: he could try to run the ball on the Patriots 29th ranked run defense, allowing 4.9 yards-per-carry, or he could put the ball in the hands of his MVP. New England can only put Stephon Gilmore on one of his weapons after all. Reid and company should look to start fast, and force the Patriots to play catch up, much like they did against Indianapolis last week.
Defense: Take away the quick game
Kansas City has struggled defensively, but they've actually been respectable at home, allowing just 17.4 ppg. If they can take away the Patriots quick game (easier said than done) they will win this game. New England has few deep threats and probably will not be too interested in running the ball. So Kansas City should take chances on defense, force Brady to try deep shots, and if they hit, so be it. Brady wants to get the ball out quickly and nickel and dime his way down the field. Kansas City cannot allow him to do this, and they need to find a big takeaway or force Brady to hold the ball to give their pass rush a chance.
Miscellaneous: Remember, you earned this.
So many teams get paralyzed by the moment when they have a chance to beat Brady and company, and they turtle up and fail to seize their chance. Kansas City was the AFC's best team all year, and they need to remember that they earned this chance, earned the right to play at home, and they deserve to be the team to knock out the two time reigning AFC champions. Play in the moment, and do not panic, even if things start slow.
This game has the potential to be extremely compelling, but we're going to go against the grain here and say this will not be much of a thriller. Kansas City is the better team, and the Chiefs are playing at home against a Patriots team that has had real issues on the road. It feels dangerous to count Brady and Belichick out in January, but the talent gap here should be just too much to overcome.
SCORE PREDICTION: Patriots 24, Chiefs, 38