In-Season NFL

AFC Championship Preview

One of the best regular season matchups is set up for the rematch in the AFC Championship. Both teams are coming off of their best performances of the season, with the Chiefs defense stepping up big time and shutting down a red hot Colts unit and the Patriots outright dominating a Chargers team whom many touted as the most complete roster in the postseason. The Patriots are underdogs for the first time in 67 (!!!) games and they’ve run with that narrative. Brady has that fire in his belly that we haven’t seen since the deflategate revenge tour. But Andy Reid has an inferno of that massive gut of his, with a true chance to finally shed the label of postseason choker that has followed him his entire coaching career. In what should truly be one of the best games of the season, who has the upper hand?

On paper, it appears as if both offenses have massive advantages over the defenses they will be facing. The Chiefs tout one of the worst run defenses in the league matched up against one of the best offenses at pounding the rock. Additionally, the Patriots offensive line is one of the best in the league at protecting the quarterback. The formula to beat Brady has always been to get pressure without blitzing. It’s worth noting that they were able to do this against a stout Colts unit, but I trust Bill to game plan well enough around Jones and Ford to prevent this. This means the Patriots should be able to run and pass on the Chiefs all day.

Meanwhile the Chiefs offense is one of the most talented to ever step onto a football field. The Patriots do not have nearly the firepower needed to contain all of the Chiefs weapons. My guess for the New England game plan will be zone blitzes, which is the only way to try to prevent the big plays while potentially avoiding death by check down. However, Mahomes’ ability to escape the pocket and make superhuman throws puts a wrench in any game plan. In all probability, we’re looking at a shootout.

It’s certainly worth noting that the game is at Arrowhead. The Patriots are 3-5 on the road this year and Arrowhead is one of the hardest stadiums to play at. The first time where voices declaring the end of the Patriots dynasty was after an embarrassment at Arrowhead in 2014. The question is whether the road struggles will be left in the regular season or if they will carry into the postseason.

Also worth noting is the arctic blast that is expected to hit KC, with temperatures dropping to the single digits and with the wind chill likely being negative. This is an advantage to New England, but not due to the fact that Mahomes is from Texas, like many people seem to claim. These temperatures are brutal for everybody, but Belichick will undoubtedly have a game plan that adapts beautifully to the conditions. Reid is a phenomenal coach, but nobody can match Belichick in terms of adapting to unusual circumstances.

In my mind, there are two potential outcomes: the Chiefs win it big or the Pats win it close and I believe this will be determined by whoever scores first. Should New England score first, they can likely start to take the crowd out of it. Fans in the bitter cold will be easier to quiet down than a fan in a normal game. The Patriots would then be able to establish the run and play action game, and with the crowd less into it the Patriots offense is able to march.

The alternative is KC scores first. The crowd is ecstatic to finally return to the big game. The noise causes an offensive line miscommunication and a Brady sack. The crowd goes nuts. It’s a downhill spiral from here for the Pats, with nothing seeming to go their way as their supposedly stout offensive line gets steamrolled and the defense gives up big play after big play.

So since my guess hinges upon who scores first, we must analyze who will score first. Going into last game, the Patriots had not scored an opening drive TD in their last 7 playoff appearances (although they had a nice drive last game against the Chargers). So will the Pats score on their opening drive? Probably not. However, I’m going to give Bill the benefit of the doubt and say that the Patriots script on defense will stop the Chiefs on their opening drive. Whichever team gets the ball first for the second possession will score. This means that this game will ultimately be decided by a coin toss. Since it seems as if I’m being very indecisive, I’ll give a score prediction for either scenario

Patriots 34 – Chiefs 30

Chiefs 45 – Patriots 21

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