AFC Championship Preview: New England at Kansas Cityby John O'Callaghan January 20, 2019 0 comments
If the New England Patriots want to earn their third straight trip to the Super Bowl, it’s going to have to play one heck of a game on the road in a hostile environment.
Everyone knows the stats by now, the Patriots are 3-5 on the road this season. If they made one simple tackle in Miami, today’s game would have been at Gillette Stadium.
Now that fans have that out of their system, it’s time to talk about the current matter at hand, the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs, led by their young phenom at quarterback in Patrick Mahomes, boast the league’s best offense by averaging a whopping 35.3 points per game. The Patriots aren’t far behind, as they rank fourth at 27.3. Kansas City head coach Andy Reid has always been a masterful offensive play caller and has a history of torching a Bill Belichick orchestrated defense. The last two games between the two teams was at Gillette Stadium, where Reid’s offense put up a combined total of 82 points. Yes, you read that correctly.
Earlier weather forecasts predicted this game to be the coldest in Arrowhead Stadium history, with the temperature being in the single digits. The latest forecast however has it at around 21-degrees at kickoff. This should help the skill players for Kansas City.
Despite letting go of running back Kareem Hunt, they have a more than capable replacement in Damien Williams, who is a dual threat out of the back field and on check downs and screens in the passing game. Williams battered and bruised the Indianapolis Colts’ defense last week in the Divisional Round, rushing for 129 yards on 25 carries with a touchdown.
A team like Kansas City does not have to have perfect execution on offense due to their blazing speed and ability to hit a home run deep down the field. This is where Tyreek Hill comes into play. The Patriots secondary must be strong in their tackling today. because if you give Hill one step, watch out. They will most likely have safety help over the top of Hill with a speedy corner such as J.C. Jackson on him.
Another weapon that needs monitoring is tight end Travis Kelce, who is more of a wide receiver. In three career games against the Patriots, Kelce has 18 receptions on 25 targets, good for 194 yards and a score. The Patriots will more than likely try to be physical at the line of scrimmage against Kelce to try and disrupt his route running timing and create more time for Mahomes to stay in the pocket. Expect linebackers to bump him and Patrick Chung to try and subdue the two-time First Team All-Pro.
You also cannot forget about Sammy Watkins, who the Patriots know well from his days in Buffalo. The veteran wideout has plenty left in the tank, and hauled in six catches last week for 62 yards.
The Patriots will more than likely go to their man coverage to try and slow down this high powered offense. As Phil Perry of NBC Sports Boston pointed out, Mahomes struggled in man coverage during the Week 6 match up. The second-year quarterback was 11-22 and threw for just 91 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions with New England in man coverage.
Meanwhile, I would not be surprised if the Patriots win the coin toss and they choose to receive. This is the first time the Chiefs have made it to the AFC Championship game since 1994, their fans will be ready to go. If New England can score on the opening drive and calm the crowd down, it will go a long ways toward finding confidence and success in one of the league’s toughest stadiums.
While they don’t necessarily have to control the clock, expect them to use a heavy dose of run plays with the trio of Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead. Maybe even Cordarrelle Patterson. Michel impressed in his playoff debut last week against the Los Angeles Chargers, as he scampered for 129 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. White has always been Mr. Reliable for Tom Brady on checkdowns, while Burkhead is capable of coming in on goaline and giving the two other backs a breather. The key for the Patriots will be blocking the likes of Chris Jones, Justin Houston and Dee Ford. Similar to what the Patriots have done to the Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt in the past, they could run power formations right at Jones with a heavy focus of interior blocking to try and negate him.
Meanwhile, Julian Edelman is coming off a monster game against the Chargers in which he hauled in nine receptions for 151 yards. The Chargers stayed in zone coverage, the Chiefs are smart enough to not do that. Expect the hosts to double team Edelman and make Brady and Co. beat them with the likes of a subdued Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett.
Kansas City allowed the second most yards in the league this season on defense (421) and allowed an average of 26.3 points per game (9th most in NFL). They welcome back safety Eric Berry, who has only appeared in two games so far this season. It will be worth noting how he looks on the field to see if rust is a factor.
Despite the Cheifs’ struggles on defense, they came ready to play last week against the Colts. They held Andrew Luck to just one touchdown pass and produced three sacks against one of league’s best offensive lines.
Simply put, when it came to do-or-die time, this defense showed up.
Playoff football is all about momentum, which both teams have.
This is the Patriots unfathomable eighth-straight appearance in the AFC Title game. In that span however, they have never won when playing on the road.
The last time the Patriots played at Arrowhead, they were blown out on national television and had many experts (yes, that’s you Trent Dilfer) predicting the end of the New England dynasty.
Will it be easy to come in and defeat the Chiefs at home? Absolutely not.
Nothing is this time of year, which is the way it should be.