This Sunday at 4:25 p.m. EST, the old guard will once again go up against the new standard.
A stationary quarterback who uses smarts over pure talent to pick apart defenses going against the young, upstart mobile signal-caller who’s one of the most talented athletes we’ve seen at the position. Championship pedigree versus championship aspirations. Tom Brady versus Patrick Mahomes.
While we’re all looking forward to yet another bout between these two, it’s the opposing defenses that are going to make or break the success of both teams.
It has already been repeated ad nauseam just how good this Patriots defense is. While some talking heads are trying to poke holes in their performances as of late, they still rank in the top five in every meaningful defensive category. And while everyone likes to say they are horrendous at stopping the run, they still rank fifth in rush defense.
Where most of this criticism is coming from stems from the Baltimore game in which the Pats’ defense was roasted by Lamar Jackson and their running game. However, that can be looked at as somewhat of an outlier considering Jackson’s Ravens have done that to almost every team they’ve faced. Of course, giving up 28 points to the Texans knocked them down a notch in the court of public opinion, but this defense is still as confident as ever.
This afternoon Devin McCourty was asked if there's any concern for the #Patriots from a defensive standpoint after last week's loss in Houston. McCourty gave this look and said "Nah." pic.twitter.com/dn39NkGfEI
— Jordan Moore (@iJordanMoore) December 4, 2019
Seeing two leaders of this Patriots defense speak on how they’re not worried and think they have a good gameplan for Sunday is a good sign.
That gameplan Duron Harmon is talking about better be a good one, because the quarterback they’ll be facing on the other side of the ball can put up points in a hurry and end the game early.
The Chiefs’ signal-caller is back and fully healthy from his dislocated kneecap and is looking like the Patrick Mahomes of last year. Kansas City ranks in the top five in points, total yards and passing yards per game this season. The only thing they struggle at is running the ball, in which they rank 24th. They’re actually averaging the exact same yards per game as the Patriots’ defense has been giving up with 94.5 yards.
So, even though the blueprint to beat New England is to run the ball and eat clock, the Chiefs can’t lean on their shaky running game to do that. Mahomes is going to be forced to have a performance similar to the second half of last year’s AFC Championship game where he picked apart the Pats’ defense by scoring 24 points in the fourth quarter alone. The Patriots will be looking to keep the young quarterback closer to how he looked in the first half of that game where he and his offense were shut out for the first two quarters.
Getting back to the defense, as bad as Kansas City has been running the ball, they’ve been even worse at defending it. Ranking 30th in the league, the Chiefs’ run defense has been atrocious this season. That’s an intriguing stat for New England because, for the last couple weeks, the Patriots have shown the ability to run the ball with starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn returning.
#Patriots rush offense in full games with Isaiah Wynn versus without Wynn. Pretty staggering. pic.twitter.com/9qF3FRYTlf
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) December 6, 2019
This could be a game reminiscent of last year’s playoff meeting where Sony Michel had a big game on the ground and Brady did what he needed to do through the air.
The Chiefs’ passing defense has certainly improved since the beginning of the year, but they still leave much to be desired by ranking smack dab in the middle of the league with 230 passing yards allowed per game. They also rank 16th in points allowed and 25th with overall yards allowed per game. Even though those numbers may look juicy to some Patriots fans who’ve been clamoring for Brady to finally air it out like they know he can, this game really needs to be played on the ground first and through the air second.
The big wild card here is the mobility of Mahomes. New England has had a problem handling running quarterbacks this year and on Sunday they’ll be facing another quarterback who has no problem taking off and scrambling when he sees no one to throw to. That could be a problem.
Another issue that people are trying to push on the Patriots is the speed of Kansas City’s receivers. The only problem with that is when New England went up against Tyreek Hill last, they only allowed one catch on three targets for 42 yards. It seemed like they figured out how to correct what went wrong when they played during the regular season where Hill had seven catches for 142 and three scores. They’ll most likely put their second corner on Hill with safety help over the top to prevent the big play and force Mahomes to throw into tight windows.
With the Patriots playing in Foxboro and clearly out to prove all the doubters wrong, it’s tough to bet against them at home. Throw in the insane stat that no quarterback under the age of 25 has gone to New England and won in the regular season since 2001, and the odds are certainly not in the Chiefs’ favor. Look for that trend to continue Sunday.
Prediction: Chiefs 20, Patriots 30