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2019 AFC Championship Preview – New England at Kansas City

2019 AFC Championship Preview – New England at Kansas City

For the eighth consecutive season, the New England Patriots are playing in the AFC Championship Game. Read that again. Eight consecutive years in the NFL’s equivalent of the “Final Four”. That is a remarkable achievement. This time though, they must take things on the road as they travel to the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs. Led by Pat Mahomes and a duo of explosive weapons in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, the Chiefs will be hosting the first-ever AFC Championship Game in Arrowhead Stadium.

These two squads faced off earlier in 2018 as New England topped the Chiefs in Foxborough on October 14, 43-40. A whole lot has changed since then and it would be unwise to invest too much stock into that outcome. Both teams are coming off of their best performances in weeks after Kansas City dismantled the Indianapolis Colts early and coasted to a comfortable win and the Patriots marched up and down the field on the Los Angeles Chargers for a dominant victory.

Tom Brady enters the contest with some confidence against Kansas City head coach Andy Reid. He is 6-2 against Reid-coached teams, although that number shrinks to just 3.5 against the spread (ATS). The Chiefs are accurately known as an offensive juggernaut that struggles on defense. However, in the friendly confines of Arrowhead Stadium, their defense performs much better, allowing only 18 points per game compared to the nearly 34 they give up on the road. That’s a staggering difference. Kansas City plays a scheme that relies on a pair of really good pass rushers in Chris Jones and Dee Ford plus veteran linebacker Justin Houston to get pressure onto the quarterback. If they establish a lead and are able to let the pass rush loose and get the raucous crowd into the game, the defense is a much different beast. However, if you can keep that pass rush at bay, there are lots of big plays to be had. New England is going to rely on running back James White, who tied a postseason record 15 receptions against the Chargers, and Julian Edelman to catch quick passes and rookie running back Sony Michel to control the tempo on the ground. The Kansas City secondary is suspect but they are expecting to get Eric Berry back and that should help stabilize things.

On the other side of the ball, Patrick Mahomes has been a revelation at quarterback and his first postseason start last weekend did not seem to phase him at all. He has an innate ability to escape pressure in the pocket, extend plays with his legs and then flick the ball downfield to a receiver. Andy Reid clearly knows exactly how to use each of the pieces at his disposal and the Chiefs offense has hummed along all season. Damian Williams has filled in admirably for exiled running back Kareem Hunt and the attack has hardly missed a beat. They dominated the Colts without Mahomes even throwing a touchdown pass. On the season, KC is 10-6-1 ATS, the third-best mark in the NFL. That’s just slightly ahead of the New England Patriots who sit at 10-7 ATS. At home, the Chiefs are 5-4 ATS while the Patriots are just 3-5 as the road team. The Patriots are very rarely an underdog, in fact, this will be their first game as an underdog this season. When they are dogs, though, the result is quite impressive. Since 2010, New England is a league-best 12-4 ATS. If they are going to cover the three point spread or win straight up, they will need to figure out a way to slow down the league’s best offense. The Chiefs averaged 35.3 points per game and Mahomes has passed every test he has faced this season.

The Patriots defense has been a surprising strength this season though. Giving up more than 17 points only twice in the past seven games. The best unit on this team for much of the season has been the secondary and they actually might matchup as well as anyone can with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. That doesn’t mean they will stop the Chiefs but they have reason to be a little bit confident about their ability to slow them down.

One thing to consider, both teams might be required to lean on their ground games as the National Weather Service is forecasting perhaps the coldest game in Arrowhead Stadium history. History tells you to take the Patriots whenever you can get Bill Belichick as an underdog but Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs have been outstanding at home. Something has to give and it should be a fascinating evening in Kansas City.

BETTING NUGGETS:

Teams who score 40+ in a playoff game are 5-25-1 ATS in their next game, going back to 1990.

When that 40+ point game is a divisional playoff game, that team is 2-11-1 ATS in the conference title game.

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