Patriots-Chiefs AFC championship preview: 3 keys to the game, fun facts, prediction

Ryan Hannable
January 19, 2019 - 1:31 pm
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Sunday’s AFC championship game is what it should be: No. 1 vs. No. 2 for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

With a 12-4 record, the Chiefs earned the No. 1 seed, while the Patriots were the No. 2 seed at 11-5. It’s pretty crazy to think if the Miami Miracle did not happen, the game would be played at Gillette Stadium and not Arrowhead Stadium.

Both teams are coming off convincing wins in the AFC divisional round with the Chiefs beating the Colts at home, and the Patriots having one of their best performances of the season in their convincing win over the Chargers.

The two teams met in Week 6 and it was a classic on Sunday Night Football at Gillette Stadium. After the Patriots controlled the first half, Kansas City roared back in the second half to set up a back-and-forth final minutes with some big plays, but in the end a Stephen Gostkowski field goal as time expired gave the Patriots a 43-40 win.

Sunday will likely come down to the end once again with two great teams going toe-to-toe.

Patriots vs. Chiefs
Sunday, January 20, 2019
6:40 p.m., CBS
Chiefs -3, over/under 56

3 keys to the game

Run the ball

The Patriots went 3-5 on the road this year, and the common denominator in the losses was a lack of physicality. That seemed to be a focus this week, as they want to control the line of scrimmage and run the ball. The Patriots were 10-0 on the year when rushing for 100 yards or more, and 7-0 when rookie Sony Michel runs for 60 yards or more. Having a solid rushing performance also helps defensively, as it keeps Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense off the field. Kansas City ranked 27th in the league during the regular season defending the run, so it appears the opportunity is there for New England.

Limit big plays 

Defensively, the Patriots cannot allow any big plays. In games like this, Bill Belichick typically tries to take away what the opposition does best, and in this case it would be the explosive plays. Don’t be surprised if the Patriots dare the Chiefs to run the ball. Also, keep an eye on rookie cornerback J.C. Jackson, who didn’t play in the first matchup. He has the skills to potentially hang with Tyreek Hill with some help, and that could open things up for the rest of the defense. Expect Belichick and Co. to do their best to limit the Chiefs’ stars and make it so that some of their lesser known players have to beat them.

Surprise stars

The Patriots are going to need some players to step up and maybe out perform what their expectations are going into the game. Offensively, Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan come to mind. Gronkowski, who was primarily a blocker last week against the Chargers, likely will need to make a big play or two in the passing game. The same goes for Hogan. He hasn’t been as productive as in past years, but with the Chiefs defense likely focusing a lot on Julian Edelman, this could free up Hogan, who plays virtually 90 percent of the snaps each week. Defensively, someone on the Patriots defensive line (Adam Butler, Deatrich Wise, Adrian Clayborn) needs to have a big day. If the Patriots can pressure Mahomes with just four rushers, they have a great chance of winning the game.

Fun Facts

1. The Chiefs are a plus-91 in the first quarter, which is the best in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Patriots are a plus-15.

2. Tom Brady is 12-9 when facing a team in the playoffs after already playing them in regular season, while 16-1 when facing a team for first time.

3. Home teams have won 11 of the last 13 AFC title games, including five straight.

4. Since 2010, the Patriots have been underdogs just 15 times. They are 11-4 both against the spread and straight-up in those games.

5. When Edelman has more than 55 yards receiving in the playoffs, the Patriots are 9-1. When he doesn't, they are 2-4.

Prediction

Patriots 31, Chiefs 27

Our mind changed from the beginning of the week. Following leaning towards the Chiefs, after looking deeper into the matchup and some of the factors at play, we like the Patriots to come away with a win and advance to the Super Bowl for the third straight season. This will be a close one the entire way and that favors the Patriots, as they have the experience, while Mahomes and the Chiefs do not. If the Patriots fall behind, they will be in a heck of a lot of trouble, but following a start like last week it certainly gives them confidence to do it again. New England is a much better team when playing from ahead and that could be the big difference come Sunday night.

Related: Hannable: Why I’ve changed my mind and believe Patriots will beat Chiefs in AFC title game