Updated: Jan 23, 2019
New England is an underdog in the AFC Championship Game. Let me repeat that for you, so it sinks in: THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS ARE AN UNDERDOG IN THE AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME.
Looking back at Kansas City's dominance over the league this year, the notion that the Patriots are going to be sent home packing this weekend shouldn't be too hard to grasp. Yeah, sure the Patriots came out on top in the last meeting, but that was at Foxborough. The Chiefs are hosting at one of the loudest stadiums in the country and to make matters worse, Brady's won only 1 out of his last 5 road playoff games. Surely, it's going to be tough sledding for Belichick and Brady. Right?
Let's put aside the fact that Tom Brady is actually 8-7 on the road or a neutral site in the postseason over the span of his career. Let's also put aside the fact that Patrick Mahomes had his worst graded game against the Patriots in Week 6. Let's try to examine both teams in a vacuum for a moment. I think most of us will agree both offenses are potent, with Kansas City having the obvious edge. It's a whole different story on the other side of the ball, however.
Justin Houston, Chris Jones and Dee Ford provide a lethal pass rush for the Chiefs, while Reggie Ragland and Anthony Hitchens help to shore up that defensive front seven. Hell, Eric Berry might even be making a return to the field. But, lest we forget, New England's offensive line has been just as (if not more) elite and consistent all season long, even in road games. And do we really believe Eric Berry is in peak physical condition after playing only two games in the last two years?
I took a deep dive into some of the most telling stats on the defensive side that I believe are going to determine this ball game.
Kansas City Chiefs New England Patriots
# Plays/Drive Allowed 6.6 (32nd) 5.5 (4th)
# 1st Downs/Gm Allowed 24.7 (32nd) 18.9 (17th)
Avg. Time/Drive Allowed 2:53 (30th) 2:28 (1st)
The Chiefs also rank 27th, 29th and 31st in rushing yards, rushing TD's and average yards per run allowed respectively, giving up 124.4 rushing yards/game, 1.1 rushing TD/game and 5.1 yards per run. The Patriots on the offensive side rank 3rd in overall rushing attempts, 5th in overall rushing yards and 4th in overall rushing TD/game.
People will say the Patriots have adapted to the league and become a power-run team, which isn't false, but it's based on the same principle they've always operated with, which is to jump out to an early lead, control time of possession and shorten the game by surgically dissecting defenses, whether that's through the air or on the ground. Both options are available for New England this weekend, and If there's one thing the stark differences in these stats tell us, is that Kansas City is built to help the Patriots perform better.
To be fair, the Chiefs do possess the #1 overall ranked scoring offense, although I'm sure that wasn't news for anyone. The one surprising stat that stood out, however: the Patriots rank 29th in % of scoring drives allowed, at 32.6%. But if we take some time to really think about that for a second, we realize it's actually a very bad sign for Kansas City. The 29th-ranked team in the league in letting their opponents score, ended the regular season with an 11-5 record and were one Gronkowski-tackle-on-Kenyan-Drake away from the #1 seed in the AFC.
So sure, I expect this game to be a barn-burner, a shootout, a good 'ol fashioned slug fest. But if there's one thing the Patriots have taught us over the last two decades, it's that excellence is defined by consistency, preparation and adaptation. I choose to put my chips on excellence.
Final Score Prediction: New England (+3) 38 - Kansas City 31