No. 2 New England at No. 1 Kansas City
When Patriots have the ball
The football world saw last week what can happen when Tom Brady gets rid of the ball quickly and faces little pressure. New England scored the first four times it had the ball against the Chargers and pretty much ended the AFC divisional-round matchup by halftime, opening a 35-7 lead. The Chargers never sacked Brady and hit him only twice. One thing Kansas City has done this season is pressure the quarterback, particularly with tackle Chris Jones and linebackers Justin Houston and Dee Ford. When these teams met in Week 6, the Chiefs sacked Brady twice, but he still threw for 340 yards and a touchdown in a 43-40 Patriots win. That game was in Foxborough, and Kansas City has played much better at Arrowhead Stadium this season. The Chiefs have surrendered 16 points per game at home and 35 per game on the road. Receiver Julian Edelman, who, in particular, has trumped up the fact the Patriots are underdogs Sunday, is coming off a game in which he shredded the Chargers for 151 yards in nine catches. The Chiefs ranked 31st in total defense during the regular season and 31st in yards passing allowed. Another fact to remember: Normally noisy tight end Rob Gronkowski had just one catch last week.
When Chiefs have the ball
No offense produced more points or yards in 2018 than the one directed by Patrick Mahomes, who entered this season facing questions about whether he could play quarterback effectively in the NFL. It’s worth noting that none of those questions was coming from the Chiefs. Mahomes was the third quarterback to throw for atleast 50 touchdowns in a season. His ability to extend plays with his legs is something New England did not have to deal with last weekend against the Chargers. The Patriots — especially defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Trey Flowers — continually hounded Philip Rivers and had him limping around by game’s end. Kansas City features this matchup’s most electrifying player in Tyreek Hill, who caught seven passes for 142 yards and three touchdowns against New England in that Week 6 loss. Hill likely will see plenty of Stephon Gilmore, the Patriots’ All-Pro cornerback. The Chiefs, however, will not have Kareem Hunt this time. The running backran for 80 yards and caught five passes for 105 yardsin the first meeting. He has since been removed from the team because of off-field misconduct. Kansas City likes to lean on tight end Travis Kelce, who had 108 yards receiving in the Chiefs’ 31-13 divisional-round win overthe Colts.
When they kick
Stephen Gostkowski gives New England one of the NFL’s most-tested postseason kickers. This will be his 27th playoff game. He has made 36 of 40 field goals and 83 of 87 extra points beyond the regular season. Kansas City’s Harrison Butker has made one field goal in the playoffs, a 39-yarder early in the second quarter last weekend. Of course, with the wind chill expected to be in the teens, kicking might not be the greatest option for either team as the night grows colder.
By the numbers
How teams compare statistically. All stats are per-game averages, except for turnover differential, which is for the season (league rank in parentheses):
Jeff Miller’s prediction
Andy Reid is 2-6 all-time against New England and picking the Chiefs in this spot means taking him over Bill Belichick in a game in January. That’s a difficult prospect. Then again, as great as the Patriots’ recent history is, Brady hasn’t won a playoff game on the road since the 2006 season when he went to San Diego and beat the Chargers. He has only three postseason victories on the road, the same number as Philip Rivers and one fewer than Mark Sanchez. So, why not? It’s Andy Reid over Bill Belichick, with home field making the biggest difference.
CHIEFS 30, PATRIOTS 24
Sam Farmer’s pick
The Chiefs are good enough on defense to get in Tom Brady’s face and disrupt his rhythm. Patrick Mahomes has always stepped up in the big moments, showing uncommon poise for such a young quarterback.
CHIEFS 28, PATRIOTS 24