Posted in: NFL
The New England Patriots, led by head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, are playing for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
That’s a phrase ingrained in 21st century NFL. It never comes as a surprise to hear it and often comes before a long sigh, unless you’re a Pats fans.
But the Patriots are indeed back in this familiar situation, one win away from playing in Super Bowl LIII. Although, things are a little different this time around.
The AFC usually goes through Foxborough, a place where dreams often go to die for opposing teams in frigid Gillette Stadium. But this time around, Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City plays host to the AFC Championship, with one of the most raucous crowds in the league and the MVP-to-be on the other sideline.
But even with the Chiefs being the No. 1 seed in the AFC and having Patrick Mahomes at QB, I still have the Patriots winning this game. History has a lot to do with it, but it’s only because these teams are so close otherwise.
Because of where they’re playing, the Patriots are three-point underdogs. It might have a bit to do with Mahomes as well. But this is when New England is at their best. Ice water runs through their veins in these showdowns.
It’s one of the five reasons why the New England Patriots will win and advance to the Super Bowl.
Poor Andy Reid has been waiting a long time to win a Super Bowl.
He had his chances crushed by New England in Super Bowl XXXIX with the Eagles and now has them standing in his way again. But in conference championship games, Reid is only 1-4. Out of the 13 years he’s had a team with double-digit wins, he only made the one Super Bowl appearance.
Despite how good of a coach he is and how he’s helped develop great quarterbacks (Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb, Patrick Mahomes), he’s been mired in big postseason situations.
Bill Belichick has not had such problems, to say the least. He’s 8-4 in the AFC Conference Championships and 6-2 overall versus Reid. And since his regime began in New England, he’s 7-3 against the Chiefs.
Kansas City has certainly been pesky against the Patriots since Reid’s arrival. That includes a convincing win over them in Foxborough last season.
But when it really matters, the Patriots are their toughest. When Belichick has Tom Brady, he is 22-11 against the spread as an underdog. And seeing as they’re only field goal underdogs, that doesn’t leave much of a window.
Kareem Hunt gave the Chiefs a balance that simply couldn’t be stopped by defenses.
That includes Belichick’s unit, compiling eight yards a carry and catching five passes for 105 yards and a TD. He was their X factor in that close 43-40 loss to New England in October. Given the violent act of him pushing and kicking a woman in a hotel, he was appropriately kicked off the team.
But it’s hard to ignore his impact.
Damien Williams has had a couple impressive games on the ground since the team dumped Hunt. He had 129 yards and a score against the Colts, who were strong on the defensive front. But about three-quarters of those yards came in garbage time.
He is a shifty, physical back. But he still doesn’t give them the versatility that Hunt did. He’s not as electric out of the backfield and does most of his rushing damage once Patrick Mahomes has already been in a groove.
While this is a pass-first league, it’s nice to have a premier back when the defense is clearly focused on your impact players. In this case, those stars are TE Travis Kelce and WR Tyreek Hill.
Hunt could single-handedly carry this team at times last season with Alex Smith at quarterback. It’s no wonder he led the league in rushing.
Williams is good. But not having Hunt is one less concern the Patriots will have this time around.
Despite the fact the Patriots beat the Chiefs in a high-scoring affair earlier this year, that doesn’t mean it’s the game Belichick wants to play.
He’s always one step ahead in preparation. And I think he realizes he has the opportunity to slow this game down. It may still end up being 34-31. But with this crowd and a gun-slinger like Mahomes on the other side, it’s better to leave him on the bench for as long as they can and methodically work.
Rhythm is so important for a young quarterback. Taking that away from Mahomes is the first step to having at least some success against him. Then there’s Brady, who has perfected the surgical dink-and-dunk that over time wears defenses out.
The Patriots were in the NFL’s top-five when it came to the time of possession this year. That comes as no surprise considering past performances. They only control the clock more in playoff games. Dictating the flow of a game and winning the offensive trenches are the keys for New England.
And with the league’s worst D-line going up against their 3rd-best O-line, the Pats have a leg up in the latter category.
Though the time of possession stat is likely to go to New England (5th) over Kansas City (22nd), some may wonder if it’s all that important.
Whether it is to you or not, consider this: with Brady, the Patriots are 16-2 in playoff games where they held such an advantage. That seems like a pretty good sign for them.
There have been rumors floating around that Rob Gronkowski is considering retirement after this season. Whether that’s true or not, the oft-injured tight end will have a chance to shine in this one.
During the 2018 season, the average for the 32 (the number of NFL teams) best tight ends in the league was 40.3 yards per game. When starting tight ends played the Chiefs, that number jumped to over 55 yards a game.
That’s despite them having the 12th-ranked pass defense efficiency. They have played the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th-best pass offenses this season, as their own ranks 1st. But that doesn’t mean those teams have the best tight ends.
The 49ers, Raiders, and Patriots have the top tight ends the Chiefs have faced all year. Georgia Kittle of the Niners caught five passes for 79 yards against them. Cook had a game of seven catches for 100 yards. Gronk had 97 receiving yards in his matchup with Kansas City.
Needless to say, the tight end is an important commodity against this defense. It gives an extra look that this Chiefs defense will not enjoy. In those three games I mentioned, opponents had an average of 34.3 points.
Safety Eric Berry and the Chiefs linebackers will have their work cut out for them against Gronk.
So many people want to talk about what Bill Belichick will do to slow down Mahomes and how Brady will perform. But what the running backs do will be a much bigger factor than what most people think.
And the Patriots backs are playing as well as ever. Sony Michel had 129 yards rushing and three TDs versus the Chargers last week. James White caught 15 passes for nearly 100 yards.
New England is 9th in the run game playing the worst run defense in the league. They’re 4th in O-line stuff rate, meaning plays aren’t liable to get blown up at or behind the line. KC is a weak 27th in that category.
They’re also last in giving up 2nd-level yards, meaning the six or seven-yard carries should come in bunches for the Patriots.
And in terms of the short passes, Tom Brady should have no problem getting them off to these guys. His offensive line is the best in terms of opponents’ sack rate. That bodes well against a pass-rush the Chiefs rely on to get their defense off the field in crucial downs and distances.
Look for some serious yards-after-catch for White and Michel.