1/20 6:40 PM EST
The Patriots and Chiefs last met on a chilly October night during the regular season. There were some serious fireworks that night in Foxborough, as the Patriots handed the Chiefs their first loss of the season, a 43-40 defeat. However, the conditions for their rematch in this year’s AFC Championship Game will be quite different.
First of all, the Pats will be without homefield advantage, a luxury they are used to having in the playoffs. Of the thirty non-Super Bowl postseason games they have played, only seven have not been played at home. They posted a 3-4 record across these seven games, as well as a 3-5 record on the road this past season. Not great. The Chiefs, on the other hand, posted an impressive 7-1 record at home during the regular season, but have tended to struggle at home in postseason play.
Expect another high-scoring game this Sunday as the game features an over-under for total points at 57 with the Chiefs winning by 3. However, the true result of the game will be determined not by which quarterback performs better, but instead by whether the Pats can use their running game to break down the Kansas City defense; and by how a struggling KC defense that finally showed up against the Colts will respond to a strong Patriots offense.
New England Patriots (+3)
Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots find themselves in an unfamiliar position coming into the 2019 AFC Championship Game: as the underdogs. The Patriots have been the underdogs in just six NFL playoff games since 2002 (the beginning of the Brady/Belichick era). The Pats have posted a 3-3 record across these six games, not bad given that they were expected to lose in all six.
Coming into the AFC Championship, the Patriots will need to utilize their running game as well as they did against the Chargers in the divisional round. Sony Michel had 24 carries for 129 yards and 3 touchdowns, and Rex Burkhead added another rushing touchdown of his own. The Chiefs have the worst run defense in the league, and if the rookie Michel can step up like he did in Pats-Chargers game, Kansas City could be in trouble.
However, the Patriots will have to rethink their own defensive strategy. Belichick’s team featured a blitz-heavy pass rush in the divisional game that will not be as effective against Patrick Mahomes, who in his MVP-caliber year has shown an ability to pass quickly and avoid pressure. The Patriots will instead have to focus on their pass coverage, a task which will not be easy given that KC features the likes of wide-receiver Tyreek Hill and massive tight-end Travis Kelce, who are coming off of strong performances against the Colts.
Depth Chart: There most likely won’t be any huge changes from the game against the Chargers. Expect to see the Patriots continuing to use a “running back by committee” strategy on offense given that they have four good backs in Michel, White, Burkhead, and Develin. However, a slowing Gronkowski and a need to run the ball will likely result in the big tight end having little to no role in the AFC Championship Game.
Injuries: Deatrich Wise Jr. is questionable with an ankle injury. Jacob Hollister was placed on injured reserve Tuesday due to a hamstring problem.
Kansas City Chiefs (-3)
The Chiefs enter the AFC Championship Game with momentum from their recent 31-13 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Chiefs fans expected nothing less offensively given that their team had the best offense throughout the 2018-19 season. Four different players, including quarterback Patrick Mahomes, all rushed for touchdowns in the victory. On top of a rushing touchdown, Mahomes threw for 278 yards. Also on the offensive front, Damien Williams rushed for a touchdown as well as 129 yards on 25 carries, a performance that rivaled Sony Michel in the Patriots own divisional game.
The Chiefs expect to have a strong offensive presence as usual in the AFC Championship game. However, the result of the game will depend on if they can come out firing the same way they did against the Colts, when they scored on each of their first three possessions. It will also depend largely on if the Chiefs defense holds up. Strong performances by Chris Jones, Dee Ford, and the rest of the KC defense were key to holding the Colts in check, but the Patriots are a whole new ballgame.
Defensively, look for a Kansas City pass rush like the one used against the Colts. The Chiefs sacked Colts QB Andrew Luck three times and hit him several times more, resulting in one of Luck’s worst performances of the season. A similar tactic could be used against Brady to throw him off his passing game and force New England to run the ball a bit more than they are comfortable doing.
If the Chiefs barely lost to New England in Foxborough earlier in the season, imagine how hungry they are for revenge. And with a Super Bowl appearance on the line, a healthy offense and home field advantage, it’s no wonder the Chiefs are favored to win this one.
Depth Chart: Obviously no Kareem Hunt, so look for a bit more passing from Mahomes, especially to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. The Patriots defend the running game better than passing anyways.
Injuries: Eric Berry, Spencer Ware, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif & Dorian O’Daniel are all day to day. They are expected to be ready for the Patriots-Chiefs matchup on Sunday.
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