by Andrew Pasquini – Sports 1140 KHTK
Sunday marks the eighth consecutive AFC Championship Game appearance for the New England Patriots and their 14th in 19 years. On the other side of the spectrum, the Kansas City Chiefs make their first appearance in the AFC Championship Game since 1969 when the Chiefs defeated the Oakland Raiders en route to the franchise’s first and only Super Bowl championship.
The biggest story line entering this game is the matchup between 41-year-old Tom Brady and 23-year-old Patrick Mahomes. Sunday will be Brady’s 13th career appearance in the AFC Championship and his eight consecutive. Brady started his career 4-1 in the championship game but has a 4-3 record in his last seven appearances. While he’s above .500 in those games, the Patriots are 4-1 in conference games at home and 0-2 on the road.
Mahomes will be appearing in his first career AFC Championship Game after his first season as the Chiefs full-time starter. With last week being Mahomes’ first career playoff game, questions were raised about whether he was ready for the spotlight. Mahomes responded by throwing for 278 yards and rushing for a touchdown, leading the Chiefs to a 31-13 win over the Indianapolis Colts.
We may have gotten a glimpse of what could happen Sunday when these two quarterbacks met back in Week 6 in Foxboro. The Patriots were able to beat the Chiefs 43-40 with a field goal from Stephen Gostkowski as time expired. Brady and Mahomes combined to throw for 692 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions. Sony Michel is what pushed the Patriots over the top with 106 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries.
While the Patriots and Chiefs combined for 83 points the first time they met this season, the weather at Arrowhead Stadium might not allow for it on Sunday. The temperatures at Arrowhead for Sunday calls for about 12 degrees at kickoff and that will dip to about five degrees during the game. The cold weather could affect Brady and Mahomes and force both teams to rely on the run game.
As mentioned earlier, Michel has led the Patriots run game all season. The rookie from Georgia led the Patriots in carries and yards, averaging 71.6 yards per game and scoring six touchdowns. For the Chiefs, since releasing Kareem Hunt have relied on Spencer Ware and Damien Williams. Ware and Williams have been the same running back statistically. Ware finished the season with 51 carries for 246 yards and two touchdowns while Williams finished with 50 carries, 256 yards, and four touchdowns. Ware hasn’t played since Week 14 but is expected to play in the AFC Championship Game. Williams picked up the slack last week, rushing 25 times for 129 yards and a touchdown.
Both defenses have struggled in the yardage category with the Chiefs allowing the second-most yards in the league and the Patriots allowing the 12th-most. New England has done a better job against the run, allowing 112 rushing yards per game while the Chiefs allow 132 rushing yards. The Patriots defense also allows six points less per game.
In a cold playoff game in January, running the ball and playing good defense is key and the Patriots are better in both those categories. We’re also so used to Brady and Belichick in the postseason, it’s hard to pick against them.
Prediction: New England over Kansas City