Sunday’s AFC Championship in Kansas City will either be a changing on the guard or a continuation of the greatest dynasty in NFL history. These teams battled earlier in the year in a high scoring classic won by the Patriots in Foxborough. Will a change of venue have a big effect on the outcome? Is Patrick Mahomes ready for this big of a stage? Those are just a couple of questions that are brought up in an intriguing situation that has a lot of unanswered questions heading into this game.
A few weeks ago the answer to that question looked like it was yes, but after last week’s performance against the Chargers, it looks like Tom Brady is still just that, Tom Brady. Brady was on point against the Chargers, completing 34 of 44 passes for 343 yards and a touchdown. The Chargers are very good defensively so it’s not like he played great against a poor defense.
The Chiefs defensive line pressured and harassed Colts Quarterback Andrew Luck all game long last week and the Colts have an excellent offensive line. If you don’t pressure Brady up the middle you will most likely lose, as Brady with a clean pocket has completed close to 80% of his passes this season.
The Chiefs defensive line unit is led by its dominant, smothering front line trio of Justin Houston, Chris Jones, and Dee Ford. And, boosted by what’s sure to be a deafening Arrowhead crowd, the Chiefs defense has a chance to shed its regular-season reputation and play a crucial role in taking down Tom Brady and the Patriots. The formula was simple last week against the Colts: get the edge, collapse the pocket, make Luck uncomfortable, and create havoc. Can they do this against Brady?
The Chiefs defensive line has been getting after the passer all season, as Kansas City tied for eighth in ESPN’s pass-rush win rate (55 percent)—second among the remaining playoff teams—and finished tied for 13th in pressure rate per Football Outsiders’ play charting (30.9 percent). It helps immensely that this Chiefs unit is playing at home this weekend. With the crowd noise on its side making it difficult for offensive linemen to hear the snap count and communicate, Kansas City’s pass-rushing group has had a huge advantage. In fact, no team registered more quarterback pressures at home this season than the Chiefs (118). In its nine games at Arrowhead this year, Kansas City has surrendered just 17.4 points per game. In stark contrast, the Chiefs are giving up almost 35 points per game on the road.
The Patriots game plan could be very similar to what they did last week against a very good Chargers pass rush and that is to get the ball out of Brady’s hands before he could get hit (his time to throw clocked in at just 2.33 seconds per dropback against L.A and he averaged 4.3 air yards per target, both lowest among the eight starting passers last week). That tactic all but neutralized Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and L.A.’s top-tier pass-rushing group, which recorded zero sacks and hit Brady just twice on 44 dropbacks. The Chargers made it very easy to use this strategy though as they played cover 3 all game long and did not mix or disguise any coverages. With all this being said, Belichick is hard to predict and how he will attack the Chiefs defense is just a guess anyway as he seems to come up with something new every week.
The biggest problem for the Chiefs will be stopping the run because the Chiefs were the worst run defense in run defense DVOA this year, surrendering 132 yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry. This makes the run game a huge part of what the Patriots will try to do, but they can’t just depend on running the ball, as the Colts found out early in last week’s loss to the Chiefs.
This is an intriguing matchup, to say the least! Belichick has faced three similarly unstoppable offenses in the past and in each case he figured how to stop all three. Super Bowl 25 against the no-huddle Buffalo Bills, Belichick then the defensive coordinator for the Giants, held the vaunted Bills to just 19 points. He won his first Super Bowl by holding the “Greatest Show on Turf” to just 17 points, and in 2003 he changed the way the game was played when his defensive backs were so physical with the Colts at the line of scrimmage that after the season the NFL actually changed the rules on how much contact a defender could make.
Can the Patriots stop the Chiefs offense? Probably not but I think they could slow it down and I say that because of the knowledge I have about Bill Belichick’s past.
Prediction: The Patriots with Brady and Belichick are just 3-4 on the road in the playoffs, but Andy Reid has not been great at home or away in the playoffs. I think Belichick will figure out how to slow down the Chiefs offense enough to get them in the low 20s on the scoreboard. On offense, the Patriots run game and offensive line will have a lot to say about the outcome of this game. What it really comes down to for me is Belichick and Brady. I think Brady protects the ball and hits just enough big plays through the air to get the Patriots the win in a great Football game.
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