Patriots’ best chance to win: Run the ball and keep Patrick Mahomes off the field. As easy a time as Tom Brady had Sunday, a big reason the Patriots were so dominant was their Sony Michel-led run game, which helped bleed off the first quarter before Philip Rivers even took the field. New England had the fifth-most rushing yards and the fourth-most rushing touchdowns in the league this season. The Patriots averaged a time of possession of 32 minutes, 21 seconds in their wins and 28:17 in their losses. Against Mahomes, who had 50 touchdown passes this season, and a Chiefs run game that rolled up 180 yards in Saturday’s home playoff victory over the Colts, it’s vital the Patriots control the ball, the clock and the game with their offense.
Early Vegas game lines
From Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook
Chiefs’ best chance to win: Well, based on Sunday, it’s obviously not “load up on defensive backs, sit back in an insanely soft zone and let Brady pick you apart as if he’s playing on a football-toss machine at Dave & Buster’s.” That didn’t work too well for the Chargers. No, the Chiefs’ best chance to win is to do what they did Saturday and play out of their minds on defense. Kansas City was able to pressure Andrew Luck just enough (especially considering how hard that was to do in 2018) while their corners covered as well as they have all season. If Kansas City’s defense can crank it up at home again the way it did in the divisional round, the Chiefs will make it a lot tougher on the Patriots than the Chargers did. But that isn’t saying much.
Stat to know: Chiefs coach Andy Reid is 1-4 all-time in conference championship games — all in the NFC while he was coaching the Eagles, and none since 2008. Patriots coach Bill Belichick, meanwhile, is 8-4 all-time in conference championship games (all with the Patriots). Belichick will be coaching in his eighth consecutive AFC Championship Game and has won the past two.
Bottom line: The game is at Kansas City, not Foxborough, Massachusetts, and that could make the difference. During the Brady/Belichick era, the Patriots are 20-3 in postseason home games, but just 3-4 in playoff games as the visiting team. They haven’t won a road playoff game and the Super Bowl in the same season since 2004. The past two times they played an AFC Championship Game on the road, they lost — in Denver three and five years ago. This season, the Patriots are 9-0 at home and 3-5 on the road, including double-digit losses at Jacksonville, Detroit and Tennessee. The Chiefs are 8-1 at home. When they faced the Patriots in Week 6, it was in Foxborough, and New England beat them 43-40 on a last-second field goal in a game that featured 30 combined fourth-quarter points. This should be a classic rematch, and the fact that it’s in the Chiefs’ building would seem to give them a chance to slay the league’s most fearsome January dragon.