AFC Championship: Predictions, What to Watch for, Keys to the Game

The matchup is officially set. The two highest scoring offenses in the AFC will meet to decide which team will represent the conference in the Super Bowl. One of the more intriguing games, it features the Chiefs high-powered attack with first-year starter Patrick Mahomes leading the charge, taking on the greatest to ever play the position, who many say is already hanging off the cliff. 

The two have already met once this season, with New England holding off a late Chiefs comeback attempt to hold a 43-40 victory in Foxborough. Both Brady and Mahomes battled in one of the most back-and-fourth shootouts of the season. While the game was only three months ago, both teams have lost a big part of their offenses. 

In the last two meetings, Kareem Hunt had absolutely torched the Patriots. In his first ever game in the NFL back in 2017, Hunt rushed 17 times for 148 yards and a touchdown on opening night against the New England defense. The then-rookie also caught five passes for 98 yards and added two touchdowns in the Chiefs statement win. Just a year later, Hunt rushed 10 times for 80 yards, as well as caught five passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. 

Unfortunately for Kansas City, all of that is irrelevant as Hunt was released back in November because of a domestic violence incident. Instead, Damien Williams will handle the majority of the workload. In the first matchup with New England, Williams ran one time for one yard. While he has had success in the run game in Hunt’s absence, it has yet to be seen if he can continue that against New England. 

As for the Patriots, arguably their best receiver will also miss this game due to suspension. Josh Gordon, who finished the season with 40 receptions for 720 yards in 11 games, will be a threat that Kansas City will not have to worry about the second time around. 

With both teams missing key parts of their offense during for this rematch, both coaches will have to dive deep into their creative playbooks to come out victorious. Here are some specific matchups to look out for this weekend. 

Tyreek Hill vs Patriots secondary

In most weeks, this matchup reads “No. 1 receiver vs Stephon Gilmore.” However, for this game, the matchup drastically favors the speedy wide-out. In the first matchup between the two, Hill caught seven passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. With Gilmore being a bigger corner, speed heavily out-matches size and forces New England to go zone, or play a cornerback lower on the depth chart, such as Jonathan Jones, on Hill. Judging by previous games, it seems New England’s defense can only hope to contain Hill. Look for Hill to have another big week. 

Travis Kelce vs Patriots safeties

A similar matchup this time pairs the Chiefs tight end with the last line of Patriots defense. Tight ends have consistently killed the Patriots throughout the season with Eric Ebron (nine catches for 105 yards) Trey Burton (nine catches for 126 yards) Jimmy Graham (four catches for 55 yards) and Jonnu Smith (three catches for 45 yards) all recording a touchdown against this defense. Kelce himself went for five catches and 61 yards in the first meeting. Whether it is Devin McCourty or Patrick Chung, the safety play of New England will be a key factor. 

Kendal Fuller vs Julian Edelman

Julian Edelman ripped apart the Chargers in the divisional round and seems to be back to his normal self. Kendall Fuller himself has not been great this season, but the emergence of Charvarius Ward, who has taken over the No. 2 cornerback spot, has allowed Fuller to play a more comfortable role in the slot. Ward has stepped up in the last couple weeks, and will likely face a combination of Chris Hogan and Cordarralle Patterson. The true matchup will be what Edelman can do in the slot against Fuller.

Patriots vs Grass/Loud Stadiums

Historically, these two elements have been able to slow the Patriots. On grass, New England was 1-4 this season, while they are 11-1 counting the divisional round on turf. Sony Michel, New England’s leading rusher, also accumulated over 700 of his 931 yards on turf this season. With Kansas City’s grand field, it wouldn’t be surprising if it took the Patriots a while to find their footing. 

When thinking of stadiums Tom Brady has not had success in, a couple come to mind. Mile High in Denver, Arrowhead in Kansas City, and the only road stadium he has played in and never won…. Century Link Field in Seattle. What do these three stadiums have in common? They are the three loudest venues in the league. One of the biggest parts of Brady’s game is his ability to break down plays before the snap and communicate at the line of scrimmage. Take that away, and the Patriots are at a big disadvantage. 

Patrick Maholmes vs the cold

An arctic blast is what they’re calling it. All along, I thought it was just a gatorade flavor, but I guess that is the correct name when forecasts for Sunday’s game show temperatures of about five to ten degrees. While Patrick Maholmes has played in cold games this season, the young quarterback does not have much experience in this weather. Growing up and playing college ball in Texas didn’t expose Maholmes to any serious cold weather. Last week against Indianapolis was cold, but it doesn’t compare to an “arctic blast.”

Bill Belichick vs Andy Reid

If you ask just about anyone in the NFL who the best coach in the league is, Bill Belichick is the likely answer. If you ask who the second best coach in the league is, Andy Reid will get more than a couple votes. These are the two coaches with the best NFL résumés in the league, meeting up for the third time in the postseason. While it seems that recently Andy Reid has had the upper hand in the regular season, easily beating the Patriots in 2014 and 2016 before losing by only three points this season, Belichick has had the success in the playoffs. In the two playoff matchups between the two, Belichick defeated Reid in the 2004 Super Bowl while Reid was with the Eagles, and then again in 2016 Divisional round when Reid joined Kansas City. It will be intriguing to see if Reid finally overcomes the playoff hump or if Belichick once again proves his dominance. 

Many believe this game is a toss-up. The best two teams in the league go head to head for a chance at the Super Bowl. Here is what will happen if either team wants to advance.

The Chiefs win if

It all starts with Patrick Mahomes. He has been the key to the offense all season and most likely will win the MVP. The first-year starter will have to limit his turnovers if the Chiefs want to overtake the Patriots’ AFC crown. No more than one turnover can be made by Mahomes if the Chiefs want to win this football game. The Patriots will take advantage and Kansas City can not afford to give up easy points. 

Getting pressure on Brady with only four pass-rushers—if there was ever a book “Beating Tom Brady for Dummies,” this would be the first chapter. It is well known, if a team can get to Brady without blitzing, they have a shot. With Justin Houston coming back after missing the first meeting between the two, the pass rush combined with Chris Jones has a chance to do just that. once Brady starts going down, Kansas City’s chances go up. 

The Patriots win if

This one is simple. Be the Patriots. This means lack of turnovers, and play disciplined football. If the Patriots commit fewer penalties and turnovers, the rest will fall into place. This is what New England is best at, and this is how they will ultimately win the game. 

The offensive line continues to dominate. Watching film on Brady with a clean pocket as opposed to getting rushed time and time again is like watching two separate quarterbacks. The Chiefs secondary is average at best, and if Brady has a clean pocket, there may not be any other way to stop him.

Quick Tip: Hammer the under

Right now, the over/under sits right around 56. In what everyone believes will be a shootout, this seems like a steal taking the over. However, it may just be the opposite. In the last nine games played in these conditions, the average amount of combined points scored is 31. The most any one team has scored out of those games was 30. Despite this game supposedly being a shootout, the under seems like the way to go.


Strictly on paper, there’s not much the Patriots have the edge over the Chiefs in. The Chiefs have the MVP favorite, a better receiving core, better pass rushing and home field. Despite the stats pointing to the Chiefs, we all know there is a much bigger picture. A fired up and healthy Tom Brady along with the greatest coach to ever live leading the team makes this prediction easy. Patriots pull out a 30-24 win in Kansas City. 


Photo: Sports information traders



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