For the eighth year in a row, the New England Patriots find themselves in the AFC Championship Game. It's basically the Patriots' birthright at this point, as confirmed by last week's 41-28 beatdown of the vaunted Los Angeles Chargers.
But standing in the way of their third straight Super Bowl appearance is perhaps their greatest challenge yet over that eight-year run: The hosting Kansas City Chiefs. The AFC's top team throughout the entire regular season, the Chiefs made quick work of the Indianapolis Colts in last week's divisional round showdown, 31-13, and are led by the MVP season of first-year starter Patrick Mahomes.
Of course, this will not be the first time these teams have clashed this season, as the Patriots prevailed in a 43-40 shootout at Gillette Stadium earlier this season.
This will be the first time these teams have met in the playoffs since the divisional round in 2016, a game won by the Patriots, 27-20.
Here are our staff's picks for this weekend's AFC title game in Arrowhead...
Ty Anderson (writer/columnist, 985TheSportsHub.com)
It's entirely too easy to look at New England's road record and write them off. Not just this year, but in both of the team's most recent AFC Championship Game losses in Denver. And at the risk of bringing up irrelevant ancient history, don't forget that the Patriots entered those games without a running game (The Ghost of Steven Jackson is the darkest timeline of this era of Patriots football) and went against a vaunted defense. On the road, and no matter the year, that's a recipe for disaster.
This time around, the Patriots enter Arrowhead with an impressive running game -- be it Sony Michel running the ball or James White catching passes out of the backfield and on short screens -- and are going against a Kansas City defense that's hardly impressive. I also gotta admit that I absolutely love this team's mindset as the underdog. Especially when it's legit.
Also: Let us not forget that Mahomes puts ketchup on his macaroni and cheese. He's a monster and must be stopped.
Patriots 30, Chiefs 24.
Christian Arcand (The Adam Jones Show)
I picked the Patriots to win the Super Bowl this year - my reasoning was that the AFC was weak and even if the Pats regress a bit there isn't another team in the conference that's good enough to knock them off yet. As the season progressed, the Chiefs established themselves as the class of the AFC, not the Patriots, which punctured my theory pretty badly. Now those very Chiefs stand in the way of the Patriots’ third consecutive Super Bowl appearance which they've never done before. (In fact only 3 teams have: the loser Bills in the 90s, the 70s Dolphins and the 60s Packers, that's it.)
On the one hand, the Patriots did just wipe the floor with the Chiefs' division rivals, and earlier this year the Pats did beat these very Chiefs in a shootout at Gillette. On the other hand, the Patriots were a bad road team this year, and they're not just playing on the road, they're playing in the loudest stadium on the coldest day.
But I'm still sticking with my pick, and seeing as how I was the only one to accurately predict the outcome of the Dolphins game this is the only pick that matters.
Patriots 34 Chiefs 27
Matt Dolloff (writer/producer, 985TheSportsHub.com)
As much as I want to say the Patriots will ride their momentum from the Chargers game into this one, this is a whole new game and the road has just been too different of a team from the one we've seen at Gillette Stadium. I feel the season has been trending toward this game all season, with the Chiefs coming out on top.
The Patriots never quite put it all together for 60 minutes in any of their road games, even when they came out with wins, and I don't expect them to be as sharp as they were against the Chargers in the Arrowhead Stadium environment against the No. 1 seed. I see the offense getting its points against a suspect defense, but I also see them having trouble staying on the same page for the whole game, which we've seen all too often away from Foxborough. And while I do feel confident that the Patriots defense can slow down the Chiefs offense, I don't see Patrick Mahomes getting shut down for 60 minutes.
I think this will be a competitive game, but ultimately the Chiefs pull away and end up in the Super Bowl. And to be fair to the Patriots, pulling away late will be the only way the Chiefs can win this - because if it's close late in the game, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are a much safer bet than Mahomes and Andy Reid to manage the clock and execute down the stretch. But I think this is where the season's been headed all along, and I think the Patriots' less-than-perfect road performances come back to haunt them one more time.
Chiefs 33, Patriots 24.
Adam Jones (The Adam Jones Show)
The Patriots are awesome! Have you heard they've won five Super Bowls?!?! Brady is the GOAT! Belichick is the GOAT! Chiefs stink!!!!!1!!!
Patriots 44, Chiefs 3.
Tony Massarotti (Felger and Mazz)
— NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSBoston) January 18, 2019
Chiefs 34, Patriots 27.
Matt McCarthy (98.5 The Sports Hub)
The road comes to an end in Kansas City. If this game were being played in Foxboro, I'd feel differently about it, but the Patriots have nobody to blame but themselves for having to travel for the AFC Championship Game. They made their beds in warm Miami and now they have to lay in it in frigid Kansas City, and that will cost them a trip to the Super Bowl. I can't buy this team on the road, I'm not sure how anybody could. It will be close, but I envision a repeat of the 2015 AFC Championship Game in Denver: a loss that we'll rue and wonder if it could've been different had the venue been different.
Chiefs 27, Patriots 20.
Mike 'Sarge' Riley (98.5 The Sports Hub)
Win the coin toss, take the ball and score on the opening possession. That needs to be the Patriots formula to set the tone.
The AFC Championship has turned into the Brady-Belichick Invitational, and even though they are on the road, I like their chances. I see Julian Edelman picking up where he left off against the Chargers being Brady's top receiver, and it's going to be interesting to see who the Patriots have Stephon Gilmore defending. Sure, Patrick Mahomes' weapons are dangerous and faster than the Patriots, but I think the cold weather will slow them down. A month ago, fans thought the world was coming to an end, and a month later the Patriots are one win away from the Super Bowl.
Patriots 31, Chiefs 21.
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