Kansas City Chiefs fans rejoice. For the first time since the 1993 season, the Chiefs won a playoff game at Arrowhead.
Patrick Mahomes wasn’t even alive when that happened (neither was I). Now Arrowhead gets to host the AFC Championship for the first time ever. It is the next step in a magical season that has Kansas City one win away from a return to the Super Bowl. The Chiefs last played in the Super Bowl in 1970.
Their opponent Sunday cannot be overlooked. The New England Patriots showed us last week that they still have a lot left in the tank as they rolled past the Los Angeles Chargers last Sunday 41-28. Tom Brady went 34-for-44 for 343 yards and three touchdowns against a Chargers defense that had played well for most of the season. The team is now in its eighth straight AFC Championship, an NFL record. Despite the team faltering, especially on the road, the Patriots silenced at least some of the doubters with the win against the Chargers. Now they come to Arrowhead in the biggest game in the stadium’s history with a quarterback who has struggled at Arrowhead. New England’s 27-19 victory in 2004 is the only time in three appearances that Brady has won at Arrowhead. The Chiefs won the following season 26-16 but did not meet in Kansas City again until 2014 in the Monday night blowout 41-14.
New England marched to another Super Bowl after that game, but it still was one of the worst games in the Bill Belichick era and was one of the first that fans really questioned how much longer the dynasty would last.
Four years later, we still have that question. As history has shown us, this is not the same Patriots team on the road. The Patriots have seven road playoff games in the Brady/Belichick era. They are 3-4 in those games. They beat Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship in the 2001 and 2004 seasons before suffering the first playoff loss in the duo’s history in 2005 to Denver in the divisional playoffs. The Pats would beat the Chargers in San Diego the following year in the divisional round before falling at Indianapolis the following week.
They did not play a road game again until the AFC Championship against the Broncos in the 2013 season. They lost and then lost at Denver two years later. This year’s Patriots follow a similar pattern with a 3-5 road record.
But as great an advantage as Arrowhead can be for the Chiefs, it has not been there in the playoffs. Kansas City is 3-6 all-time at home in the playoffs. But that third win broke a streak of six games and it was against a Colts team as hot as anyone.
So one of these will improve.
Mahomes and the offense have played at a high level for much of the season and they will need it again in this game. New England’s defense is nothing to write home about, but they still find ways to slow teams down. They bend and don’t break. It’s been that way for years and they will need it against the Chiefs offense again. Kansas City will need another performance like last week, but if that’s not possible, they need that same strategy that New England will use. The key that Denver used in both of the wins in the AFC Championship was pressure. Pressure Brady and that could be the biggest key to the game. If Brady is flustered and hit a bunch, he will make mistakes, especially with his age slowly starting to catch up. If he doesn’t get pressured, he will pick this defense apart. Pressure on him might be more important than stopping their run game and receiver Julian Edelman. They do that and Mahomes plays a clean game, the Chiefs advance.
My playoff predictions have done well so far at 6-2 with the Cowboys and Chargers letting me down. I expect Kansas City to get by the Patriots in a lower scoring game than people expect. It’s going to be cold. The Chiefs defense actually played well the last two games and New England isn’t the same on the road. Plus, it will only be the second time a quarterback not named Brady, Peyton Manning or Ben Roethlisberger will lead an AFC team in the Super Bowl since 2003. Kudos if you know who the only other one is. I will give you a hint, it has been a running joke for years to ask if he is elite.
I am sticking to the pick I made back in Wild Card weekend. The Saints will beat the Rams. The Superdome’s home-field advantage will be too much and the Saints will win in a shootout to set up Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta – New Orleans vs. Kansas City.
Luke Peterson is the sports editor for the Leavenworth Times. Contact him at email@example.com