The New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs will square off Sunday in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium for a chance to play in Super Bowl LIII.
The Patriots, owners of the AFC’s No. 2 seed, earned a date with the top-seeded Chiefs by dominating the Los Angeles Chargers in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. Kansas City punched its ticket to championship weekend by defeating the Indianapolis Colts last week.
The Patriots vs. Chiefs showdown will kick off at 6:40 p.m. ET. The winner will face the winner of the Los Angeles Rams vs. New Orleans Saints NFC Championship Game, which is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. ET, in Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
NESN.com’s trio of Mike Cole, Ricky Doyle and Andre Khatchaturian made their against-the-spread picks for both of this weekend’s conference championship matchups. Here are their picks for Patriots vs. Chiefs.
New England Patriots at (-3) Kansas City Chiefs, 6:40 p.m. ET
Mike: Chiefs. This one was really, really tough to call, and I still don’t feel good about my pick. I know thinking regular-season trends will carry into the playoffs might be a fool’s errand, but it’s just hard to get over the Patriots’ road struggles. And you know what? They might not play bad in this game, but it should be hard to beat a team as talented as the Chiefs without playing on the level New England played at last week. Can they do that two weeks in a row? I’m leaning toward no. Plus, there isn’t one obvious area in which New England’s defense can slow down KC like it did last week with blitzes and rushing Philip Rivers up the middle. The Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs offense is far more versatile, and despite the Patriots’ defensive improvements throughout the season, I still wonder if there’s just too much team speed on the Chiefs’ side.
Ricky: Chiefs. This game being played in Kansas City makes a world of difference, because the Patriots were far worse on the road this season and the Chiefs’ defense has been sneaky good at home. New England, which scored 12.2 fewer points per game away from Gillette Stadium (second-biggest home-road disparity in the NFL), had a negative yards per play differential on the road (minus-0.6), which ranked 24th in the league. The Patriots also ranked poorly on the road in several other key areas, including red-zone scoring (26th), third-down conversion percentage (20th) and opponent third-down conversion percentage (27th) — they finished sixth, seventh and third, respectively, in those categories at home. And let’s not forget the Chiefs scored at least 40 points in three of these teams’ previous four matchups with Andy Reid as the coach in Kansas City. Concerned about the Chiefs’ defense? Just keep in mind Kansas City allowed 17.4 points per game at home (third) vs. 34.6 points per game on the road (31st), and that the Chiefs haven’t allowed an opposing team to score 30 points at Arrowhead Stadium since Sept. 17, 2015, a stretch of 34 games (regular season and postseason). All in all, the Chiefs’ talent will be too much for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick to overcome without the aura of Foxboro — something that’s not unprecedented given the Patriots’ 3-4 road playoff record in the Brady/Belichick era.
Andre: Patriots. Once again, the team that makes key defensive stops will win this game because both of these teams have elite offenses. New England gashed the Chargers’ rush defense in the divisional round and there’s no reason why the Patriots shouldn’t be able to do the same against a Chiefs defense that allowed nearly five yards per carry this season. The Chiefs also allowed 9.7 yards per catch to running backs this season (third-most in the NFL.) The Patriots’ offensive line is extremely underrated, as the unit allowed just 21 sacks all year. The Patriots will be able to neutralize the Chiefs’ pass rush. The Patriots have the better offensive line, better quarterback, better rushing attack and are slightly more potent defensively.
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Thumbnail photo via Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY Sports Images