Who could ask for a better AFC Championship game? The NFL’s most exciting team, Kansas City (13-4), hosting perennial championship contender New England (12-5). Everyone’s new favorite quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, facing the GOAT, Tom Brady. The conference’s number one and number two seeds facing off for a Super Bowl slot.
People in Lincoln, Nebraska, 200 miles away, might not need the television to hear the noise coming from Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs are hoping so, anyway.
"We need everybody out here. It’ll be cold and all that, but who cares?"
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) January 14, 2019
Andy Reid‘s offensive juggernaut is going to have to work its magic in the elements. While the forecast no longer calls for below-zero temperatures, it’s still not going to be balmy. Even though they’re the visitors, the Patriots have plenty of experience playing in frigid conditions.
Besides the weather and noise, what are the other keys to earning a trip to Atlanta?
Andy Reid Vs. Bill Belichick
New England’s boss is the winningest active head coach and number three all-time. Kansas City’s coach is second and eighth, respectively, on those lists. They are the best coaches of their generation and among the best ever.
Adding to the fun if you’re a football historian, the coaching matchup has its roots in the epic Bill Walsh–Bill Parcells battles of the ’80s. Bill Belichick was the defensive coordinator for Parcells with the New York Giants and Reid started out under Mike Holmgren, Walsh’s brightest West Coast Offense pupil. The students-turned-masters have significant coaching trees of their own, which the Washington Post, at least, believes might make Reid the more relevant of the two.
Reid is coaching in his sixth conference championship game but has only won once. Belichick is in his eighth consecutive AFC Championship game, and he’s won five Lombardi Trophies.
Belichick owned Reid when the latter was in Philadelphia. The Eagles never beat the Patriots, losing most notably in Super Bowl XXIX. Critics of Reid’s clock management skills invariably point to his handling of the fourth quarter of that game. The matchup has been more even since Reid moved on to Kansas City, but there’s still nothing fun about having to match wits with Belichick.
— Jeff Rosen (@jeff_rosen88) January 18, 2019
Ever the offensive mastermind, Reid has orchestrated an explosive attack centered on the big arm and gunslinger mentality of Mahomes. The latest incarnation of Belichick’s Patriots defense is middle-of-the-road in most categories, although they still finished in the top 10 in fewest points allowed (20.3). New England’s coach can also still rely on Brady to capitalize on any openings the opposition gives him.
Belichick is a Hall of Famer in waiting. Even without a championship on his resume, there’s a pretty good chance that Reid will end up with a bust in Canton as well. Make no mistake, though, the Chiefs’ head man desperately wants a ring to wear with a gold jacket.
Damien Williams Vs. Patriots’ Front Seven
The Oklahoma product, who played four nondescript seasons in Miami, only rushed for 256 yards in the regular season, but he did it with a 5.1 average per carry. In last week’s 31-13 playoff win over Indianapolis, Williams rushed for 129 yards and a touchdown.
We strike first! 💪 pic.twitter.com/rxuREEquT3
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) January 12, 2019
New England struggled against the run early in the season but got progressively better as the season went along, finishing 11th in the league in rush defense giving up 112.7 yards a game. Facing Melvin Gordon and the Chargers last week, they surrendered just 19 rushing yards.
That stat is a little misleading since Los Angeles was forced to play catch up the entire game. While they’ve gotten better, the Patriots did allow Pittsburgh’s Jaylen Samuels to run through them for 142 yards in Week 14.
The Patriots defense is a one of Belichick’s classic “sum is greater than the parts” jobs. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy is solid, and defensive ends Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise can generate some pass rush.
Belichick normally cooks up something special for young quarterbacks, but the defensive genius didn’t seem to phase Mahomes in their Week 6 matchup. The Chiefs quarterback threw for 352 yards and four touchdowns, even though New England came away with a 43-40 victory.
Mahomes will have all of his weapons, and the Pats will have to account for Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Sammy Watkins at all times. After the success that Kansas City had last time, it’s a safe bet that Belichick will have new wrinkles to throw at the young quarterback this time around.
If Williams can repeat his performance from the Colts game, that will make life significantly easier for Mahomes.
Tom Brady Vs. Chiefs Secondary
After being terrible throughout the regular season, defensive coordinator Bob Sutton‘s group finally put things together against Indianapolis. They limited Andrew Luck to 203 passing yards and gave up just 266 total yards.
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) January 12, 2019
Kendall Fuller and his defensive backfield mates now need to duplicate that effort against the quarterback with the most postseason wins in NFL history.
Brady has put together a Hall of Fame resume by taking whatever a defense will give him. In recent years, that has largely meant a “Death By 1,000 Cuts” attack featuring short throws to Julian Edelman, James White, and Chris Hogan until Rob Gronkowski finds a soft spot.
With Gronk limited, the Patriots offense doesn’t look as imposing on paper. Yet, there was TB12 moving New England up and down the field against the Chargers.
The team has begun to rely more on rookie running back Sony Michel, who rushed for 129 yards and three touchdowns against Los Angeles. One thing that we know about a Belichick team, though, is that they rarely use the same game plan twice.
In the earlier meeting, Brady threw one touchdown, but still totaled 340 yards. Michel rushed for more than 100 yards and scored twice. If Kansas City gears up to stop the run, Brady will waste no time throwing at Fuller and Steven Nelson.
The Chiefs don’t need to completely stop either Brady or Michel, they just have to keep them in check enough to keep their offense from having to score on every possession to win. Belichick will do his level best to make Mahomes feel the pressure of the moment. If Kansas City falls behind by too much, that will only intensify.
Sutton’s group needs to play at the top of their game from the start to ensure that Brady — who could lead a game-winning drive in his sleep at this point — doesn’t get another shot at a ring.