Scouting the Patriots-Chiefs AFC Championship Game

New England will visit top-seeded Kansas City next Sunday at 6:40 p.m. for the right to play in Super Bowl LIII.

Rob Gronkowski
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski gives a stiff arm to Kansas City Chiefs free safety Ron Parker after catching a pass on Oct. 14. –AP Photo/Steven Senne

The Patriots (12-5) are heading to their eighth consecutive AFC Championship Game and 13th of the Brady-Belichick era following a 41-28 victory over the Chargers Sunday at Gillette Stadium in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.

New England will visit the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs (13-4) next Sunday, Jan. 20, at 6:40 p.m. for the right to play in Super Bowl LIII. The Chiefs defeated the Indianapolis Colts 31-13 Saturday in their divisional round game.

It’s the second meeting of the season between the Patriots and Chiefs. Tom Brady outdueled Patrick Mahomes in Week 6, leading the Patriots to a thrilling 43-40 win on Sunday Night Football from Gillette, capped by a late fourth-quarter drive engineered by Brady and a 28-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski with three seconds remaining. However, there are plenty of things that are different for both teams this time around.

Prominent departures

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Both the Patriots and Chiefs are without a talented offensive weapon they had during their first meeting. The Chiefs do not have running back Kareem Hunt, who was released on Nov. 30 after a video surfaced of him knocking over and kicking a woman in a Cleveland hotel hallway last February. Hunt later apologized for his behavior, but remains out of the NFL.

Receiver Josh Gordon left the Patriots on Dec. 20 and was suspended indefinitely for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, leaving Brady and the Patriots’ offense without a talented, athletic wide receiver. The Patriots acquired Gordon from the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 17 to be a deep threat and he fared well, catching 40 passes for 720 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games.

New England won its final two games of the regular season without Gordon and the Chiefs are 4-2 without Hunt (including Saturday’s win over the Colts).

Arrowhead advantage

Home-field advantage clearly benefits the Chiefs in this matchup. Kansas City is 8-1 at Arrowhead Stadium this season (including playoffs) and averages 32.2 points per game at home. The Colts barely knew what hit them in Saturday’s game, when the Chiefs stormed to a 24-7 lead at halftime and their defense allowed only one offensive touchdown.

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All five of New England’s losses came on the road this season. The Patriots’ 3-5 record away from Gillette Stadium is the worst since 2000 – Bill Belichick’s first year as head coach – when they went 1-6 on the road and 5-11 overall. Even in 2008, the last time the Patriots finished the regular season 11-5, they went 6-2, and were 4-4 on the road in their 9-7 2002 season.

New England averaged 16.6 points per game in its road losses this season. The Patriots lost to the Broncos in Denver in the 2015 AFC title game, their last appearance in an AFC Championship Game as the road team.

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Brady vs. Mahomes, Round 2Mahomes is the NFL’s new rising star at the quarterback position, and if another showdown with Brady is anything like the first, this game has the ability to turn into another classic.

One year after Brady’s MVP season, Mahomes, 23, finished second in the NFL in passing yards (5,097). Brady is seventh (4,355). Mahomes leads the league with 50 touchdown passes while Brady is 10th with 29. Mahomes ranks second in QB rating (113.8), and Brady is 12th (97.7).

Mahomes has a slight advantage in completion percentage over Brady, 66-65.8. In their Week 6 matchup, although Mahomes threw four touchdown passes to Brady’s one (Mahomes also had two interceptions to Brady’s none), their passing numbers were almost identical. Brady was 24-of-35 for 340 yards and Mahomes was 23-of-36 for 352 yards.

Common opponents

The Patriots and Chiefs both played the Jaguars and Steelers this season. The Patriots lost to both teams, falling to the Jaguars 31-20 in Week 2 and the Steelers 17-10 in Week 15. The Chiefs defeated the Steelers 42-37 in Week 2 and beat the Jaguars 30-14 in Week 5.

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Playoff history This will be the second postseason meeting between the Patriots and the Chiefs. New England defeated them in the 2015 Divisional Round, 27-20 at Gillette.

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