It wasn’t Sony Michel’s three touchdowns that should have given Patriot fans a familiar sense of the willies.
It wasn’t Julian Edelman’s 151 yards receiving, nor Tom Brady’s 343-yard performance against the San Diego Chargers last week that should instill some added swagger heading into Sunday’s AFC Championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs. It wasn’t even the fact that Adrian Clayborn showed up, finally, in the final game played this season at Gillette Stadium.
No, the reason the Chiefs should be fearful of another playoff hiccup is because these new Patriots seem a lot like the old Patriots.
In that they have a big, lovely chip heading into this year’s showdown for the Super Bowl.
“I know everyone thinks we suck, and can’t win any games,” Brady said during his postgame interview on CBS after a 41-28 throttling of the Chargers. “So, we’ll see. It’ll be fun.”
Brady’s words followed a week of doubt emanating from the “shoutathon” sports shows during the previous week. The Chargers are better. The dynasty is over.
“We see it,” cornerback Devin McCourty said. “Our quarterback is too old, we’re not good enough on defense, our skill positions aren’t good.”
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy went on the offensive Wednesday on 98.5 The Sports Hub, saying that Max “Cliff” Kellerman should stick to his boxing commentary. It’s a clear sign that the team is discussing the hot-take fever across the television landscape and…(gulp)…here.
(Related note: Dec. 18 seems but years away, doesn’t it?)
The Patriots have an attitude, just like when Rodney Harrison was complaining about respect in the midst of back-to-back Super Bowl wins. That is the warning bell for the Chiefs, much more so than what the Patriots did to the Chargers, impressive in its own right.
But not as important as that jilted atmosphere in the locker room.
Like Brady said, “we’ll see.”
Except, we already know.
AFC Championship game predictions
Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Chiefs 30, Patriots 24. “It’s funny to hear Tom Brady, of all people, wearing the underdog hat and playing the nobody-believes-in-us card. (Picture Bill Gates begging change at an intersection). But sure enough, Bill Belichick and his G.O.A.T. are ‘dogs here, and should be. It isn’t that Kansas City is unbeatable. It is that, mysteriously but without question, New England, so mighty in Foxborough, is so mediocre away from home. The Patriots were 3-5 on the road this season, all five losses to non-playoff teams, and averaged 12.2 fewer points per game on the road — a seismic dropoff. Not coincidentally, the Pats have lost their last three playoff road games. New England’s 43-40 October win over KC was (of course) at home. Having said all that, even on the road I still give Brady and NE a large upset shot — better than the Rams’ chances in the earlier game. Pats are in a record eighth straight AFC title game, while Chiefs, infamous postseason fizzlers, are in their first since 1993. Belichick is 29-11 in the playoffs to Andy Reid’s 12-13, with Bill 6-2 in head-to-head meetings. Brady owns the stage Patrick Mahomes is stepping on for the first time. Oh, and New England is 7-1 in its past eight games as an underdog. Still gotta roll with Kid Mahomes at that big KC offense. Brian Flores, the Dolphins coach-in-waiting, calls defensive plays for the Pats. Best of luck, sir.”
Joe Giglio, NJ.com: Chiefs (-3). “It’s Andy Reid’s time. The Patriots made everyone quickly forget how pedestrian they looked during the regular season by pasting the Chargers. But this will be a different story. Kansas City’s defense is a different animal at home, and the Chiefs have found ways to put up points vs. Bill Belichick defenses in recent years. The cold will have an impact, but it’s hard to bet against the better team at home.”
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Patriots 26, Chiefs 24. “The Patriots haven’t won a road playoff game since 2006, so I am bucking another trend here when I pick them to do just that. But I think Brady and Belichick will get the job done.”
CBS Sports staff: Split against the spread (KC -3). Five out of eight pick the Chiefs straight-up.
Benjamin Hoffman, New York Times: Chiefs. “This all adds up to Kansas City’s rightly being the favorite, with an extremely good shot of playing in the Super Bowl for the first time since Len Dawson led the Chiefs to a win over the Vikings in Super Bowl IV. Brady has every right to feel confident in his chances, based on the fact that things virtually always work out for him and his team. Chiefs fans have every right to be worried, based on their franchise’s playoff history, but if Mahomes is Mahomes, that will be enough to warrant Las Vegas’s faith in Kansas City.”
Neil Greenberg, Washington Post: Chiefs (-3). “According to the National Weather Service, the coin-toss temperature on Sunday afternoon in Kansas City is expected to be between 8 and 11 degree Fahrenheit with the wind chill, making this potentially one of the coldest games ever at Arrowhead Stadium: The Chiefs have hosted five games at Arrowhead where the temperature was below 10 degrees; two of the four with totals still hit the over and three different games they covered the spread.”
Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 30, Chiefs 27. “The forecast has improved throughout the week, which is good news for the home team. The opponent continues to be the Patriots, which is bad news for the home team. The home team has Patrick Mahomes, which is the best news possible. But there isn’t enough around him, yet. Losses to the Patriots, Rams, Chargers, and Seahawks resulted not from Mahomes but from the lack of high-end talent around him. The Patriots, between talent and coaching and the resiliency of Tom Brady, can do to the Chiefs what won’t be easy to do: Score at least one more point in a single-elimination setting. Look for Patriots coach Bill Belichick to confound Mahomes, contain Tyreek Hill, control the clock, and ultimately prevail in the only stat that ever matters. Points scored vs. points allowed.”
Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Chiefs 42, Patriots 35. “This has the makings of a classic. A brutally cold night in Kansas City, with the legendary Tom Brady taking on perhaps the most talented quarterback ever to play the position, Patrick Mahomes. The stars are aligning for this to be an all-time great game. Or at least the sun, earth and moon are aligning, as the game will be played under a lunar eclipse. The Patriots’ defense is a lot better this year than it was last year, which is why I give them a chance: I think they’ll force a couple of turnovers, and maybe take an early lead. But I also think this is Mahomes’ year, and in the end no one is stopping him. The NFL’s brightest young star is heading for the Super Bowl.”
Amazon Alexa: Chiefs.
Todd Haislop, Sporting News: Chiefs 35, Patriots 31. “The tried-and-true formula to beating New England is getting to Brady, but few teams can actually do it. Kansas City pass-rushers Dee Ford and Justin Houston gave Indianapolis offensive tackles fits in the divisional round, and Chris Jones completes one of the league’s best pass-rushing trios. So, yeah, the Chiefs can do it. With that said, the Patriots have the edge in overall defense, if anything because they’ll be prepared with a game plan to contain the likes of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. So picking against New England, the team with the edges in defense and in the running game, would go against everything we know about postseason NFL football. Oh well. Mahomes is just different.
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Chiefs 38, Patriots 33. “Brady will keep up his team’s offensive momentum, but New England will lose this one defensively, as the speed, quickness and athleticism of Kansas City’s skill players are too much to handle a second time. The Patriots have been weaker on the road this season, and Mahomes can blow up even their best-laid game plan. Having learned from the first meeting, Mahomes will have a clean, prolific game to out-duel Brady and stamp his MVP status with a trip to what might be the first of several Super Bowls.”
USA Today staff picks: Six staff are members split on the picks.
Nick O’Malley, MassLive: Patriots 38, Chiefs 33. “Just going by stats and matchups, the logical pick is the Chiefs. They’ve got the MVP favorite and a team that’s playing well right now. What’s more, the Patriots have been junk on the road this year.
But this game is for a trip to the Super Bowl and is going to likely be one of the coldest games in recent memory. If anything, this game is going to come down to some weird intangible factors. And whenever there’s a weird game decided by odd football factors, I tend to pick the Patriots. I’m expecting a lot of points between these two teams. But I’m also expecting the Patriots to pull ahead late before holding off a late surge from Mahomes & Co.”
FiveThirtyEight: Kansas City with a 61 percent chance of winning.
Don Banks, Patriots.com: New England. “Without an ounce of hype necessary, this is the biggest pro football game to ever take place in Kansas City, because the Chiefs have never played host to either an AFC Championship or AFL title game in the franchise’s 59-season, two-city history. That’s a lot of pressure and I can’t wait to see how Andy Reid’s team responds to the size of the stage and the weight of expectation, because Kansas City’s existence is dotted with epic cases of postseason underachievement.”
Elliot Harrison, NFL.com: Chiefs 30, Patriots 26. “What a fun matchup: The NFL’s royalty at the quarterback position faces the flashy newcomer, an unexpected (uninvited?) guest to the pantheon of league greats just 18 starts into his NFL career. Tom Brady has been an NFL starter for 18 years. So, what to expect from this quarterback matchup? Will the Patriots‘ offense take advantage of a Chiefs defense that has bordered on bend-and-bend-some-more all season? Will it be enough to keep up with a dynamic Kansas City offense? Quality, yes and no are the answers to those three questions.”
It says here: Patriots 37, Chiefs 33. The Chiefs are better. The Patriots will win. This game doesn’t need any more analysis than that.