What to Watch For: Patriots vs Chiefs - AFC Championship
Sunday, January 20, 2019
The Patriots went 3-5 on the road in the regular season, their worst record since 2009.
They haven’t won a playoff game on the road since 2006.
“I just look at those games individually and I know why we haven’t won those games individually. I don’t think it’s a broad, sweeping thing. It was a little bit in each game. I think the point of that is this is not the week to have less than our best. It’s a tough game. It’s a tough challenge. It’s tough to beat the number one seed on the road,” said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during his press conference on Wednesday.
Bill Belichick added, “I think it’s about the team you play, and the Chiefs are good, so they’re tough. If you play them anywhere, they’re tough.”
Game time is set for 6:40 p.m.
See What to Watch for in the Slideshow Below
Patriots vs Chiefs
The Patriots and Chiefs have met 35 times in history with Kansas City holding an 18-15-3 series advantage.
Earlier this season, the Patriots beat the Chiefs 43-40 in a shootout at Gillette Stadium.
“I mean, that was Week 6. That was a long time ago. We can’t really worry about that. They’re a better team and they’re on a roll. It’s the two best teams in the AFC, so you can’t really worry about, ‘Well, we beat you guys last, so we’re going to win.’ If we have that mentality, we’ll get kicked – they’ll kick our ass, pretty much,” said Patriots safety Patrick Chung on Thursday.
However, New England’s last win in Kansas City came in the 2004 season.
Their most recent trip to Kansas City during the 2014 season did not go so well, as the Chiefs cruised to a 41-14 win.
The last Chiefs win in the series came in 2017, when they beat the Patriots 42-27 in the season opener.
The last New England win in Kansas City came in the 2004 season.
See What to Watch for in the Slideshow Below
Related Slideshow: 5 Things to Watch For: Patriots vs Chiefs - AFC Championship - January 2019
How will the Patriots secondary matchup with Kansas City wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce.
Hill is one of the most dangerous receivers in the entire league and certainly one of the fastest.
This season, Hill hauled in 87 passes for 1479 yards and 12 touchdowns.
In his last two games against the Patriots, he has totaled 14 catches for 275 yards and four touchdowns.
“He’s got great speed. You can get your hands on him and he can still run past you. Even when he gets the ball in his hands, he’s hard to tackle so everybody will have to do their job and play together as a team,” said Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore during his press conference Thursday.
Hill is also the best receivers in the league against press coverage, averaging 4.1 yards per route run when a cornerback goes facemask to facemask with him.
In press coverage, Gilmore has allowed just one catch on 15 targets of 20 yards or more.
Kansas City’s other major weapon is tight end Travis Kelce.
This season Kelce hauled in 103 passes for 1,336 yards and ten touchdowns.
“He’s good. He’s athletic. He has a big catch radius, good quickness, savvy, he’s hard to tackle. He’s a really good player,” said Patriots safety Patrick Chung during his press conference on Thursday.
The Chiefs other weapons include running back Damien Williams and wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
New England safety Devin McCourty added “It’s vital for not just the secondary, but us as a whole defense. With so many weapons, whether it’s in the run game with Williams, all of the guys they put on the field to catch the ball, with [Patrick] Mahomes playing quarterback who’s going to have the ball in his hands every play, we have to be able to communicate and know what each guy’s doing out there."
The Patriots offensive line is coming off one of their best performances of the season last week against the Chargers.
Now they have to duplicate it on the road in a hostile environment.
“It is loud. Communication is going to be tough, but it just goes to us being a solid unit and relaying back to all of the things that we worked on this week,” said offensive lineman Shaq Mason earlier this week.
On the road this season, the Patriots offensive line has allowed two or more sacks on Tom Brady in five of the eight games.
Six of New England’s worst rushing performances came on the road this season as well.
This week the Patriots offensive line will face a Kansas City front that includes Chris Jones, Dee Ford, and Justin Houston.
Jones had 15.5 sacks this season, Ford had 13 sacks and Houston had nine.
"It’s a very good defense so a very good defensive line. You can’t play these guys from third-and-long, play them from behind and behind the sticks and let them tee up their pass rush. They’re very good and they can get home. They don’t have to do a lot of crazy things. They’ve just got good athletes that can rush the passer. It’s going to be a big challenge," said center David Andrews on Wednesday.
On communication in a hostile environment, Andrews added, "I think you just have to be very thorough. You can’t leave anything assumed and need to make sure everybody’s on the same page. You can’t work on a snap count so you have to be on the silent but I think that’s something we can do a good job of."
The Patriots road woes will come full circle in this game one way or the other in this game.
This season, the Patriots went 3-5 on the road, their worst road record since the 2009 season.
The record includes blowout losses at Jacksonville, at Detroit and at Tennessee, three teams who did not make the playoffs.
“I just look at those games individually and I know why we haven’t won those games individually. I don’t think it’s a broad, sweeping thing. It was a little bit in each game. I think the point of that is this is not the week to have less than our best. It’s a tough game. It’s a tough challenge. It’s tough to beat the number one seed on the road” said Brady during his press conference on January 16.
On the road this season, New England has been almost a completely different team.
Inside the friendly confines of Gillette, the Patriots averaged 33 points per game, but on the road just 22.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots gave up just 17 points per game at home, while giving up 24 on the road.
“Again, I think it’s about the team you play, and the Chiefs are good, so they’re tough. If you play them anywhere, they’re tough. They were tough here,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during his press conference on Friday.
The last time the Patriots won a playoff on the road was 2006 when they upset the San Diego Chargers.
To be fair, this is only the third road playoff game that the Patriots have played since then.
Getting off to a good start will be imperative for the Patriots in this game.
The Kansas City Chiefs have outscored opponents by a combined 147-56 in the first quarter, almost always playing from ahead.
“Starting fast is a huge advantage in the league, big time. Especially going on the road I would say and in a playoff atmosphere. It’s always good to start fast. If it doesn’t happen, you’ve got to catch up. It’s going to make the hole that much tougher to get out of if you don’t get a fast start,” said Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski during his press conference on Thursday.
Last week against the Chargers, the won the coin toss and took the ball to open the game. They proceeded to score four touchdowns on their first four offensive drives and cruise to a win.
If New England wins the coin toss this week, look for them to take the ball again and try to put some points on the board early.
A fast start also will keep the Kansas City crowd relatively quiet.
Arrowhead Stadium is known as one of the loudest, if not the loudest stadium in the league.
“I would certainly agree that it’s the loudest in the country based off of my experiences in this league. The one thing that we can do to control that is to try to play well and execute at a high level starting from the opening kickoff. Knowing we are going to have to deal with it at some point, we’ve worked hard to prepare ourselves to deal with so we will see how it goes,” added Matthew Slater on Friday.
If the Patriots don’t get off to a good start and spot Kansas City a lead, it may be tough to come back in that environment.
According to the National Weather Service, Sunday's weather in Kansas City is expected to be in the high 20s with winds up to 15 mph.
This is an improvement from the original weather forecast, which called for an arctic blast to hit the area.
“I’ve played in a lot of games over the years where weather’s a factor. You just dress for it and hopefully, our blood has thickened up enough here being in the Northeast to deal with some of the cold, which I think it has. Even days like today, they’re cold and they do a good job preparing you. It’ll be colder Sunday than it’s been at any point this year, so have a little mental toughness, a little physical toughness and just deal with it the best you can,” said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during his press conference on January 16.
Running back James White added, "You’ve just got to deal with it. Both teams have to deal with the elements so whatever it is, as Coach [Bill Belichick] will say, you’ve just got to go out there and play through it."
Brady is 24-4 in his career in sub-30 degree games and 5-1 in sub-20 degree games.
On the road, Brady and the Patriots are 8-3.
The cold weather will also be a factor in the kicking game.
Kick-offs will likely be returnable as the ball won't sail through the back of the endzone and field goals will seem a bit longer.
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