AFC Championship Game Set, and It’s Filled With Contrasts

The Kansas City Star
Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Kansas City Chiefs-New England Patriots AFC championship game is set, and some contrasts couldn’t be sharper.

New England might as well schedule these games. The Patriots are playing in the championship game for the 16th time in franchise history — the 13th time in the era of quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick, including eight straight.

The 1993 season marked Kansas City’s previous trip to the AFC title game, the Chiefs’ only appearance there since the NFL and AFL merged in 1970.

Brady is the sport’s most successful postseason quarterback, with five Super Bowl rings and eight AFC titles.

Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs’ second-year pro who has passed for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns, has reached the title game in his first season as an NFL starter.

Five minutes remained in the Patriots’ 41-28 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers in the divisional round when CBS commentators Jim Nantz and Tony Romo framed the matchup as the “legend versus the phenom.”

The teams know each other well, having met in the regular season each of the last two years. In Week 6 this season, the Patriots defeated the Chiefs, 43-40, in an entertaining game on Sunday Night Football.

The Chiefs lost for the first time this season that night but put up a fight against the AFC kingpins. Down 24-9 at halftime, the Chiefs took the lead early in the third quarter and made it 40-40 with three minutes remaining before Brady rallied the Patriots for a game-winning field goal on the game’s final play.

Mahomes passed for 352 yards and four touchdowns, Brady for 340 yards, and the quarterbacks will be this weekend’s game’s top storyline.

The 41-year-old Brady showed no signs of slowing down on Sunday with 343 passing yards and a touchdown. But his team is a three-point underdog in a game, including the playoffs, for the first time since the 2016. In that game, the season-opener, Brady was serving a suspension. In games Brady has started, the Patriots had been favored in 67 straight games.

In Saturday’s 31-13 victory over the Colts, Mahomes passed for 278 yards, helping the Chiefs to their first playoff victory since 2015 and first at Arrowhead Stadium since 1993.

The Patriots will be looking for their first road playoff victory since the 2006 season, losing three straight to Peyton Manning teams, and they’ll seek it in a place where their most recent visit didn’t end well. In 2014, the Chiefs handled the Patriots, 41-14.

“That was a pretty crappy loss that night,” Brady said after Sunday’s game.

Starting with that game, the teams have played four times, and the Chiefs have scored at least 40 in three of the games.

Brady expects to get the Chiefs’ best shot.

“Kansas City’s had a helluva year,” Brady said. “They gave us everything we could handle in October. I’m sure it will be the same. They’re well-coached with a good offense and their defense played well against the Colts. It’s going to be fun to play them in the championship game.”