With the Patriots and Chiefs set to face off in the AFC Championship game Sunday, we asked our football writers Nora Princiotti, Jim McBride, and Ben Volin eight questions about the contest, and they answered, this time via e-mail:
Q. What kind of a factor will the conditions play, and which team do you think it favors?
McBride: I think the weather plays a factor in that it slows both offensive attacks. I don’t think it favors one team over another. Both teams practice and play in it. I think the crowd atmosphere likely will be more of a factor. Not sure you can simulate how loud Arrowhead Stadium gets just by pumping up the volume at practice.
Volin: It sounds like the temperatures are slowly creeping higher, so it will be sub-freezing, but not sub-zero. Either way it will be cold, and possibly slick, and I think that mostly favors the Patriots, who will try to run the ball and grind down the Chiefs defense. I could see the cold weather slowing down the Chiefs passing attack just enough, or maybe creating a few extra tipped balls on some of Patrick Mahomes’s rocket passes. But if the Patriots fall behind and have to throw a lot, they’ll be in big trouble.
Princiotti: I think the weather will be a factor but not a huge one. Now it seems like it’s going to be in the teens or 20s, not hovering around zero. The field is heated, so in theory it shouldn’t freeze, although I know players have been warned to be ready for that scenario. The Patriots have more experience in the cold and in big games in the cold, so if it’s really gnarly out there, I’d say it favors them. I’d worry about the kicking game more than anything else.
Q. Will we see a similar offensive attack from the Patriots as we did against the Chargers? If not, how do you think it will be different?
McBride: Definitely think the Patriots would love to use a similar attack this week. They’re such a week-to-week team, however, they probably have something different up their sleeves. Getting an early lead and grinding it out on the ground in the fourth quarter is what Bill Belichick loves. When backs pick up first downs and can keep the clock running in the fourth, that is when he’s his most animated on the sideline.
Volin: I think the concept will be similar — lots of short, quick passes to James White and Julian Edelman, with a heavy side dish of Sony Michel runs and play-action passes. But I think instead of relying too heavily on the fullback and two tight ends, I think the Patriots will try to spread the Chiefs defense out and dissect them with short passes and shotgun runs to White and Rex Burkhead, who is a sneaky guy to watch in this game.
Princiotti: I do think we’ll see a lot of Michel again, particularly in the poor conditions.
Q. Low-scoring or high-scoring game?
McBride: I see a low-scoring game. As high-powered as these offenses are, I think the backs play a big role.
Volin: Relatively low scoring, with both teams in the 20s. I’m definitely not expecting anything close to 43-40 this time. And I think the crowd noise and environment will make it tough for the Patriots to replicate last week’s success.
Princiotti: Is medium-scoring an answer? This feels like a game in the 30s to me. I guess that’s high, but who knows these days? I don’t think we’ll see the same amount of scoring we did from the Week 6 game.
Q. Most important thing the New England defense must do to try to slow Patrick Mahomes?
McBride: They have to get their hands up and in Mahomes’s face. You won’t get to him often but you have to make him alter his throws. Though with this no-look-pass nonsense, that might not work, either.
Volin: Give him a different look every snap. Change up the coverage series to series, or even play to play. Disguise the pass rush. Keep him guessing and make him process what the Patriots are throwing at him. Also, keep him contained. Mahomes is at his best when he is on the move and creating highlight-reel plays. Keep him in the pocket, and he can spray the ball at times.
Princiotti: Don’t give up the home-run plays. The Patriots really might have run away with that Week 6 game were it not for that.
Q. Will the Patriots be able to neutralize the pass rush again, with Tom Brady going untouched for the second straight week?
McBride: I think this pass rush gets to Brady at some point. Especially with Chris Jones being able to penetrate up the middle. Not allowing Brady to step and throw is a key.
Volin: I think they’ll have a tougher time in this area. The Patriots will be using a silent snap count because of the noise, and it will be difficult for the offensive line to get off the ball like it did last week against the Chargers. The receivers could have a tougher time getting off the line of scrimmage, making it easier for Jones, Dee Ford, and Justin Houston to get to Brady.
I see a redux of the 2016 AFC Championship game, when Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware ate the Patriots offensive line for lunch.
Princiotti: I don’t know about untouched. Ford, Houston, and Jones form an impressive triumvirate of pass rushers. The Chiefs were eighth in ESPN’s pass-rush win rate (55 percent) and ranked 13th in pressure rate according to Football Outsiders. They also did a phenomenal job against a very good Indianapolis offensive line last week.
That said, the Patriots will be balanced and able to run the ball, and Brady impressed (and thwarted) Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram by getting the ball out lightning-quick last week. The Chiefs will try to give him a little more pause than the Chargers did by playing man-to-man coverage as opposed to the zone Brady picked apart last week, and if they can, the pass rushers are certainly talented and able enough to get home.
The Chiefs defensive line against the Patriots offensive line should be one of the most interesting matchups this week.
Q. Brady’s biggest challenge this week?
McBride: Getting everyone involved. White and Edelman were spectacular last week, but more contributions from others is a must.
Volin: Getting the ball out quickly. Bosa and Ingram had no time to even lay a finger on Brady last week, because he got the ball out so quickly. If Brady has to pat the football or go to his second and third reads, watch out.
Princiotti: Working through his reads quickly and efficiently so he can keep getting the ball out fast enough to negate oncoming pressure.
Q. Who has more catches this week, White or Edelman?
McBride: White by a smidge.
Volin: Going with White, but only because he should have a few designed screen plays. Both should get between eight and 10 catches.
McBride: Dwayne Allen scores a touchdown!
Volin: Think the Patriots will hang tough and fight for 60 minutes, but don’t see it ending well for the local guys. Mahomes and that Chiefs offense are too good, the Patriots are too shaky on the road, and Arrowhead is as tough an environment as the Patriots will face in the NFL. Chiefs 27, Patriots 23.
Princiotti: Patriots 34, Chiefs 30.