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AFC Conference Championship Game Breakdown and Picks

AFC Conference Championship Game Breakdown and Picks
Scott Engel Managing Director January 19, 2019 11:21AM EDT

Numbers, Matchups, Fantasy Picks and More for the AFC Conference Championship Game

New England’s Divisional Round win was their seventh in their past eight postseason games. This is their first road AFC Conference Championship Game since January of 2016, when they lost at Denver, 30-28. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have lost in their last three road AFC Conference Championship Game appearances, with their last win coming in 2004. Their last postseason road win was in 2006, as this is just their third road playoff game since then. Brady and Belichick are now 28-10 in the postseason together. Brady has not thrown an interception in his past four postseason games and has one in his last six.

The Chiefs won their second playoff game since 1994 and second under Andy Reid when they took down the Colts in the Divisional Round. Reid is now 2-4 in the postseason as a head coach of K.C. This is the Chiefs’ first appearance in the AFC Conference Championship Game since January of 1994. Their last Super Bowl appearance was in 1970 when they beat Minnesota. Reid is 12-13 all-time in the postseason and has lost three of four Conference Championship Games. The one time he won the NFC Title Game, he lost to Brady and Belichick in Super Bowl XXXIX.

These teams last met in Foxboro on October 14, with New England winning 43-40. Belichick is 6-2 vs. Reid overall and 2-0 in the playoffs. New England was 3-5 on the road this season and the Chiefs are 8-1 at home. The Patriots were 9-7 Against the Spread and the Chiefs were 9-6.

Kansas City was tops in the league in points scored during the regular season, and the Patriots were fourth. New England was seventh in points allowed, and Kansas City was 24th. The Chiefs were third in passing yards per game and New England was eighth. Defensively, New England was 22nd against the pass and Kansas City was 31st. The Patriots were fifth in rushing yards per game and the Chiefs were 16th. New England ranked 11th against the run defensively and Kansas City was 27th. New England was +10 in takeaway differential (fifth in the league) and K.C. was +9 (sixth).

Major concerns about the weather have dissipated somewhat, as the forecast at nflweather.com indicated 26 degree temperatures with winds of 10 mph with the temperature feeling like 19 degrees at kickoff. The game totals have dropped nonetheless throughout the week. As noted by the Washington Post, Brady is 24-4 in games with a kickoff temperature below 30 degrees, 12-1 in the playoffs. Mahomes did not play in a sub-30 game at Texas Tech and threw for 377 yards two touchdowns and an interception in a 27-degree game against Baltimore on Dec. 9, an overtime win vs. Baltimore.

Throwing for well over 350 yards vs. Baltimore is a positive sign that Mahomes can still be on his game if the forecast stays true to form when Sunday comes. In the first meeting with the Patriots this year, he threw for 351 yards and four touchdowns, but he was also intercepted twice. New England was creative as always in terms of bringing pressure, but Mahomes was not sacked in that game. Belichick is the ultimate master of challenging young passers, and he will likely have to find ways to contain Mahomes with little hope of shutting him down fully. As indicated by the ESPN NFL Matchup crew this week, the plan in the first game was to attempt to limit Tyreek Hill outside the 20s and focus more heavily on Travis Kelce inside the red zone.

New England was unable to stop Hill anyway, as he caught seven passes for 142 yards and three touchdowns. Kelce was limited to five receptions for 61 yards, Additionally, Sammy Watkins was held to 18 yards on two receptions. Hill and then-Chief Kareem Hunt did most of the receiving damage in that Week 6 meeting, with the RB catching five passes for 105 yards and a TD. Hill is the weapon that Belichick has not been able to defuse yet, though, as the WR caught seven passes for 133 yards and a TD vs. New England in 2017 as well. CB Stephon Gilmore may see more of Hill this time, and was Pro Football Focus’ top-graded cover CB in 2018. But attempting to stop Hill will open up other options for Mahomes. Kelce has five or more catches in four consecutive games vs. New England, including the postseason. Watkins could be more productive in this meeting with New England being very concerned about Hill and Kelce.

Hunt totaled 185 yards from scrimmage in the first meeting, and Williams is proving to be another potentially explosive dual threat. Spencer Ware has practiced fully, but even if he gets some touches this week, Williams should lead the Kansas City backfield in reps again and I would not expect it to be near an equal time share. Williams has simply looked more dynamic than Ware. He is looking for his fifth consecutive home game with a rushing TD and his versatility and likely role as the prime goal line option makes him a strong option in all Fantasy formats this week. If New England somehow keeps him in check as a runner he can compensate with receptions and short TD run opportunities to finish off drives.

Brady threw for 340 yards and a TD in the first meeting. He was sacked twice and fumbled twice, losing one. It’s a long-standing narrative that hitting and harassing Brady is the way to beat New England, and Kansas City’s pass rush has the front to do so, but the GOAT can compensate with quick-hitting flat and short passes. James White caught five passes for 53 yards in the first meeting and should be even more productive this week. White does have seven total TDs in his past five postseason games. The Chiefs allowed 895 receiving yards to RBs during the regular season, the third-highest total among AFC teams.

Michel rushed for 106 yards and two TDs in the first meeting, and after he enjoyed the best game of his career so far in the Divisional Round, Kansas City will be very wary of the rookie RB. So it will be interesting to see how Josh McDaniels prepares for that and keeps the Kansas City defense off balance. More runs for White and Rex Burkhead? An early emphasis on the passing game? You never know for sure with New England, although the obvious approach would be to ride the running game more and keep the K.C. offense off the field as much as possible.

Julian Edelman caught four passes for 54 yards and a TD in the first meeting, and with no Josh Gordon and a much lesser version of Rob Gronkowski this time around, he should be very busy and hard for Kansas City to corral. Gronk had three catches for 97 yards in the first meeting but realistically seems to only be a potential threat for a TD near the goal line now, if anything.

FANTASY TAKES: Forget the weather, Mahomes is a must-start if you carried him over to this round and he is the top option in any format. The other three Conference Championship QBs just don’t have his upside. Hill seeing more of Gilmore is a concern and should be a consideration in tight decisions vs. Michael Thomas. Kelce is the only TE to go with if you can, and Williams is a two-way threat with strong advancement possibilities. Michel may disappoint a bit as the Patriots come out with less work for him than in the last meeting, and White is a must-start. Edelman will be unstoppable but Gronk seems to be TD or bust. Brady cannot really stretch the field with anyone, so he’s not the best play for a statistical ceiling.

DFS VIEWS: In the FanDuel full weekend slate, which includes a Sunday Million contest. Mahomes is only $200 more than Drew Brees, so spend up and differentiate yourself elsewhere. Williams is a great play as the fifth RB on the price ladder at $7,200. Edelman is fairly priced at WR for $7,900 and Watkins is a good value play at $5,600. Kelce is $1,800 more than Gronkowski at 5,600, but I like going with the Mahomes/Kelce trio and pivoting elsewhere if I can.

GAME PREDICTION: The Patriots may have the coaching and experience advantages, but they won’t be able to fully limit the Chiefs, who simply have too many playmakers. If New England has to get into catch-up mode at all, they won’t be equipped to stay close enough. Kansas City simply cannot be shut down and the Patriots have the minds, but not the talent to overcome this time. I like the Chiefs to cover (-3) and I will take the under (56). Chiefs 30, Patriots 24.  

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