Tale of the Tape: Kansas City vs. New England
The Patriots will travel to Kansas City next Sunday to battle the top-seeded Chiefs for the chance to make their third consecutive Super Bowl appearance (and fourth in the last five years). The last time these two met, in October, it was an instant classic. How will it go down this time?
WHEN THEY LAST MET
Arrowhead Stadium has been a notoriously tough place for New England in recent years (remember the "We're on to Cincinnati" game?), but at home the Patriots have fared better. Back on Oct. 14, the Pats jumped out to a 24-9 halftime lead on KC in Foxboro, before the Chiefs rallied and took a 40-33 lead in the fourth quarter. But the Pats tied it three minutes to go and Stephen Gostkowski came through with a field goal as time expired to let New England escape with a wild shootout victory.
AGAINST COMMON OPPONENTS
Jacksonville and Pittsburgh delivered New England two of its five losses in 2018. But against the Chiefs, though, the Jaguars and Steelers were no match, getting outscored a combined 68-42.
HOW THEY RANK: OFFENSE
Breakout star Patrick Mahomes has been the catalyst for one of the NFL's most explosive offenses. Nobody averaged more yards per game in the regular season than the Chiefs (426), but the Patriots weren't too far behind, ranking fifth (393.4).
HOW THEY RANK: DEFENSE
The 2018 season saw prized cornerback Stephon Gilmore evolve into one of the NFL's elite shutdown corners, but otherwise it's been the customary bend-but-don't-break mantra for the Patriots, who ranked 21st in the regular season for total defense. Good news, though -- KC ranked second to last.
One man -- Tom Brady, the GOAT -- needs no introduction. The other, Patrick Mahomes, may take home the MVP award in a few weeks after a transcendent first full season under center, becoming just the third quarterback in NFL history to throw for 50 touchdowns in a season. Mahomes' 50 mark ties Brady's magical 2007 campaign for second-most in a single season.
GRONK OR KELCE?
It's been a turbulent season for the ailing Rob Gronkowski -- and, if you believe the rumors, it could be his last. But Travis Kelce has emerged as one of the NFL's most dangerous tight ends after one of the most statistically outstanding receiving seasons by a tight end in recent years, catching a team-high 103 passes for 1,336 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Workhorse rookie Sony Michel has saved his best football for January, rushing for three first-half TDs as the Patriots rolled in Sunday's divisional playoff, and he looks like he should be a long-term staple in New England. Since the Chiefs released Kareem Hunt in late November, it's been a helter-skelter production out of the backfield. They went 3-2 down the stretch with just two games over 100 rushing yards as a team, but Damien Williams was excellent in Saturday's rout of the Colts, rushing 25 times for 129 yards and a TD.
MOST DANGEROUS WEAPON?
For the Patriots, that honor probably falls unto Michel or Cordarrelle Patterson, the speedy receiver/returner who this season added running back to his resume when New England was short on tailback depth. For the Chiefs, that honor is most definitely Tyreek Hill, who's become one of the NFL's most feared open-field threats. It was only two years ago that Hill joined the immortal Gale Sayers as the only rookies in history with two-plus rushing TDs, two-plus receiving TDs, a punt and kick return TD in a season. Over the last three years, Hill has had 21 plays of 40 or more yards from scrimmage, and is averaging just over 13 yards a touch for his career as either a rusher or receiver. In two games against the Pats he has 14 catches for 275 yards and 4 TDs.