Turnovers Will Be Key to Patriots Victory in Battle for AFC Championship Bid

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Turnovers Will Be Key to Patriots Victory in Battle for AFC Championship Bid
Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

"One stupid play, one stupid penalty, one mistake, ends it for all of us."

Bill Belichick famously uttered those words in 2009, ahead of his team's wild-card meeting with the Baltimore Ravensin the A Football Life documentary that followed the New England Patriots head coach through the season.

That sentence is playoff football in a nutshell, but especially with regard to the divisional-round meeting between the Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs this Saturday at Gillette Stadium. 

Patriots vs. Chiefs turnover battle
Team Patriots offense Chiefs defense
Turnovers 14 29
Turnovers/drive 6% (1) 15.6% (3)
Interceptions 7 22
Interceptions/drive 3.8% (1) 12.3% (2)
Fumbles 7 7
Fumbles/drive 2.2% (2) 3.4% (25)

Sources: Pro-Football-Reference.com; FootballOutsiders.com

All season long, one of the foremost tenets of the Patriots offense has been its ability to protect the football. Their 14 turnovers are the fewest in the NFL.

According to Football Outsiders, they are No. 1 in the NFL in turnovers per drive at a six percent clip, and they are also No. 1 and 2 in interceptions and fumbles per drive, respectively.

Their ball security will be tested against a Chiefs defense that has forced turnovers at an equally impressive rate; with 29 turnovers, the Chiefs ranked fifth in the league.

Football Outsiders calculated the Chiefs' turnovers per drive to be the third-best in the NFL and their interceptions per drive as the second-best, although they ranked 25th in fumbles per drive.

Something's got to give. And if the recent past is an indication, it might be New England's offense that does the giving. The Patriots have at least one turnover on offense in eight of their past nine games; the Chiefs have forced at least one turnover in each of their past 13 games, including 11 straight wins.

The Chiefs aren't just getting turnovers; they're turning them into points. According to SportingCharts.com, the Chiefs' 119 points off turnovers are third-most in the NFL. 

"Coach [Belichick] talks about the turnover margin that's been heavily in their favor, especially in their wins down the stretch," said wide receiver Julian Edelman. "I think they do a great job of complementary football. ... When they get turnovers they turn them into points, and when you turn them into points, they're good in the kicking game and when they're good in the kicking game, the defense can tee off.

"It kind of creates this snowball effect and the game is out of hand and just what happened last week to Houston. Before you know it, they have a seven-point lead on the opening kickoff and then you already feel like, 'Man we've got to start getting back into this game.' You don't want to be down 14-0 in the middle of the second quarter. That's not the way to play this team."

Patriots recent playoff games
Year Opponent Result Turnovers
2010 NYJ L 28-21 1
2011 DEN W 45-10 2
2011 BAL W 23-20 3
2011 NYG L 21-17 1
2012 HOU W 41-28 0
2012 BAL L 28-13 3
2013 IND W 43-22 0
2013 DEN L 26-16 0
2014 BAL W 35-31 1
2014 IND W 45-7 1
2014 SEA W 28-24 2

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

If anyone would know about the snowball effect, it's the Houston Texans. Chiefs running back Knile Davis ran back the opening kickoff 106 yards for a touchdown, and it was all downhill from there.

The Chiefs generated five turnovers against the Texans in the Wild Card Round, including four turnovers on their first six offensive possessions en route to a 13-0 halftime deficit.

The Patriots aren't likely to have that kind of game—though it wouldn't be the first time—but the outcome may not hinge entirely on turnovers. 

The Patriots have proven they can overcome turnovers in the postseason (multiple turnovers in three of their seven playoff wins from 2010-2013), but they've also lost games where they've stayed relatively clean on the turnover sheet (one or zero turnovers in three out of their four playoff losses). 

Brady threw two interceptions and lost a fumble in the Patriots' 41-14 loss to the Chiefs last season. That's not going to cut it if the Patriots want to get out of the divisional round with their Super Bowl hopes still in tact. 

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained via team news release. 

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