Temperatures are expected to be frigid for the AFC Championship Game in Kansas City on Sunday, but if the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots' first meeting in Week 6 is any indication, these offenses will be hot.
Back in Week 6—Oct. 14 at New England—the Patriots beat the Chiefs, 43-40, thanks to a 28-yard field goal as time expired. It was the Chiefs' first loss of their 2018 season. The game came down to the who had the ball last, which lends to the belief that the AFC is either team's to take.
But now it's Kansas City's turn to have home-field advantage.
Even while a slight favorite, Kansas City is an unspoken underdog because this is New England's eighth consecutive AFC Championship Game compared to Kansas City's first since the 1993 playoffs. The Chiefs' Super Bowl drought is the second-longest in the NFL behind only the New York Jets.
Below is a look at updated odds ahead of Sunday evening's contest as well as statistical predictions for four offensive X-factors.
Odds are provided by OddsShark.
New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs (-3) | O/U 55.5
Much will be made about the age difference between 41-year-old Brady and the Chiefs' 23-year-old second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes. That point is warranted, but at the same time experience is the most coveted quality in the postseason, and nobody has more experience than Brady.
There are few unflattering statistics associated with Brady, but one of them is the Patriots' 2-3 record on the road in conference championship games in the Brady era. More specific to this season, the Pats went 3-5 in away games in the regular season.
The last time the Patriots played in an AFC Championship Game away from Gillette Stadium was the 2015 AFC title game in Denver, which New England lost.
"It's tough to beat the No. 1 seed on the road," Brady said this week according to The Concord Monitor. "That's the reality, just like we're tough to beat at home when we're the No. 1 seed. It takes a lot. It takes a lot of good football. It takes a great complementary game. All three phases have to be on point. We're going against a team that scores a lot of points."
One factor that won't show up in the box score is the chip Brady is carrying on his shoulder, as the future Hall of Fame quarterback said after beating the Chargers in the divisional round that "everyone thinks we suck." That in itself should scare the Chiefs defense.
Even so, the question must be asked—even if he does defy science with every passing year—will the harsh weather bring out an aging Brady?
Prediction: Brady does what Brady does; 20-of-32 passing for 325 yards, two touchdowns and a pick
Earlier this week, Mahomes became the first Chiefs player to win the PFWA MVP and Offensive Player of the Year, but will he also be the first Chiefs quarterback since Len Dawson to lead the franchise to a Super Bowl?
NFL Research tweeted a side-by-side comparison of Brady and Mahomes' first seasons as starters. This season, Mahomes—among other things—finished the regular season with 50 touchdown passes and a 113.8 passer rating; both of which are better marks than Brady had in 2001.
However, Brady won Super Bowl XXXVI in his first season as a starter. In order for Mahomes to be able to say the same, he has to go through Brady.
All of which is to say the only stats that matter when it comes to Mahomes are the numbers he puts up on Sunday.
The only other time Mahomes has faced the Patriots defense, he completed 23-of-36 passes for 352 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. He also was not sacked, which will be all the more important—as is everything—in an AFC Championship Game.
Against the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round, Mahomes did not throw a touchdown or exceed the 300-yard mark. His lone touchdown came on a scramble, and his playmaking ability was as poignant as any other game this season despite the lower numbers.
The Chiefs will take the AFC Championship in whichever package Mahomes delivers it.
Prediction: Mahomes strikes 27-of-35 times for 350 yards, three touchdowns and a pick
The 23-year-old rookie running back feasted against the Los Angeles Chargers in the divisional round. Michel had rushed for 100 yards and three touchdowns before halftime—finishing the game with 129 yards and those three touchdowns on 24 carries.
The statistic most relevant to Michel against the Chiefs, though, is one from the Chiefs and Colts divisional-round matchup. While the Colts only scored 13 points, Indianapolis averaged 6.2 yards per attempt on the ground.
Why Indy head coach Frank Reich didn't choose to take advantage of the Chiefs' porous rush defense is a mystery, but don't expect Bill Belichick to be as negligent on a bitterly cold night in Kansas City that begs teams to avoid the pass.
Prediction: Michel keeps eating; 15 carries for 115 yards and two touchdowns
Notice Kelce's presence on this list and Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski's absence. Both star tight ends will make an impact on this game, but only Kelce will appear notably statistically.
The divisional round was the perfect case study. Kelce was the Chiefs' leading receiver with seven catches for 108 yards. The 29-year-old didn't find the end zone, but he didn't have to. Similarly, Gronk only hauled in one ball for 25 yards; it was his blocking that contributed to points for the Patriots.
Gronkowski is also 29 years old, but his body is not the same kind of 29 as Kelce's, which at the very least partially explains Kelce's heightened ability to contribute in the passing game.
The Patriots tight end commented on what makes his counterpart special, per Doug Kyed of NESN:
"The way he can move, the savviness he has is second to none. The way he can go up on a defender and plant one way and go another at his size, his speed is what makes tight ends special in this league."
What Gronkowski is alluding to is exactly what opens up the Chiefs offense for other weapons such as Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins because the big play could just as likely be coming from the 6'5", 260-pound tight end.
Prediction: Kelce opens up with offense while gaining crucial yardage to keep Brady off the field; six catches for 90 yards but no touchdowns
The Chiefs mostly withstood a 100-yard rushing game from Michel the first time around, as mentioned, but this time around the Chiefs can't afford for both Michel and White to have 100-yard days as they did in the divisional round against the Los Angeles Chargers.
In the 41-28 win over the Chargers, White tied the NFL record for postseason receptions in a single game with 15 catches for 97 yards. The dual-threat running back did not record a single carry, but his receiving out of the backfield added an unstoppable element to the Patriots' running game that the Chargers could not stop.
The Chiefs will likely account for White in the passing game, and that's when—knowing Belichick—he will be used as a pure running back.
Prediction: White continues to contribute in the passing game with five catches for 75 yards and rushes the ball seven times for 50 yards and a touchdown
There is perhaps not a player in the NFL more unpredictable than Tyreek Hill, but let's try to peg him anyway.
Against the Patriots in October, Hill was the leading receiver for both teams with 142 yards and three touchdowns. The most telling part of his stat line from that game is that it only took him seven catches to accumulate all of that, which is what makes him Cheetah.
Hill's unparalleled speed presents an issue for every defense. Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore will be tasked with trying to keep up with him on Sunday, which he has been preparing for in practice with an unnamed scout team player "mimicking" Hill's speed, according to Nicole Yang of Boston.com.
If Hill can avoid re-injuring his foot that was bothering him at the end of the regular season, he's good for at least one game-changing play—even if the dagger comes in the form of a 36-yard end-around touchdown like it did against the Colts.
Prediction: Hill is off to the races for 110 yards and two touchdowns on nine catches