New England and Kansas City will meet at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday night with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line in a rematch of the Patriots’ wild 43-40 win over the Chiefs back in October. The Patriots are showing up for their yearly reservation in the AFC Championship Game, appearing for the 13th time since the 2001 season and the eighth year in a row. They will face a Chiefs squad that won only its second postseason game since 1993 a week ago in a 31-13 romp over the Colts. Will Andy Reid in his 20th season as a head coach reach his second Super Bowl and finally lift the Lombardi Trophy? Or will Bill Belichick and Tom Brady reach football’s biggest stage for a ninth time? Let’s get into it.
Patriots at Chiefs (-3), Over/Under 56.5
How much of a factor will the Patriots’ mystique and experience play in this game? Sunday will mark the 39th postseason contest for Tom Brady. He’s 28-10 in the postseason and 8-4 in the AFC Championship Game. Here’s another way to look at: Brady is closing in on almost a full regular season’s worth of championship games. Amazing.
Historically speaking, quarterback experience matters when teams reach this round. Quarterbacks making their first start in a championship game when going against an opposing quarterback with championship game experience are only 6-12 SU since the 2000 season. In the AFC, teams with the inexperienced quarterback are a brutal 1-8 SU, including eight consecutive losses. The only AFC Championship Game virgin quarterback to win? Tom Brady, of course. He knocked off Kordell Stewart and the Steelers to reach Super XXXVI. For as good as Patrick Mahomes has been this season, this is certainly an angle worth considering given he will be making just his second postseason start.
On the other hand, it’s not like Reid is new to postseason football. He’s reached the playoffs in 14 of his 20 seasons as a head coach. Despite frequently guiding teams to the postseason, his visits have repeatedly ended in frustration and disappointment. Reid teams are 12-13 in the playoffs and only 1-4 in championship round contests.
What to like about the Patriots
There’s a lot to like about the Patriots. I mean, this is the Patriots we’re talking about here. Still, there some favorable trends specific to this game that those backing the Pats will like. New England hasn’t found itself in the role of the underdog frequently during Belichick’s tenure, but they are a good bet when they have been. Consider this: New England is 24-12-2 ATS as an underdog in regular season and playoff games under Belichick, including 6-2 SU over the last eight games. I find that to be particularly impressive considering when the Patriots are the dog, it’s easy to look at the line and say, “This must be a trap. There has to be a reason for this. Oddsmakers must know something.” Nope. The Patriots just do what they always seem to do, which is win.
Much has been made about the weather ahead of this game. Initial forecasts called for potential single-digit temperatures in Kansas City on Sunday night, but now predict temperatures in the mid-20s. Balmy. That’s good news for the Patriots. New England is 27-14-1 ATS since 2003 when kickoff temperatures are below freezing. There’s more. A lot more.
The Patriots have also won four-straight games in freezing temps, averaging 31.5 ppg in those contests. When temperatures drop below 25 degrees, they are 14-8 ATS since ’03, including wins in 8 of the last 10 games. They have outscored opponents by a 305-179 margin during that stretch. Moreover, they are 5-0 SU in their last five postseason games when the average temperature drops below 23 degrees. Got all of that? The takeaway here is that the Patriots have excelled in cold weather games.
What to like about the Chiefs
The Patriots are a good football team, but they haven’t been one on the road this season. New England was a perfect 9-0 at home, but struggled with a 3-5 record away from Gillette Stadium. What’s more, they averaged 12 ppg less on the road. There is also this:
Net Yards Per Play: Home (2nd), Road (26th)
Red Zone TD %: Home (6th), Road (26th)
Opponent 3rd Down Conversion %: Home (6th), Road (27th)
The home/road contrasts extend to their postseason history, too. I noted earlier the Patriots’ 28-10 postseason record under Belichick, but 20 of those wins came at home. They are only 8-7 in road and neutral site games (including the Super Bowl), and 3-4 in true road games. The Patriots are 1-3 SU and ATS in on the road in the postseason since 2003, and haven’t won a true road game since beating the Chargers during the 2007 playoffs.
Beyond New England’s suspect road performance, home field advantage has played a significant role in this round with the home team going a perfect 10-0 over the last five seasons, and the home team has won 10 of the last 12 AFC title games. That’s good news for the Chiefs and it doesn’t hurt that they are also exceptional at home. Kansas City is 8-1 SU (5-4 ATS) at Arrowhead Stadium this season, beating teams by 14.8 points per game. The often-criticized Chiefs defense has actually excelled at home, allowing only 17.4 ppg. That number is good for the NFL’s third-best mark. Meanwhile, Reid’s offense has averaged over 32 ppg and has yet to be held under 26 points at home in any game this season.
Those backing the Chiefs will also be happy to know that the last eight teams to win a divisional game by 14+ points and then host the championship game are 8-0 SU (4-4 ATS).
Considering these two teams combined for 83 points and only one punt in their first meeting, the total set at 56.5 points seems attainable. The two teams could spare three touchdowns and a field goal this time around and still hit the over. Both offenses are also clicking right now. The Patriots are averaging 29.2 ppg over their last five games while the Chiefs have put up 30.4 ppg in the same stretch. So HAMMER the over, right?
Not so fast.
The under has been lights-out at Arrowhead since Reid arrived in Kansas City, going 33-17-1, including in 11 of the last 14 games. The Chiefs’ defense has allowed almost a touchdown per game less than it does on the road. As noted earlier, the Chiefs have allowed a stingy 17.4 ppg at home this season, which in turn takes some of the pressure off the offense to score, thus making it difficult for games to reach the total number. That could explain, in part, why the Kansas City offense averaged nearly six points per game more on the road this season.
Reid’s teams have also consistently kept the number under the total in playoff games. The under is 15-9-1 in Reid’s 25 postseason games and 4-2 in this spot with the Chiefs.
Another pro-under note. There have been 61 games in the NFL since 2000 where temperatures were 19 or below. Only 11 of those games exceeded 56 points. Only 5 of 34 postseason games at those temperatures have gotten there. The game time temperature may be warmer than that benchmark, but keep an eye on it as we inch closer to kickoff.
The Chiefs opened as a consensus 3-point favorite and have held steady at that number throughout the week. As of Friday afternoon, 55% of the total point spread bets and 53% of the point spread money backs the Chiefs. In terms of the total, 48% of the bets and 44% of the money is on the over.
So where’s the value?
Those looking to take the Patriots with the points should head to DraftKings or SugarHouse where you can get them at +3 (+100) . If you want to lay the points with Chiefs, then head to FanDuel and take them at -3 (-115). Meanwhile, if you want New England on the moneyline, you should head to FanDuel and get them at +158 because they are currently offering the best payout.
Totals bettors on the over should grab it at 56 (-110) with either BetStars or FanDuel, while those on the under can grab 56.5 (-110) at DraftKings and SugarHouse.
Despite Brady’s “nobody believes in us” nonsense, the Patriots historically excellent performance in cold weather situations, and their vast postseason experience, I just can’t get past their dismal home/road splits. I think Kansas City is the better football team and typically cook at home. I don’t expect the weather to be much of a factor, but I do think each defense will make some plays this time around. I’m going to roll with the Chiefs and under.
Final Score: Kansas City 30, New England 23