A trip to the 2016 AFC Championship Game is on the line when the New England Patriots host the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday afternoon. It’ll be the first game of the divisional playoffs as both teams look to take one step closer towards reaching Super Bowl 50.
New England had a first-round bye, while Kansas City had a dominant 30-0 road victory over the Houston Texans. The winner will go on to face the winner of Sunday’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos.
The Patriots haven’t been underdogs all season, and that streak continues in the second round. They are five-point favorites over the Chiefs, according to vegasinsider.com. The over/under is 42.5 points.
NFL’s Hottest Team
Kansas City isn’t considered to be the NFL’s best team, and five of the remaining eight playoff teams have better odds to win Super Bowl 50. But there’s no doubt that the Chiefs are the NFL’s hottest team, and they’re hoping that carries over to Gillette Stadium.
Including the playoffs, Kansas City is on an 11-game winning streak, having not lost since they visited the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 18. No other NFL team even ended the regular season with more than four straight wins, and the Chiefs have largely done so in dominant fashion. All but one of their wins over this stretch have come by at least one touchdown, and Kansas City has defeated six teams by 14 points or more. The Chiefs have won with a defense that’s allowed more than 20 points just one time.
New England presents Kansas City with their biggest challenge since they began their winning streak . The Chiefs defeated the Broncos and Steelers, but Peyton Manning was injured as he had the worst game of his career and Landry Jones started over an injured Ben Roethlisberger. Before they embarked on their winning streak, Kansas City had lost four straight games to playoff teams.
Not Looking Like Super Bowl Champs
After their 9-0 start, the Patriots were Super Bowl favorites with a seemingly clear path to the big game at Levi’s Stadium. But four losses in their last six games has changed that, and New England appears somewhat vulnerable to a potential upset.
New England lost out on the No.1 seed in the AFC with two straight losses at the end of the season. While the Patriots suffered losses to the Broncos and New York Jets, they were also defeated by the lowly Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins. With various injuries to their receiving corps and running backs, the Patriots have had a difficult time scoring. Injuries to the defense have also hampered New England, and they aren’t completely healthy entering the divisional round.
But New England is getting some key players back, namely Julian Edelman and Chandler Jones, who didn’t play in Week 17. Tom Brady is playing as well as he’s ever played, giving the Patriots a distinct advantage over the Chiefs.
Banged Up Wide Receivers
Edelman hasn’t played in a game in two months, but the Patriots will get their No.1 receiver back on Saturday afternoon. The Chiefs saw their top wide out go down with an injury against the Texans, and the status of both receivers could play a major role in this weekend’s contest.
The return of Edelman should offer a major boost to New England’s offense. The wide receiver suffered a broken foot in the ninth game of the season, catching 61 passes for 692 yards and seven touchdowns before he got hurt. With Edelman on the field, the Patriots went 9-0, averaging 33.7 points per game. Without Edelman, the team went 3-4, scoring just 23.1 points per contest. The addition of Edelman is an important one, as Brady and Co. go up against the AFC’s No.2 scoring defense.
After Alex Smith failed to throw a touchdown pass to a wide receiver all of last year, Jeremy Maclin caught 87 passes for 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns for the Chiefs this season. But the veteran left the team’s first playoff game with an ankle injury, and it’s uncertain how effective he’ll be against New England. Kansas City received good news when the team learned that Maclin hadn’t torn his ACL, but the high-ankle sprain has Maclin listed as day-to-day, and he’s no guarantee to be on the field this Saturday afternoon.
No team has beaten Kansas City in almost three months, but their run should come to an end at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots have lost just one meaningful in game three years. After not throwing an interception in nine straight games, Alex Smith has been picked off five times in the last five games, and Kansas City can’t beat New England if the quarterback doesn’t play mistake-free football.
New England over Kansas City, 27-17