By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots are underdogs. Perhaps you’ve heard? It’s been on the news.
And, as most people know, the Patriots being underdogs is a rare occurrence. The Patriots were favorites in Vegas for every game this season. And the year before that. The year prior, their only game as an underdog came in Week 1, when Jimmy Garoppolo was the great unknown at quarterback. (The Patriots won outright.) The Patriots may have technically been underdogs in Week 2 of the 2015 season at Buffalo, but that was only with the opening line; the Patriots were either favorites or a pick ’em by kickoff.
Really, the Patriots have not been true underdogs since a two-week stretch in the 2014 season — at Denver, at Indy. They won in Denver by 22 points, and they won in Indianapolis by 22 points (on a night now infamously known as The Time The Colts Tried The Worst Fake Punt In The History Of Organized Football.)
Clearly, those Patriots were undeterred by being considered the lesser team entering a weekend. You might rightly assume that they feel the same way now.
Yet it must be said that this week’s line of Kansas City -3 is not an insult to the Patriots. It is merely an acknowledgment that the Chiefs are a very, very good team, playing at home against a team that struggled mightily on the road. The Chiefs are favorites because they should be favorites. Even if it’s by only a slight margin, they’ve got a better chance of winning this game.
But — BUT! — as the week has gone on, there have certainly been many reasons to believe the Patriots can/should win this upcoming football game. And in the interest of #LayingItAllOutThere, here’s a compiled list of some of the most compelling reasons.
To be clear, nobody can possibly know exactly what will happen Sunday night. And historical influences don’t always have an effect on future outcomes. AND you could write one of these lists with reasons to feel good about the Chiefs’ chances.
But these nuggets are informative and interesting, nevertheless. I swear.
The Patriots beat the Chiefs this season.
Seems like a good place to start.
The Patriots tricked Patrick Mahomes into an early interception and capitalized on his shaky first half with an end-zone interception before halftime, taking a 24-9 lead into the locker room.
The Chiefs had an explosive second half, with the Patriots breaking down in coverage for not one but two passes of more than 67 yards. It took a Tom Brady/Rob Gronkowski/Stephen Gostkowski game-winning drive, but New England did win 43-40.
That was, of course, played in Foxboro, which has made a significant difference for the Patriots this year. They averaged 33 points per game at home this season, while averaging just 22 points per game on the road.
The Chiefs’ defense is very bad.
To be clear, the Chiefs’ defense is actually very good in one area: sacks. They tied for the league lead with 52 sacks, and that pass rush helped them make the ninth-most interceptions in the league (15). The pass rush was functioning properly last weekend against the Colts, when the Chiefs recorded three sacks. Defensive end Chris Jones also batted three passes.
Other than that, though, it’s bad. Really bad.
The Chiefs ranked …
31st in yards allowed
24th in points allowed
25th in third-down defense
31st in total passing yards allowed
16th in passing yards allowed per attempt
21st in yards allowed per catch
Tied for 22nd in passing touchdowns allowed
27th in total rushing yards allowed
31st in rushing yards allowed per attempt
Tied for 29th in rushing touchdowns allowed
Folks, there are only 32 teams in the National Football League. Ergo, those numbers are bad.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the Patriots’ best offensive day this season came against the Chiefs, when Tom Brady’s offense put up 500 yards. Considering the Patriots are coming off a 498-yard day of offense against the Chargers (after setting the ship on cruise control for the entire second half, no less), there’s reason to believe a repeat performance may be in order.
The Patriots are now 5-0 vs. playoff teams; the Chiefs are 3-3.
For as bad as the Patriots were on the road, the team managed to bring it against the best teams in the NFL. During the regular season, the Patriots went 4-0 against playoff teams, beating the AFC South, NFC North, and AFC West champions. By virtue of beating Indy early in the season and the Chargers in the divisional round, they also defeated both wild card teams.
It’s unclear what exactly to take from the Patriots going 7-5 against non-playoff teams.
The Chiefs didn’t fare quite so well against the cream of the NFL’s crop. They lost to the Patriots, Rams and Chargers, while picking up wins against the Chargers, Ravens (in overtime) and now the Colts.
An important distinction: Only one of those Patriots wins came on the road, and that was at Chicago, a victory that required a blocked punt for a touchdown, a kick return for a touchdown, and a goal line tackle on a Hail Mary. It was fairly dicey. Also, all of those regular-season games took place before Halloween, so it’s not entirely direct to simply say “the Patriots went 4-0 against playoff teams in the regular season.”
But there’s also this next one.
In a near-apples-to-apples comparison (at home vs. the Chargers), the Patriots dominated. The Chiefs lost.
Though the Chiefs ultimately held on to the AFC West crown, it was more or less on the line when the Chargers visited K.C. in mid-December. The Chargers trailed 14-0, 21-7 and 28-14, but they hung in, scoring two touchdowns in the final minutes of the game. They capped it off with a bold two-point conversion to waltz out of Arrowhead with a 29-28 victory.
Much more was on the line when the Chargers visited the Patriots. The Chargers once again fell behind 7-0, but quickly rallied to tie the score.
They then allowed the Patriots to score 31 straight points. It was a decimation. The final score of 41-28 doesn’t properly show that, but it was a total beatdown.
The Patriots’ strength of victory is unparalleled. The Chiefs’ is second-worst among playoff teams.
Strength of victory is used a tiebreaker in some scenarios. It’s simple, as it’s just the combined winning percentage of the teams that a certain team has beaten.
And given that we know the Patriots were great against playoff teams and not great against bad teams, it comes as no surprise that their strength of victory is tops among all the teams that made the playoffs. (That’s an important distinction, because a bad team like the Bucs can have an inflated strength of victory, on account of winning one game against a good team but not winning enough games to bring the number down.
The Patriots’ strength of victory during the regular season was .494.
The Chiefs’ strength of victory during the regular season was .401.
Only the Seahawks, at .400, had a lower strength of victory among playoff teams.
That tells you that, despite the 12-4 record, the Chiefs did most of their damage against weaker competition.
The fact that the Patriots dispersed of the 12-4 Chargers last week while the Chiefs beat the 10-6 Colts only adds to the discrepancy.
The Chiefs didn’t do so hot in prime time.
Everyone reacts differently when the lights turn on. The Chiefs can’t feel great about their response.
In six prime-time games this year, the Chiefs went 2-4. The wins came at home against the Bengals and at the Broncos. The losses came at home against the Chargers, and on the road against the Patriots, Seahawks, and Rams.
Now, the average margin of defeat in those four games was 3.5, so it’s not as if the Chiefs got blown out. But more often than not, they failed to do enough to win.
The Patriots, by contrast, went 4-1 in prime time, picking up home wins vs. Kansas City, Indianapolis, and Green Bay, while winning on Monday Night Football in Buffalo. The lone loss came in Detroit in Week 3.
Andy Reid is 1-4 in conference championship games. He’s not been super successful in the playoffs.
Andy Reid is a great offensive coach. His ability and eagerness to adapt to new concepts and to shape his offense around his unique quarterback has allowed him to remain atop his profession, despite an influx of young blood flooding the market.
But “Andy Reid” and “big games” have not been a pleasant pairing for the mustachioed man from Los Angeles. As a head coach, Reid owns a 12-13 postseason record. He’s won more than one game in a postseason just three times in his 13 appearances. In Philadelphia, he made four consecutive NFC Championship Games. His team lost three straight before finally winning in 2004. That team lost the Super Bowl … to Bill Belichick’s Patriots.
Belichick, by contrast, is 8-3 in conference title games, and he’s led the Patriots to two consecutive wins and three wins in the last four years.
When asked about his own burning desire to win a Super Bowl, Reid said this on Wedneday:
“It’s not about me,” Reid said. “You end up loving the guys you’re coaching and this is a unique group so I’m always pulling for them and whatever happens, happens. I’m good with that. I love doing what I’m doing.”
Whatever happens happens! Electric.
Belichick-coached Patriots teams are 10-0 when facing a QB in his first postseason as a starter.
If it’s your first year starting as a quarterback in the NFL, you’ve generally had a very bad time when facing the Patriots in the playoffs.
That speaks to the football acumen of the head coach, which makes its way down the entire coaching staff and the roster. It’s shown itself against rookie quarterbacks in general, but in the postseason, when QBs are inexperienced, Belichick’s defenses have found a way to win every time.
That list includes Marcus Mariota (2017), the immortal Blake Bortles (2017), the even more immortal Brock Osweiler (2016), Matt Schaub (2012), Tim Tebow (2011), Philip Rivers (2006), David Garrard (2006), Byron Leftwich (2005), Ben Roethlisberger (2004) and Jake Delhomme (2003). Not exactly a murderer’s row of talent. But the point still stands.
Tom Brady plays for the Patriots.
He’s really good.
Patrick Mahomes is electric, of course. The MVP. No-looks and side-arms galore. He’ll put some points on the board.
But let’s not call it a mismatch or anything. Brady was vintage Brady last weekend. There’s no reason to think he can’t or won’t be again on Sunday.
Julian Edelman. James White.
How do you cover the guy? Last week, we all talked about All-Pro slot corner Desmond King and how he would neutralize the impact of Edelman. All Julian did was catch nine balls for 151 yards, breaking the back of the Chargers numerous times along the way.
He and James White combined for nine receptions, 107 yards and a receiving touchdown against the Chiefs in Week 6 (plus 46 yards on seven combined rushing attempts, for good measure).
Two combined for 24 receptions (!) for 248 yards last weekend against L.A. — and the Chargers had a much better defense than the Chiefs.
The last time Edelman faced Bob Sutton’s Kansas City defense in the playoffs, he caught 10 balls for 100 yards. White caught just two passes, but for 39 yards. And that was back when the Chiefs had a top-five defense.
Those two are a problem for any team, but especially a team that struggles so mightily on defense.
The Patriots’ run game is clicking.
In the cold at the end of the season, the Patriots closed out December with back-to-back excellent days running the football. They ran for a ridiculous 273 yards and two touchdowns on 47 rushes against Buffalo, and they then ran for 131 yards on 30 carries vs. the Jets.
But those were non-playoff times (though the Bills’ defense was strong). Then came the playoffs … when Sony Michel had three touchdowns and topped 100 yards before halftime.
All told, in the past three weeks, the Patriots have averaged 186 yards per game and 5.04 yards per attempt, while scoring six touchdowns.
You already know how bad the Chiefs’ defense is against the run, and you can now know that the Patriots ran for 173 yards and three touchdowns against the Chiefs earlier this year. Sony Michel went for 106 yards and two scores, while James White averaged 6.5 yards per rush on his six carries. You can also now know that the Colts rushed for 87 yards on just 14 carries last week — a downright silly 6.2-yard average.
Forget about Tom Brady and the passing attack; the Chiefs are very vulnerable defensively on the ground.
It’s a different animal, running on the road, when your line can’t get the same jump off the snap that it can at home. That’s a factor. But when it comes to the ability to clear paths and outmuscle a defensive front seven, the Patriots have rounded into form as one of the better teams in the league.