A.F.C. State Of Mind, Part II



PATRIOTS: They are done. The dynasty days are over. Bill Belichick has lost this team. Tom Brady is past his prime and the 2017 season was the last we saw of him playing at an elite level. That’s everything that’s been said about them when they were on that shocking two game losing streak back in December. Here’s what I’ll say. You can continue to write them off, but they will always find a way back into the headlines especially with how they go about their business. Here’s the thing. They didn’t play their best football season and they weren’t the strongest away from Gillette this year, but at this point, that means absolutely nothing because the postseason is a completely different ball game. Usually, the Patriots finish the year with a 12-4, 13-3 and sometimes 14-2 record. This was one of their weaker records and here they are again with one of the top seeds in the AFC Playoffs. They know how to regroup, fix the issues at hands which allows them to get back into the swing of things. As the regular season ended, they finished the season winning their final two games to give them an 11-5 record. What you saw against the Los Angeles Chargers should show you that they’re never out of it. Last Sunday was the best I’ve seen them look since the month of November. They used the running game to establish Sony Michel, they got James White his looks early on and when you play a zone scheme with seven defensive backs which gives up space underneath, that’s basically playing into Brady’s game of getting rid of the football quickly and to his receivers. What makes their offensive attack even more impressive in that game is Gronkowski didn’t have much of an impact as he’s known too, but he threw some key blocks and drew attention as he always does. The defense of course gave up some big plays as they’re known to do because of the bend don’t break mentality, but they did a lot to confuse Philip Rivers. They took a page out of the Ravens playbook and played quite a bit of cover zero (no safety deep) and crowded the line of scrimmage which sent about four or five guys blitzing at one time which is very difficult to defend. For the eighth straight season, the New England Patriots will be playing in the AFC Championship game. To win the conference for the third straight season, they will travel to Arrowhead Stadium to face the top seed in the AFC.

CHIEFS: As great as they’ve been this year, they’ve had their flaws as most football teams do. The offense was incredible all year long. When you think of a prolific offense, you think of a team scoring 35 points per contest. The Kansas City Chiefs did that throughout the year, but there were times when they could grind games out and they didn’t need 30 plus to prove a point. The game that comes to my mind is the showdown with the Baltimore Ravens on December 9th. They were down for most of the game until they turned it on and won that game, 27-24. As strong as the offense has been, the defense has been terrible so I’m not going to get away from that because it’s the truth. Last Saturday, they opened the second round of the playoffs against the Indianapolis Colts. That was their most complete victory of the season. Coming into the game, I wondered how the Chiefs were going to attack a pretty good Indy defense and they did exactly what I said they’d do which was go underneath with the drag routes because the Colts play a Tampa 2 zone which gives up space and Mahomes picked the zone look apart. They were able to establish a consistent running game, something they’ve struggled to do since the release of Kareem Hunt. What grabbed my attention was their defense! They showed up and stepped up. They made tackles, covered in the back-end, they stopped the run and made it miserable for Andrew Luck all game long. They needed that intensity from their defense and that saying really is true: It doesn’t matter what you do in the regular season because the playoffs are a completely different ballgame. This is one of the biggest games in franchise history for this team. To get to Atlanta, they will need to take down the defending conference champions.

PATRIOTS PLAYER TO WATCH: Sony Michel– I think the Patriots have found their running back. Last season, they had a back by committee issue. Now, they have a guy that can get his carries and he’s your guy that can get his touches on third down. I was a big fan of his during his college days at Georgia with his skillset and I know he’ll have a very nice career at this level for years to come. He got his touches in the win against the Chargers and when you keep feeding him the ball, he’ll continue to do something with it. I see the Patriots establishing him early on to slow the game down.

CHIEFS PLAYER TO WATCH: Sammy Watkins– He was a game-time decision in the divisional round. Mahomes found him for some quick passes and he made plays with the football. I know he’s had some difficulties with staying healthy, but when he is, he’s an added weapon for this Chiefs offense. New England will do everything to shut down Tyreek Hill. Watkins can release well off the line of scrimmage, he can cut on a dime and has breakaway speed to get a big chunk of yards.

FINAL ANALYSIS: After they met back in week six, I said to myself that we could see this match up again, but for more on the line. Three months later, here we are for a trip to Atlanta, Georgia for the chance to play in Super Bowl 53. Their regular season showdown was one of the five best games I had seen all year long in either the NFL or college football. We saw points in that so best believe we’ll see them again. The Chiefs were all over Luck last weekend, they’ll need to do the same with Brady in town. If you play like Chargers did against the Patriots, you’ll be down big early and 12 will carve people up. There are a few match ups in this game I’m watching. The first is the Patriots offensive line against this Chiefs defensive front. If they can rattle Brady early and collapse the quarterback’s pocket, it will force the Patriots offense to be out of sync. The second match up is the New England secondary against Travis Kelce. Kelce has been an absolute monster this year and I love how the Chiefs use him. He runs screens and with the ball in his hands, he moves as fluidly as a wide receiver. The key for the Patriots is Brady simply being himself. They will win if he plays his game and Gronkowski is more involved within the offensive scheme. The weather is expected to extremely frigid (potentially 10 degrees at kickoff). I’m all the way ready for this game! Let’s see who will represent the AFC in Atlanta at the Benz.