The AFC Championship kicks off Sunday evening between the Patriots and Chiefs. For this game and every postseason contest, we’ll break down the sports betting lines and recommend where to place your bets at DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook.
Keep an eye on injury news right up until kick off since things can change quickly in the NFL. Please note any player listed as questionable may see limited action or not suit up at all if he doesn’t respond well in warm-ups.
AFC Championship Football Betting Odds
New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs
AFC Championship Football Breakdown
Like the NFC Championship, the AFC title game features an intriguing rematch between teams that combined for at least 80 points in a thrilling regular season showdown.
However, while the Saints and Rams could replicate that shootout in a dome, this contest is shaping up as far more of a defensive struggle given the weather. Temperatures in Kansas City are expected to be somewhere between zero and 20 degrees. That makes this potentially the coldest game in the 50-year history of Arrowhead Stadium.
We’ve seen 11 playoff games in the Super Bowl Era with temperatures below 10 degrees at kickoff. No team has gone over 30 points in those contests. It’s worth noting the grass field at Arrowhead is heated, and the sidelines will assuredly be as well. Therefore, sub-zero temperatures would be less of a factor than at some other stadiums.
Tom Brady is 5-1 in games with temperatures below 20, but the Pats won most of those games on the strength of their defense. Brady posted a putrid 49.1 passer rating in a frigid loss to Baltimore in the Wild Card Round of 2009. While Brady and the Patriots have been nearly invincible in home playoff games, they haven’t won a road playoff game since 2007 and are 0-3 in AFC title games on the road since then.
New England ranked 21st in PPG (21.9) on the road this season. They went 3-5 against the spread away from Gillette Stadium. The Pats were also 1-4 on grass fields this season and 31-21 on grass since 2007. That’s when Gillette went to artificial turf.
The Chiefs defense was horrible on the road but allowed the sixth-fewest PPG (18) at home. That number is down to 17.4 PPG after they held the Colts to 13 points last Saturday. Visiting QBs have posted a 74 passer rating with an 11:12 TD:INT ratio at Arrowhead. Moreover, the Chiefs have compiled 31 of their league-leading 53 sacks at home.
KC did face a soft home schedule and allowed 36 PPG to playoff teams, but this is not a good matchup for the Patriots’ diminished offense. Sure, NE hung 43 points on KC in a shootout win in October, but the Chiefs defense has made great strides. It also comprises completely different personnel at this juncture.
Justin Houston is back to provide an elite pass rushing presence opposite Dee Ford. Former all-pro safety Eric Berry (heel) is practicing in full and plans to suit up. Meanwhile, backup safety Daniel Sorensen is also available after missing the Week 6 clash with the Pats. KC has also cut struggling corners Ron Parker and Josh Shaw, who gave up a ton of production in the previous matchup.
Primary Pats WR Julian Edelman should see a heavy dose of veteran CB Orlando Scandrick instead of Shaw. And CB Charvarius Ward is playing much better in relief of Parker. Edelman is likely to see the bulk of targets in this matchup, as the Chiefs allowed a 78% completion rate on passes over the middle within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage.
Since the Chiefs can generate a ton of pressure with their front four, this matchup is eerily similar to the Patriots’ struggles against a Broncos team that sent them home with a 26-16 loss in the 2013 AFC Championship.
KC blitzes just 21% of the time on third down but got home plenty with the seventh-best adjusted sack rate (8%) in the NFL. Defensive tackle Chris Jones tallied a team-high 15.5 sacks, including a strip sack of Brady in October.
The Pats’ offensive line led the NFL in adjusted sack rate (3.8%), but Brady absorbed 13 sacks in eight road games. He’s been terrorized in his last two trips to Arrowhead. The all-time great posted a 50.4 passer rating with a 2:6 TD:INT ratio while taking five sacks in two double-digit losses.
The Chiefs played a lot of Cover-1 and stacked the box against the Pats in October, but Sony Michel still churned out 106 rushing yards on 24 carries. While New England’s offensive line ranked a disappointing 29th in power run blocking, the Pats were able to bully the smaller Chargers on the ground in the Divisional Round. They will now assuredly look to pound the rock given the weather and the matchup. KC ranked dead last in DVOA rush defense and coughed up 5.0 YPC this season. The Chiefs allowed an above-average 4.4 YPC on interior rushes. Michel runs in that spot 35 percent of the time.
The Chiefs ranked 21st in DVOA pass defense against RBs. James White has emerged as the Pats’ 1B option in the passing game. KC yielded 97 receiving yards to Rob Gronkowski in Week 6 and have allowed a league-high 11 receiving TDs to TEs. After hanging in to block most of last week, Gronk should run far more pass patterns now. He’s the biggest matchup concern for the Chiefs when they play Cover-3 zone.
Throughout the season, the Chiefs have given receivers a cushion and forced opponents to beat them with long drives. They were dead last in 3-and-outs forced. They also allowed the fewest scoring drives of four plays or fewer.
Brady loves to matriculate the ball down the field, and the Pats should look to capitalize on that scheme with short crossers. White is looking likely for double-digit receptions again since the Chiefs allowed the fifth-most receiving yards (894) to his position.
Yet the Patriots lack a deep threat with Josh Gordon gone. That makes it much easier for a defense to gamble on shorter passes. Phillip Dorsett and Chris Hogan are hardly threatening on the outside. And KC can play single coverage against those mediocre receivers with far more success than the Chargers had playing zone against Brady.
The Chiefs’ offense led the league in just about every category. Their average of 35.3 PPG was the most in NFL history. KC also became the first team ever to score 25-plus points in each game throughout a season.
Bill Belichick‘s Patriots have coughed up 40 points or more only seven times during his tenure. But three of those occasions came against Andy Reid‘s Eagles or Chiefs.
Patrick Mahomes is playing with poise beyond his years and had a full arsenal of weapons with Sammy Watkins (foot) playing 81 of 87 snaps last Saturday. Former all-pro guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (leg) is practicing in full now. He appears on track to play for the first time since Week 5.
Facing freezing temperatures, the Chiefs leaned on their ground game to build an early lead on the Colts. Mahomes wasn’t asked to do too much in his first playoff start. He’s played in one other career game with sub-freezing temps. Then, he completed 35-of-53 passes for 377 yards and 2 TDs in an overtime win at Baltimore.
The Chiefs averaged a league-high 4.1 TDs per game at home, but Mahomes surprisingly absorbed 17 sacks at Arrowhead. The Pats ranked 30th in adjusted sack rate this season. And the Chiefs’ offensive line ranked fifth (5.4%), so pressure shouldn’t be a big issue for Mahomes. He’s also tremendously dangerous when flushed out of the pocket, so Belichick may implement a game plan designed to keep him contained and hope Mahomes tries to thread the ball into tight coverage.
On that note, turnovers should be a huge factor in this game. KC had multiple turnovers in just four games this season and lost three of those contests. But the Pats created just 10 turnovers over eight road games.
The Patriots’ defensive line was below average in run defense, according to advanced metrics, and yielded 5.1 YPC on the road. Damien Williams hung 150 scrimmage yards on a Colts defense that had been elite against the run all season. He should fill in just fine for Kareem Hunt, who shredded the Pats in recent meetings. Darrel Williams handled three carries and converted a short TD, but Spencer Ware (hamstring) is practicing in full now. He appears ready to regain his spot as the 1B option behind Damien Williams.
Since Belichick’s teams often key in on the opposition’s top receiver, this is a tough matchup for his scheme. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce accounted for 50.8% of targets and 49.4% of receptions for the Chiefs this year. Kelce is a bigtime red-zone threat. Unfortunately for them, the Pats allowed the fifth-most receiving TDs (8) to TEs this season. Yet they’ve done a much better job of limiting Kelce than Hill in previous meetings.
Surprisingly enough, NE coughed up the 10th-most pass plays (57) of 20-plus yards this season. Hill moves all around the formation and has torched the Pats for 275 yards and 4 TDs in two career meetings.
If Belichick looks to double one or both of those targets, Mahomes can spread the ball around to Chris Conley (played 54 snaps last Saturday) and TE Demetrius Harris (37 snaps). Both gained his trust while Watkins rested during most of the second half of the season. DeMarcus Robinson fell out of the rotation with Watkins back.
AFC Championship Picks
Andy Reid is a mastermind at creating a game script and getting his team off to hot starts. But he struggles down the stretch to manage close games. His inexperienced QB could also make mistakes in pressure-filled spots, so Chiefs fans should be concerned if it’s a one-possession game in the fourth quarter.
Chiefs DC Bob Sutton spent 13 seasons on the Jets’ defensive coaching staff before joining the Chiefs staff in 2013, so he’s very familiar with Brady and the Pats. He has the personnel necessary to create Brady’s kryptonite: a four-man rush that can collapse the pocket from the outside while seven defenders drop into coverage.
New England would have to play close to a flawless game to pull out this road win. That’s not out of the question given the history of this QB-coach tandem. But the smart money is on the Chiefs (-3) to get ahead early, negate the Patriots’ ground attack, and pressure a 41-year-old QB until the Pats are forced to fold late.
The Patriots are 16-1 in the playoffs against teams they haven’t faced during the regular season (the sole loss coming to Philadelphia in the Super Bowl last year) and just 12-9 against teams they have. Superior coaching is more important during an initial matchup than the rematch.
KC has given up only 18 PPG at home in part because of the weak competition visiting Arrowhead. The Chiefs are 31st in red-zone defense and allowed a league-high 72.4% TD-rate in the red zone. New England is sixth in pace, and KC is fifth when leading by 7-plus points this season. Both teams are top five in pace during the first half, and both coaches will be going all out to build an early lead. Thus, game flow will be of the utmost importance.
The point total continues to fluctuate along with the weather. It opened at 59 points, dropped down to 55, and has seen a slight rise with temperatures expected to be closer to 20 degrees than zero.
We’re willing to take the Over (56.5 on FanDuel Sportsbook) and hope the Patriots don’t go quietly in their AFC title defense. Should the Pats take an early lead, the Chiefs have a quick-strike offense capable of countering. And as mentioned above, KC has scored at least 25 points in every game this season.