The New England Patriots have entered the 2018/19 NFL playoffs with a dominant victory over the Los Angeles Chargers and a chip on their shoulder. “We see our quarterback’s too old, we’re not good enough on defense, the skill players aren’t good,” said defensive captain Devin McCourty after the Patriots’ 41-28 victory on Sunday. The team will likely be able to keep this mind set this week.
Entering the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots are seen as 3-point underdogs against the Kansas City Chiefs — the first time since their game against the Denver Broncos in January 2013 that they enter a playoff game not being favored to win. The oddsmakers are not the only ones to pick the Chiefs to advance to the Super Bowl as a look at the projections models by FiveThirtyEight.com shows:
New England Patriots: 39% win probability
Kansas City Chiefs: 61% win probability
Seeing New England head into the game as statistical underdogs is hardly surprising: the team had a worse regular season record — hence the game being played at Arrowhead Stadium — and despite a blowout win in the divisional round has been pretty inconsistent this year. What also adds to the Patriots’ low win probability might be the team’s record on the road: New England went just 3-5 away from Gillette Stadium this season.
That all being said, the calculation models are no flawless system to project games: on wild card weekend, FiveThirtyEight went just 1-3 before rebounding with a perfect 4-0 score last weekend. And if there is one team to consistently defy the odds in the NFL it is the Patriots — not just because they won the two teams’ week six matchup 43-40, but because time and again they haven proven themselves capable of living up to the situation.
That being said, New England is well aware that the past has little bearing on the task at hand. “Whatever happened last year or some other year, whatever it is, it is,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said on Sunday when asked about a rematch with the Chiefs. “It’s all in the books. This team has a lot in front of it and that’s really what we’re going to focus on is what this team can do.”
And if this team does what it did on Sunday against L.A. — playing ball control football on offense and tight man-to-man coverage on defense — then it will certainly have a chance to beat the odds once more.
The other conference championship, meanwhile, will see the New Orleans Saints host the Los Angeles Rams. According to FiveThirtyEight, this game is even more lopsided that its AFC counterpart:
Los Angeles Rams: 36%
New Orleans Saints: 64%
Of course, the Rams won their only playoff game so far in more convincing fashion than the Saints did — so seeing the home team favored by this much, despite beating Los Angeles 45-35 in week nine and New Orleans playing at home, seems a bit curious.