When the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs kick off their AFC Championship tilt on Sunday at 6:40 p.m. ET, a game will be opened that was in the making all year long — one that features the two best teams in the conference, regardless of what the Los Angeles Chargers’ regular season record said. It was always supposed to be Patriots versus Chiefs for the AFC title.
And why wouldn’t fans want to see this heavyweight fight between the multiple-time champion New England and an up-and-coming Chiefs? Between the greatest quarterback of all time in Tom Brady, and the second-year boy wonder Patrick Mahomes?
A battle of wits between two of the NFL’s best head coaches in Bill Belichick and Andy Reid? Two powerful offenses and defenses capable of making the big play? A possible — but given the Patriots’ track record, unlikely — changing of the guard?
The storylines heading into Sunday’s game certainly are manifold, but the one that might override them all is that New England and Kansas City clearly established themselves as the class of the conference, especially after last week: both teams went up against solid opponents — the aforementioned Chargers and the Indianapolis Colts, respectively — and showed that there can be only one final pairing this year.
The Patriots blew out L.A. 41-28 in a game that was really never as close as the final 13-point differential might indicate, a day after the Chiefs blew past the hapless Colts en route to a 31-13 victory. The two divisional round games now set up a showdown at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium — the perfect stage for what will likely be some high-stakes drama.
Back on October 14, we were already gifted a teaser for the upcoming event. The Patriots hosted the Chiefs in a prime time matchup that lived up to its hype, the time slot and the star power of its two participants. New England won in a shootout decided on a last-second field goal, on a day that saw the two teams’ offenses combine for 946 yards. Turnovers, big plays, a thrilling finish, you name it — the game had it all.
But even though the first Patriots-Chiefs meeting was as big a week six game as you will see in the NFL, the stakes were still comparatively low. Yes, the number one seed might have come down to this contest, but with 10 more games left in the season there was still a lot of room for change no matter the outcome. Ultimately, it did not matter much to the playoff picture courtesy of New England dropping five games compared to Kansas City’s four.
This week, however, is different as nothing less but a ticket for Super Bowl 53 is on the line: it would be the Patriots’ third in a row, and the Chiefs’ first since the Beatles broke up.
What adds to the promise of the matchup is that both teams are pretty much at the height of their powers right now. While, yes, Josh Gordon and Kareem Hunt will both not part of the game for reasons unrelated to football, both clubs are heading into the matchup near full strength: only one player was absent from the two teams’ practices today (Chiefs linebacker Dorian O’Daniel), meaning that they are as close to full health as one can expect at this point of the season.
What more can you want from a conference championship game. This is how it should be. This is what was in the making all year long. Patriots against Chiefs is the way it was supposed to be.