The Kansas City Chiefs suffered their first loss of the season 43-40 against the New England Patriots back in Week 6. Now both teams will sit on the sidelines for Wild Card Weekend. The odds are good that the Chiefs and Patriots will meet at Arrowhead Stadium in the AFC Championship game. Can the Chiefs finally dethrone the Patriots from the top of the AFC?
The Patriots traded wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the Los Angeles Rams during the offseason, which doesn’t make much sense in hindsight. He caught 65 passes for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns during his only season in New England, but Cooks apparently wasn’t the right fit for the Patriots. They traded him away, and the now Patriots are paying for it. The lack of dependable outside speed hurt the Patriots offense throughout the season.
It got so bad that the Patriots kicked the tires on former Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon. That experiement failed, as has the Cordarrelle Patterson signing. The lack of speed has hurt the Patriots offense throughout the season.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs possess speed to kill with wide receiver Tyreek Hill. He caught 87 passes for 1,479 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Hill’s dominant campaign overshadowed another speedster, Sammy Watkins, who missed six games with injuries. If Watkins returns for the playoffs, that gives the Chiefs two deep threats the Patriots don’t have.
Kelce excels, Gronkowski falters
A positional comparison between the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce and the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski would have favored the latter five years ago. Since then, age and injuries have slowed Gronkowski down to the point that he’s a shell of himself. Gronkowski caught only 47 passes for 682 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games. That’s a devastating decline for a team missing the outside threat it needs.
Gronkowski’s counterpart, Kelce, thrived throughout the season. He recorded 103 receptions for 1,336 yards and 10 touchdowns as the Chiefs’ leading receiver. His toughness and route-running make him the heart of the Chiefs’ offense heading into the plays. Considering how important both Gronkowski and Kelce are to their respective teams, the tight end position is another reason why the Chiefs are better than the Patriots right now.
Mahomes is better than Brady
Patriots fans won’t like this, but quarterback Tom Brady finally showed his age this season. That’s not a knock on Brady. He’s one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. No one can escape Father Time, and we saw him creep up on Brady throughout the season. Brady has lost a step in the pocket and struggles more to escape pressure. He simply doesn’t move as well. His numbers don’t really show what’s on film yet, but the Kansas City front-seven will give Brady problems.
The Chiefs feature second-year quarterback Pat Mahomes. His numbers dwarfed Brady’s by a large margin this season. He threw for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns during the regular season for a 113.8 quarterback rating and a league-leading 82.0 QBR. Mahomes’s 50 touchdowns and 8.6% touchdown per pass attempt also led the NFL. Brady’s numbers, while great, still don’t compare well. The Patriots legend threw for 4,355 yards and 29 touchdowns for a 97.7 quarterback rating and a 68.8 QBR.
None of this should demean Brady, but right now Mahomes is the more prolific quarterback. He has more weapons, the stronger arm, and overall youth on his side.
Speaking of quarterbacks, getting to them on defense is one of the most important aspects of turning a game around. The Chiefs feature the 31st-ranked defense in the NFL. Teams can move the ball at will on the Kansas City defense, but their front seven can turn the game in a heartbeat with its league-leading pass rush. The Chiefs registered 52 sacks this season, which kept them in games they otherwise would have lost.
On the other hand, the Patriots finished 21st in total defense, but they also ranked 30th in sacks. New England won’t stop the Chiefs offense without getting to Mahomes. The Chiefs finished fifth in the NFL with 26 sacks allowed. Rushing Mahomes will be a problem for the Patriots.
The Patriots do have an edge in some areas, especially with intangibles. No one will ever bet against Brady in a clutch situation, and Bill Belichick may be the best head coach of all time. Their offensive line has given up only 21 sacks this year, and their special teams will never cost them a game.
However, the Chiefs have something the Patriots don’t have right now: youth. The majority of the Chiefs’ skill position players have yet to peak. Their time is now. The Chiefs are the better team, if that defense holds up enough for their weapons to succeed.