Pick Six:  Preview of Patriots-Chiefs

New England travels to Kansas City to play the AFC Championship game Sunday evening. The Chiefs have been the class of the AFC this season, although the Patriots did win an earlier regular season contest 43-40 in Foxboro. Kansas City head coach Andy Reid, who has seen his teams win one of their six Championship games, would build on a possible Hall of Fame candidacy with win over Bill Belichick to advance to his second Super Bowl.

Six Comments prior to the AFC Championship Game

1. Since the NFL went to the current playoff format in 2002, #1 seeds who make it to the Conference Championship game have won that game 82% of the time.

2. In their regular season matchup this past October, the Chiefs mostly passed out of “11” formations – meaning one running back and one tight end – or “12” when they brought in tight end Demetrius Harris to pair with tight end Travis Kelce. The Patriots played equal amounts of man and zone defense. New England showed a blitz look on seven of the Chiefs’ 36 drop backs, but only sent extra pressure on three plays. The defensive fronts did a good job of forcing Patrick Mahomes to get the ball out quickly while also keeping him from scrambling downfield. Mahomes ended up running only twice, and one of those was an option run in a fourth-and-one, “gotta have it” moment for Kansas City.

3. Although New England kept switching up their defense play-to-play back in week six, they tended to run zone coverage more on first down and more often when the ball was on Kanas City’s side of the field. The zone defense had two big breakdowns – Kareem Hunt’s 67 yard wheel route and Tyreek Hill’s 75 yard crossing pattern – that bolstered Mahomes’ 151.4 quarterback rating when throwing against the Patriots’ zone defense. New England seemed to pay a little more attention to tight end Travis Kelce (five catches on nine targets) than they did to Tyreek Hill (seven catches on 12 targets), and the extra attention resulted in two interceptions while in man coverage. With New England’s man coverage limiting Mahomes to just a 64.3 quarterback rating, one can’t help but wonder if the defensive strategy will shift a bit in that direction for the rematch.

4. Warren Sharp, author and NFL point spread handicapper, this week offered a reason for each offense to be optimistic. For the Patriots, it is the Chiefs defensive ineffectiveness against “21” personnel – which is the two running back and one tight end grouping often seen with New England this season – in which they allow “a play success rate” of 65%. For the Chiefs, it’s the Patriots’ defensive inability to stop running plays in 11 personnel. Kansas City running back Damien Williams has been in 11 personnel on 64% of snaps this season, and carries a 67% success rate on plays out of that grouping.

5. In the Divisional Round, the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense dominated the Indianapolis Colts while only blitzing twice on 41 drop backs. The Chiefs collected three sacks, four tipped balls, and another incompletion after the defender knocked a lineman into Andrew Luck. In that contest Kansas City played a majority of the snaps in what looked like a Cover 3 zone: One deep safety, two corners that would run with the deepest receiver along each sideline and four players watching the quarterback in the middle of the field. In their earlier game with the Patriots this season, the Chiefs played mostly Cover 1 man against Tom Brady. In that game New England used much more pre-snap motion, rub routes, and play action passes to get the downfield separation that eluded the Colts.

6. No one will be surprised to hear that when playing at home, the Chiefs offense averages 36% more points than their opponent usually surrenders. What you may not know is that at home the Kansas City defense allows an average of 18% fewer points their opponent usually scores. If those trends held true on Sunday, this Patriots team that has averaged 27 points scored and 20 points allowed per game would lose the contest 22-27.

Originally posted on PatsPulpit.com

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