Bleacher Report’s Expert NFL Conference Championship Picks & Predictions

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Two of our three analysts couldn’t bring themselves to ride with the Patriots on the road against a team that seems to have their number. 

“Yes, I’m picking against both of my preseason Super Bowl picks,” Davenport said. “After last week, I figure my best bet is to pull a Costanza and do the opposite of what I think I should do. Or it could just be that I don’t trust the Patriots away from Gillette Stadium. The Pats were undefeated at home this year, but they were 3-5 away from Foxborough. They’re also just 3-4 on the road in the playoffs with Brady under center, they’ve lost the last three AFC title games they played on the road and the home team is 11-1 over the last 12 AFC Championship Games.

“The Chiefs won’t play as well defensively as they did last week, but they are a much better defensive team at Arrowhead this year than away from it. Since it’s going to be colder than Darth Hoodie’s soul on Sunday night, we probably aren’t going to see the 83 total points we got when these teams met back in Week 6. What we are going to see is the final step of Patrick Mahomes’ coronation as the league’s MVP and a close win by the home team.”

How much better is the Kansas City defense at home? The Chiefs have allowed 34.6 points per game and recorded 10 takeaways on the road this year, but at Arrowhead, they have 18 takeaways and allowed only 17.4 points per game. That’s tied for the third-lowest mark in the NFL, and it’s part of the reason Gagnon is reluctantly joining Davenport on Team Chiefs. 

“I’m reluctant to pick against the Patriots,” Gagnon said, “especially when they’re getting points. Kansas City has a strong enough defensive front to get to Brady, which is the key to beating New England in January, but that might not matter because Brady gets the ball out so damn fast. And the Patriots have had a lot of trouble with Tyreek Hill’s speed (he has 275 receiving yards and four touchdowns in two career meetings with the Pats), but the Patriots aren’t as slow on defense as they were before Jason McCourty came on board and J.C. Jackson emerged. Plus, Bill Belichick is the ultimate adjuster.

“But Kansas City nearly beat the Patriots in Foxborough earlier this season, and the site is everything here since the Chiefs are tremendous at home and the Patriots have never been particularly special outside of New England. Kansas City might also have Berry back on defense and Duvernay-Tardif and Ware back on offense. That should be just enough to pull this out, but the push is a strong possibility.”

But again, there’s no unanimity here. Sobleski likes one particular matchup advantage for a Patriots team that has been here, done this. 

“Even if Kansas City gets caught in an arctic blast, Mahomes is going to get his,” he said. “Brady will as well. One particular matchup favors New England, though. The Patriots own the league’s best offensive interior. The group dominated the Los Angeles Chargers at the point of attack and provided Brady with plenty of time to throw. The Chiefs create pressure better than any other team, yet their defense isn’t nearly as effective if it isn’t placed in favorable down-and-distance situations. Meanwhile, Bill Belichick’s defense will be well-prepared and do everything in its power to confuse Mahomes. Experience matters.”

In Sobleski’s defense here (and Davenport’s defense above), it’s worth noting that those among this group who have picked against the majority as lone wolves are 66-61-1 this year.

Predictions
Davenport: Chiefs 24, Patriots 20
Gagnon: Chiefs 30, Patriots 26
Sobleski: Patriots 27, Chiefs 23
Consensus: Kansas City (-3)

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