KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs have a chance to bring the Lamar Hunt Trophy home … at home.
Kansas City plays host to the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium for the first time in franchise history on Sunday, when the Patriots come to town. The Lamar Hunt Trophy, awarded to the AFC champions, is at stake. The trophy is named for the founder of the Chiefs, who died in 2006.
The Chiefs have never hoisted the trophy named for Hunt. They have not been to the Super Bowl in 49 years, before the AFL-NFL merger went into effect.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Clark Hunt, Lamar’s son and current team chairman, said this past week. “Since Andy [Reid] came here, we’ve had a lot of shots, but we finally have a chance to win the AFC championship, and to do it at home is so special for us.”
The Chiefs have ridden a high-octane offense to get here. They ranked first in the NFL in scoring this year, averaging 35.3 points per game. They led the league in yards per play at 6.84 and in yards per game at 425.6. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes led the NFL with 50 touchdown passes and 52 passes of 25 yards or more.
Though he is in just his second season with the Chiefs, the meaning of winning the Lamar Hunt Trophy is not lost on Mahomes.
“One of the awesome things we do with our player development team is that they take us through the whole history,” Mahomes said. “We come over to the museum that we have in the stadium and they take us through how he made the AFL, pretty much from scratch, and had this vision for what is now the AFC and combined it with the NFL and made this beautiful league.
Super Bowl 2019: NFL odds and predictions for AFC, NFC Championships
“It truly is special for someone like that who has created your franchise,” Mahomes added. “You want to do whatever you can to bring honor to him and that family.”
To win the AFC, the Chiefs will have to knock off the Patriots, who are playing in their eighth straight AFC title game. This game is a rematch from the regular season, when the Patriots won, 43-40, in October in Foxborough.
“Look forward to the challenge of playing the Patriots this week,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “We know the Patriots. They are very well coached, and they have good players. This isn’t their first rodeo here. They have done this a few times. Arguably, if not the, one of the greatest dynasties in the history of the game.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick vs. Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill
A reporter asked Belichick this week how he can coach for the speed of Hill in Sunday’s game.
“Coach for it?” Belichick sarcastically replied. “Like, can we make somebody that fast?”
No, but he better think of something. Hill caught seven passes for 142 yards and three touchdowns when the two teams met in Week 6. Belichick is known as the master of taking away what an offense does well. Remember Jim Kelly and the K-gun in Super Bowl XXV? Or how about the Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf in Super Bowl XXXVI?
“Yeah, look, we’ve seen it,” Belichick said of Hill’s speed. “A lot of our players have dealt with it and, as you said, have to make those subtle adjustments in terms of angles and leverage and so forth. Every situation is a little bit different. Who’s where and how fast everybody is moving and what direction we’re going in and the opponent is going in and so forth. Yeah, certainly there has to be an awareness of that. It’s a little bit different with him than everybody else; no question.”
The end of Gronk? This could be the final time we see Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski if the Patriots lose. There have been reports he will consider retiring after this season because of the mounting injuries he has dealt with. He caught 47 passes for 682 yards and three touchdowns this season, a down year for him. The Patriots are expected to move on after the year, and he has said he does not want to play with anyone but Tom Brady.
Gronkowski, 29, sounded like he had the perspective of someone pondering his future this week.
“When you’re a young buck, really young, you feel like you’re going to be here for a little,” he said Thursday. “I would say now, seeing everything, seeing how fast it goes, you know how much work it takes to put in to get to this level.”
Gronkowski had 97 yards against the Chiefs during their regular-season meeting. This time, Chiefs safety Eric Berry may be covering him, creating an interesting matchup.
Reid’s resume: Chiefs coach Andy Reid has one of the greatest coaching records in the history of the NFL. Just seven men have more regular-season wins than Reid’s 195. But his résumé has a giant hole: He has never won a Super Bowl. He got there with the Eagles and lost to the Patriots. Now, he must get past the Patriots again to have another shot at the Lombardi Trophy.
“Andy’s a tough matchup for anybody because they do so many things and they do so many things well,” Belichick said. “The success that they’ve had, not only this year but all six years that he’s been there, is very impressive.”
Missing Kareem: The Chiefs have one very glaring difference as a team from the one that went toe-to-toe with the Patriots in October — no Kareem Hunt. Kansas City cut the running in December after video surfaced of him pushing and kicking a woman.
New England has struggled against Hunt, and now Kansas City must find a way to replace him. Hunt had 185 yards from scrimmage in October against the Patriots. In the first game of his career in 2017, he had 246 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns against the Patriots in the season-opener.
The Chiefs have gotten good production from Damien Williams in place of Hunt in recent weeks. They need to have that continue.
Road weary: Having the No. 1 seed could be a huge factor in this game. The Patriots were 8-0 at home this year but just 3-5 on the road. Playing at Arrowhead could be the difference in the game for the Chiefs, who are 8-1 at home this season.
The Patriots have been amazing in the playoffs through the years at home, but have not had the same success away from Gillette Stadium. They are 20-3 at home in the postseason during the Belichick-Brady era, but just 3-4 on the road during the playoffs. Their last playoff win on the road came in January 2007.
“It’s a tough game,” Brady said. “It’s a tough challenge. It’s tough to beat the number one seed on the road. That’s the reality, just like we’re tough to beat at home when we’re the number one seed. It takes a lot.”
Expect plenty of offense with these two teams. Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes should trade haymakers all day. But I think the Chiefs being at home makes the difference.
Chiefs 35, Patriots 31