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Fantasy Index Weekly

Championship Preview: Kansas City

Weather, Patriots could slow down Mahomes

Kansas City is favored by 3 points, and rightly so. They had the AFC’s best record, and they’re playing at home, where they’re very tough – only the Chargers, with a fourth-quarter comeback from a 14-point deficit, won at Arrowhead this season. Home teams have won every conference championship game since 2012.

But the Patriots are a tough out. This will be their eighth straight AFC title game (they went 4-3 in the previous seven). They beat Kansas City 43-40 during the regular season, albeit at Foxborough. New England’s not as tough on the road (3-5 in the regular season and 3-4 in the postseason during the Belichick era), but definitely a game that could go either way. Temperatures will be in the single digits, which should make for more of a defensive struggle, benefiting the Patriots.

QUARTERBACK: Patrick Mahomes threw 50 TDs during the regular season, including 4 at New England. He threw for 352 yards in that one, while New England ranked just 21st against the pass. New England is generally toughest against the run, and that was again the case this season (11th in yards allowed, plus the Patriots allowed four times as many touchdowns on passes, 29, as runs, 7). The numbers suggest Mahomes should come through with his usual kind of game, and usual was 319 yards and 3-plus touchdowns.

We’re going lower than that. Mahomes cooled off some in the latter portion of the season, averaging 294 yards in his last five games (330 in his first 11), with 13 TDs (2.6 per game, compared to 3.4 in his first 11). He threw for 278 yards against the Colts last week, with his only touchdown on a scramble. The Patriots should be able to cook up some looks to limit him, and weather will be a factor. While the game in Foxborough was a track meet, with the teams combining for nearly 1,000 yards of total offense, this should be a more conservative affair. With New England a lot more likely to allow touchdowns on passes rather than runs, Mahomes still looks good for multiple touchdowns. But Drew Brees, playing in a dome, should have better overall passing numbers. Mahomes averaged 17 rushing yards, with 2 TDs on the ground (plus another last week); a far better bet than the week’s other quarterbacks for rushing numbers.

RUNNING BACK: Frigid temperatures might mean more running, but the matchup isn’t as favorable in that regard. New England has long been tough to run on, both yards and touchdowns. In the last three years the Patriots have allowed 6, 6 and 7 rushing touchdowns. That said, Kansas City’s offense has been successful in the last two meetings. Kareem Hunt rushed for 80 yards in Week 6, while also catching 5 passes for 105 more (with a 67-yard touchdown). And Hunt put up monster numbers when Kansas City won at New England in 2017, running for 148 yards and adding 98 as a receiver, with 3 total touchdowns. No Hunt this time, but something about the scheme seems to give the Patriots problems.

Damien Williams has been pretty impressive since taking on a leading role. In the last four games he’s averaged 83 rushing yards, ,with 4 TDs on the ground. That kind of production is probably beyond him in this matchup, but in those same four games he’s caught 19 passes for 144 yards (36 yards per game) and 1 TD. Kansas City also has Spencer Ware, but he can’t be counted on for a big role – it’s not even certain he’ll play. Dealing with a hamstring injury, he practiced on a limited basis all last week before being inactive. Darrel Williams was the change-of-pace, carrying 3 times for 9 yards and a touchdown. If fully healthy, Ware would likely get up to a third of the work, but that doesn’t look likely at this point.

WIDE RECEIVER: Kansas City has a game-breaker in Tyreek Hill, and as he proved with a 36-yard touchdown run last week, he’s a threat to score in a variety of different ways. New England was no match for him in the earlier meeting; he caught 7 balls for 142 yards and 3 TDs in that one, including one from 75 yards. The Patriots will certainly be focusing on ways to take him away, but tough to argue with that history (Hill caught 7 balls for 133 yards in the 2017 game, as well, with a 75-yard score in that one, too).

Sammy Watkins is healthy, catching 6 passes for 62 yards against the Colts. If New England tries to focus on limiting Hill, he should again see plenty of targets. Just 2 for 18 in Week 6, but Watkins looked very good against the Colts. With him available, the other wideouts have no value. Chris Conley didn’t do much even when Watkins was sidelined, and last week played two-thirds of the snaps without catching a pass. Demarcus Robinson barely got on the field; played less than Gehrig Dieter (an 11-yard reception). Kelvin Benjamin wasn’t even active against the Colts.

TIGHT END: In the last two meetings, New England has had some success limiting Travis Kelce. He caught 5 balls for 61 yards in Week 6, and just 5 for 40 in last year’s meeting. But Hunt and Hill both put up huge numbers in those games, so it remains to be seen whether New England will come out with a similar defensive approach. During the season they allowed 8 TDs to tight ends, and 2 more last week (albeit in the waning moments of a blowout win). Regardless of the matchup, Kelce’s a much bigger part of the passing offense than any of the other tight ends still playing – that includes Rob Gronkowski.

KICKER: Kansas City scored 66 touchdowns during the regular season, far more likely to kick extra points (64) than settle for field goals (25). But New England might be more successful at forcing three-pointers; they allowed only slightly more extra points (34) than field goals (25). Longer field goals might be harder to come by in the cold weather expected, but looks like a decent enough matchup for Harrison Butker.

DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS: The Kansas City Defense gave up plenty of numbers. Only eight teams allowed more points, and only Cincinnati allowed more yards. But it made out pretty well in fantasy arenas, sharing the league lead with Pittsburgh in sacks (52) and also having 15 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries. Justin Houston and Dee Ford combined for 3 sacks last week and 22 during the season, while Chris Jones had another 15.5. Such production isn’t easy to come by against Tom Brady, who took only 21 sacks while throwing 11 interceptions in the regular season. On the road in the playoffs, he hasn’t been quite as clean: 2 interceptions and 4 sacks at Denver three years ago. Kansas City got him twice in Week 6. If Kansas City is able to frustrate Brady, it’s a lot more likely to happen at the line of scrimmage, with sacks and batted balls, than in the secondary. With Tyreek Hill and Tremon Smith, Kansas City is very dangerous on returns, although New England hasn’t allowed any touchdowns on kicks the last two seasons.

Player projections are below; once all four teams have been analyzed, we'll see how the rankings shake out.

QBPatrick Mahomes2770172942.3024.9
RBDamien Williams04560105.9015.8
WRTyreek Hill0957103.6714.3
TETravis Kelce053053.568.7
PKHarrison Butker0000.008.0
D/STKansas City0000.207.0
WRSammy Watkins050050.226.3
RBSpencer Ware081624.213.7
WRChris Conley0808.111.5
WRDeMarcus Robinson0606.151.5
TEDemetrius Harris0606.091.1
RBDarrel Williams0156.060.9
RBAnthony Sherman0405.040.7
WRGehrig Dieter0303.020.4
QBChad Henne3003.000.2
WRMarcus Kemp0101.010.1
RBCharcandrick West0100.000.1

—Andy Richardson

Fantasy Index