After an outstanding performance against the Los Angeles Chargers last weekend, rookie New England Patriots running back Sony Michel is primed for a repeat in Sunday’s AFC Championship against the Kansas City Chiefs in what could be (but hopefully isn’t) his last game of the season. In their Week Six matchup, Michel ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns. This time around it’s a whole new ballgame, and a healthy Chiefs defense may be ready for the rematch.
Sony Michel Primed to Shine in AFC Championship Game
Michel, who averaged ran in three touchdowns on nearly 130 yards against the Chargers, will likely see a healthy amount of action this weekend as well. Through the regular season, the Chiefs defense surrendered an average of 118 yards per game. Throughout the season (regular and post), Michel has put up more than 100 yards in five games. However, the Chiefs defense allowed just 87 rushing yards and zero touchdowns last week against the Indianapolis Colts. Although their rushing defense performed poorly throughout the season, home field advantage and a reinvigorated roster may provide the necessary boost to nullify New England’s running advantage. Still, those issues don’t seem to bother Michel, who told reporters that he’s “ready” for the game.
“I’ve just got to be prepared for a good matchup,” he said, “I’m sure they’re going to come out and be swinging. You’ve just got to get up and swing back.”
Frigid Temperatures and Moderate Winds Make for a Running Kind of Day
With “RealFeel” temperatures of under 20° and wind gusts of 10 to 14 miles per hour on Sunday afternoon, this year’s AFC Championship may not be the shootout fans saw in Week Six, where both Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes threw for a combined 692 yards. The frigid air will make catching balls – especially the bullets that Brady and Mahomes are known for throwing – a little more difficult. The wind gusts may have an impact on the passing game as well, leading some experts to believe this game will be fought and won on the ground.
Luckily, the ground game is where New England excels. Throughout the season, the team’s group of rushers have combined for more than 1,500 total yards and 18 touchdowns. If you include Cordarrelle Patterson‘s short sting as a running back (which we do), those figures jump to nearly 1,800 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns.
Plainly put, the Patriots can run the ball in more than one way, with more than one guy. The rushing advantage here, in any weather, belongs to New England.
Run the Clock
Scoring is one thing – one path to victory – but in order to control the game, the Patriots will have to repeat what they did against the Chargers: Control the clock and force head coach Andy Reid‘s notoriously poor clock management.
When the Chargers visited Foxboro for the Divisional game, the Patriots held the ball for just over 38 minutes. In order to win the game, the Patriots need to use their running backs – Michel in particular – and shove the ball down Kansas City’s throat. Chew clock, plain and simple. Ultimately, this will force Mahomes to play catch up by throwing the ball, or by running it with Damien Williams, a relatively untested running back. Considering the weather for the Championship game, and the vastly improved New England secondary, it’s entirely possible that the Patriots defense will be able to overwhelm Mahomes.
If the Patriots utilize Michel on early downs and Julian Edelman for short-to-medium gains on third downs, they can control the clock. Going back to Andy Reid’s clock management issues, the Patriots should look to make him waste valuable timeouts – especially in the second half.
Last Word on Sony Michel and the AFC Championship
Three points: Run the ball, control the clock, encourage rookie mistakes. If the Patriots can check off two out of three of these objectives, their path to victory is much clearer than it has been in prior road playoff games.
Michel is likely one of the most important pieces to New England’s game plan this weekend. A performance is anything like last weekend’s will not only increase their odds of heading to a third straight Super Bowl, but firmly cement his status as the team’s Most Valuable Rookie and best draft pick of the year.
No final score prediction from me this week, as the LWOS Patriots team like to hold me responsible for the bad things that happen. Sit back, enjoy the game and revel in what was supposed to be Tom Brady’s “cliff year.” A year that culminated in, at the very least, an eighth-straight AFC Championship game.
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