KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It seems football fans everywhere suddenly are on the Kansas City Chiefs’ bandwagon, enthralled by their record-setting young quarterback and exciting playmakers and hopeful their amiable old coach finally can win the big one.
Then again, maybe they’re just fans of anybody facing New England.
The Patriots have dominated the AFC for nearly two decades, and the coach-quarterback combination of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will be playing in an eighth consecutive conference title game Sunday when New England visits the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
But whereas Brady & Co. once instilled awe in their opponents, the Chiefs view their showdown as an opportunity for Patrick Mahomes to take the baton as the league’s best quarterback and for Kansas City, seeking its first Super Bowl appearance in 49 years, to surpass the Patriots as the NFL’s “it” team.
“It’ll be huge,” Mahomes said. “When I got here, the goal was to win the AFC championship and get to the Super Bowl, and win that. To do that early in my career, it would be a huge thing.”
There aren’t two more dichotomous teams than the Patriots and Chiefs.
Photo: John Sleezer / Kansas City Star
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New England has won five Super Bowls during the Belichick-Brady era, setting all kinds of records along the way. The efficiency with which they’ve sliced up the AFC has made them the bane of fans everywhere but in New England and given them the kind of unbeatable aura that accompanied the New York Yankees teams of Derek Jeter and the Chicago Bulls teams of Michael Jordan.
It’s not just petty jealousy, though. Many fans have been turned off by Deflategate, Spygate and other instances over the years that have saddled the Patriots with a rather unsavory reputation.
On the flip side are the Chiefs, a team that dominated the AFC throughout the 1990s but reached only one conference title game. They were the league’s worst franchise six years ago, when Andy Reid came aboard, but have become a perennial playoff team that was always missing that certain something.
They found it when they drafted Mahomes in 2017.
The quarterback shattered just about every franchise passing record in his first season as a starter, and his down-home style has made him a fan favorite. Kids dressed up like him for Halloween, his curly Mohawk has become the trend at local barbershops, and the aw-shucks way Mahomes has embraced his success has only made him more endearing.
“I think he’s a great player on a great team that’s very well-coached,” Belichick said. “They have a great scheme and a great system. He’s got a ton of weapons, so he’ll be tough to handle, as will their entire offense, as will their entire team. We’ll need our best game.”
Brady and Mahomes get plenty of attention, but they don’t do it alone. Patriots running back James White tied Darren Sproles’ postseason record with 15 catches in their 41-28 divisional victory over the Chargers last weekend, running back Sony Michel has become a major threat and tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Julian Edelman remain dangerous downfield threats . The Chiefs counter with running back Damien Williams and the pass-catching trio of All-Pro speedster Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and sure-handed tight end Travis Kelce.
The Patriots beat the Chiefs in a 43-40 shootout in Week 6, but both teams are different. The Patriots lost wide receiver Josh Gordon to personal issues and the Chiefs waived running back Kareem Hunt because of off-the-field trouble since that meeting. Kansas City also should have linebacker Justin Houston and safety Eric Berry available after neither played in Week 6 because of injuries.
The Patriots will try to advance to their third consecutive Super Bowl, something only two other franchises have accomplished, and the Chiefs are trying to make it for the first time since winning the title in 1970.
The Chiefs were founded by Lamar Hunt, the namesake of the Lamar Hunt Trophy awarded to the AFC champion. But they will be hosting the AFC title game for the first time after ending a 25-year drought in divisional playoff games last weekend against Indianapolis. They are 8-1 at home this season, with the loss coming on a last-second 2-point conversion by the Los Angeles Chargers.
Dave Skretta is an Associated Press writer.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Chiefs-bandwagon-rolling-into-mighty-Patriots-13546029.php.