By Arnie Leshin
The American Football Conference won’t have to go through New England this time.
Regardless who wins the Sunday playoff game between the visiting 5th seeded Los Angeles Chargers and the 2nd seeded Patriots in New England, the AFC championship game will be hosted by the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs, who played their best defensive game of the season in running past the visiting Indianapolis Colts, 31-13, in the Saturday’s playoff opener.
Arrowhead Stadium, designated by Guinness Records as the loudest outdoor stadium in the world, will be home field for the conference final for the first time since it became a franchise in 1973. In 2010, Arrowhead replaced Municipal Stadium and the capacity crowd of 70,416 was ecstatic to know it will be back there next week.
The Chiefs were originally the Dallas Texans founded by Lamar Hunt, who also created the American Football League. In May of 1963, Hunt didn’t care for two Dallas teams in professional football, and the Texans became the Kansas City franchise and were named the Chiefs by Hunt.
Successful in the AFL, it hasn’t been the same since KC and the AFL merged officially with the NFL in 1970, the year after Joe Namath led the AFL Jets to a stunning upset over the 18-point favored Baltimore Colts of the NFL.
Two years later, the Chiefs won their first and only Super Bowl over the Minnesota Vikings. Since than, they have lost 11 of 12 playoff games that included going 0-4 against the Colts. Present head coach Andy Reid is the franchise’s 13th since its beginning.
But Saturday was their day. They put an end to Indy winning 9 of its last 10 starts behind quarterback Andrew Luck. KC quickly put together back-to-back touchdowns to lead 14-0. Its rushing game accounted for the four TDs, and its defense frustrated the Colts, who didn’t have a first down until late in the first half and scored when the tilt was already decided. Every time Luck tried to rally his troops, he was stymied by the KC blitz and its secondary.
Now the Chiefs are a win away from the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It’s been a long time coming, as in 47 years. But it never before hosted the conference championship, so they’re hoping for a big time in Kansas City next week. The last time it got this far in the playoffs was in 1993, and lost on the road to the Colts.
But the Chargers and the Patriots stand in the way, with New England a 5-point favorite but not accustomed to playing such an important game on the road next week. The Chargers couldn’t care where they play, for their new stadium in Los Angeles is currently being built, and they went 8-1 on the road.
In the Saturday nightcap at the LA Coliseum, the2nd seeded Los Angeles Rams kicked a short field goal on fourth and down, but the 4th seeded Dallas Cowboys responded with a TD run to go in front 7-3. Then the 2nd seeded Rams, a 7-point pick, answered by scoring twice in the second quarter and were up 21-3.
It was 30-3 when the Cowboys cut the gap to 30-22 with three minutes left, but the Rams recovered the onside kick, ran out the clock, and carried off a 30-22 victory.
On Sunday, the Charger-Patriots game will be followed by the top-seeded Saints playing host to the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles in New Orleans. The winner gets to play the Rams-Cowboys survivor, but sixth seeded Philly will not be home like last year, that will go to New Orleans or Los Angeles.
One thing is clear, there will be a new Super Bowl champion.