FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots host the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in a rematch of last season's AFC Championship Game, which was one of the epic wins of the era of coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.
"As usual, I'd say the Chiefs look pretty good," Belichick said Wednesday, noting last year's conference title game has some relevance in game planning. "Offensively, this is about as tough a team to prepare for as there is."
While noting the Chiefs present challenges on defense and special teams, as well, Belichick said of Kansas City coach Andy Reid: "He's as good a playcaller and game planner as anybody I've coached against."
The Chiefs (8-4) have played some of their best football of the season as they enter Sunday on a two-game winning streak, while the Patriots (10-2) are coming off a disappointing loss to the Houston Texans, and their offense has come under some scrutiny for inconsistent play.
The return engagement (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS) provides a springboard to not only revisit that AFC Championship Game, but also place it in historical context among some of the great non-Super Bowl victories of the team's dynastic run since 2001.
Best win ever? Not even in the top tier?
Such rankings are obviously subjective, but using what Brady said after last season's game as a top part of the criteria -- that it was especially sweet based on the odds being stacked against the Patriots, a high level of performance, the back-and-forth action and 70,000 people cheering against them -- here is one view of the top six (for a touchdown, of course):
1. Patriots 38, Colts 34 (Nov. 30, 2003): Similar to last season's AFC title game, it was on the road in a raucous, ear-splitting environment with high stakes as the teams jockeyed for the No. 1 playoff seed.
With 40 seconds remaining in regulation, the Peyton Manning-led Colts had four chances to win the game from inside the 2-yard line -- and were stunningly denied. On fourth down, outside linebacker Willie McGinest charged into the backfield to tackle running back Edgerrin James, capping a back-and-forth game that is a notable chapter in the great Manning-Brady rivalry.
2. Patriots 37, Chiefs 31, OT (Jan. 20, 2019): In the rare spot of underdog, the Patriots couldn't have played a better first half in the AFC Championship Game, leading 14-0, and it likely would have been more if not for an end zone interception thrown by Brady.
But it was only a matter of time before Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense would get cooking, which set the stage for a tense second half and overtime, with the Patriots converting three third-and-10s on the game-winning drive. As Brady said afterward when explaining why he jumped into the arms of Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy, "I was as excited as I've been in a long time."
3. Patriots 38, Giants 35 (Dec. 29, 2007): Playing for history -- the first 16-0 regular season -- the Patriots hit the road in a playoff-type atmosphere.
Part of what made it special was that it was played on a Saturday night, and there were some questions as to how the Giants might approach the game because they were locked into the No. 5 playoff seed. New York coach Tom Coughlin went all-out, which further contributed to one of the NFL's greatest regular-season finales.
There were five lead changes. When Brady hit Randy Moss for a 65-yard touchdown down the right sideline in the fourth quarter -- one play after just missing the connection on a similar long bomb -- it was an unforgettable moment because it gave the Patriots a 31-28 lead they wouldn't relinquish and also set NFL records for most touchdown passes in a season (50, since broken) and most touchdown catches in a season (23).
4. Patriots 35, Ravens 31 (Jan. 10, 2015): The only game on the list played at home, the AFC divisional-round matchup finds its way here because the Patriots looked to be in real trouble -- facing a 14-point deficit twice.
A touchdown throw from receiver Julian Edelman on a double pass helped provide a second-half spark, and the Patriots used an unusual tactic -- declaring eligible receivers ineligible -- that rattled the Ravens as the comeback was unfolding.
5. Patriots 24, Steelers 17 (Jan. 27, 2002): Although the Patriots had won seven games in a row, few figured they had much of a chance in the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh. Then they lost Brady to injury during the game, thrusting starter-turned-backup Drew Bledsoe into the game.
But as has become their signature under Belichick, they proved resourceful, with a Troy Brown 55-yard punt return for a touchdown and a blocked field goal that was returned 60 yards for a touchdown.
6. Patriots 24, Chargers 21 (Jan. 14, 2007): Brady throwing three interceptions in an AFC divisional-round game should have meant defeat, especially against a top-seeded Chargers team that had been undefeated at home and was led by league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson (31 touchdowns, 186 points, 1,815 yards).
The Chargers had nine Pro Bowlers and five All-Pros, as well. But the scrappy Patriots charged back from a 21-13 fourth-quarter deficit, with a key play coming when receiver Troy Brown stripped safety Marlon McCree on an interception return to set up the game-tying touchdown and 2-point conversion (direct snap to running back Kevin Faulk).