The last time the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots met, the host Chiefs destroyed the visitors by a score of 41-14. The loss dropped the Pats to 2-2 at the quarter mark of the 2014 regular season and signaled a panic across much of New England. After an uneasy trio of performances to begin the year, the “GOAT,” Tom Brady, put up quite a stinker against head coach Andy Reid’s crew. Brady went a pedestrian 14-of-23 for a meager 159 passing yards and one touchdown. He also threw two interceptions, fumbled twice, and was replaced by Jimmy Garoppolo in the fourth quarter of the blowout.
According to some “experts,” this was the beginning of the end of TB12’s remarkable reign of terror. Fast forward almost 16 months later and we’re gearing up for another Chiefs/Patriots showdown and guess who is still under center for New England? Not only is Brady still the starter, but he is showing no signs of slowing down and is as hungry as ever for another championship ring. Here’s where we’re at now.
After starting the 2015 season 1-5 and losing their All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles to a season-ending injury, KC ran off 10 straight wins to stunningly make the playoffs at 11-5. Then in the wild-card round, the Chiefs had the most convincing win of the weekend with a 30-0 throttle on the road against the Houston Texans. The Pats meanwhile started their campaign 10-0 and with Brady looking like the front runner for MVP. Then, the injury bug — no, injury monster — attacked the Patriots, especially on offense, and they slipped to the No. 2 seed in the AFC by finishing 2-4.
Still, after registering a 12-4 record and capturing yet another AFC East title, New England was able to rest during a bye week and will welcome the Chiefs to Foxborough on Saturday for an opportunity to advance to the AFC Championship game. The Patriots are currently five-point favorites for this weekend’s tilt, and we certainly like their chances. However, here’s how the Chiefs may be able to pull off the upset.
Coming into the season, and especially after losing Charles for the year, Kansas City was a team built on their defense. From Eric Berry and Justin Houston to Marcus Peters, this unit is stacked and successful against both the run (ranked fifth overall) and the pass (ranked first overall.) In yards per game allowed, only the Seattle Seahawks finished the regular season better than the Chiefs at 226.0.
So, for the KC offense, a key in this battle will be to convert on third downs and keep methodical drives going. This will be even more critical if they lack star wideout Jeremy Maclin, who is day-to-day after suffering a high ankle sprain in the win over the Texans. The former Philadelphia Eagles player is as close to a big-play performer that the Chiefs have and if he is out, quarterback Alex Smith will have to rely even heavier on tight end Travis Kelce and running back Charcandrick West. Stringing together long offensive drives — even if they result in just field goals — will be vitally important simply because they will keep Brady on the sideline for longer portions of the game.
On the other end, when the Pats do have the ball, it will be big for Kansas City to hold them to field goals as opposed to touchdowns. The KC third-down defense and performance in the red zone will go a long way in determining the outcome of this one. If Brady is able to convert on third downs in the middle of the field to the now healthy Julian Edelman, they may put up a lot of points. If TB12 and his big tight end Rob Gronkowski have their way in the red zone by connecting on one or two scores, it could get ugly.
Lastly, in order to have a chance to win, Kansas City needs to win the turnover battle. Turnovers can be the difference in virtually any football game, but against the Patriots it will be even more critical. Luckily, the Chiefs have one of the best game managers in the business with Alex Smith. The former No. 1 overall pick typically makes smart decisions and is a solid running QB. If Berry and/or Peters can pick off a Brady pass, it could play a huge role in the outcome. If we put money on this contest, we’d still go with the Patriots at home. With that being said, KC is the hottest team in the league and should be able to keep this a very close one.
Follow Victor on Twitter @vbarbosa1127
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