For those picking the Patriots, what x's & o's reasoning are you taking into account? Not just "Brady steps up in the postseason". What are the legitimate x's & o's reasons for choosing them to win?
I think the Pats late-season defensive improvements will be the key factor.
Overall, I think cohesion and communication among defensive players has greatly improved, making their on-the-fly adjustments quicker and more accurate.
With the emergence of JC Jackson, it seems to me that the Pats man coverage has become much stronger. Gilmore-Jackson, with JMac in the slot, seems much better than Gilmore-JMac with Jon Jones in the slot . So, pattern-matching zone, and "switch-up" man coverages (that avoid falling prey to rub-routes), have also become stronger. All of which means that the McCourty, Chung and Harmon should have more freedom to go where they need to and to be more effective from a wider variety of coverage looks that may slow Mahomes down a bit.
In the week-6 game, the Pats were allowing Hill a lot of free releases off the line. I think he gets much more physical treatment in this game and shouldn't be able to find open space as quickly or as often (especially if the Pats aren't needing to play as much zone as they did in week-6), and throws to him should be effectively contested more often.
With Simon and Brown healthy, I think that the edges are likely to be more secure against Mahomes' rollouts than week-6 (I'm guessing that Clayborn sits again), and the interior DL should be more stout than it was. Communication at the LoS also seems improved on defense, making stunts more successful. I think the net result should be that the defense gets pressure on Mahomes more quickly, forcing a few more throwaways and risky throws into better coverage, thus minimizing big pass plays and "miraculous" completions.
In week-6, two major coverage mistakes by the defense and one major special teams mistake let the Chiefs back into the game in the second half. I don't think those happen this time.
On offense ...
The Chiefs will have Houston-Ford off the edges and Chris Jones in the middle, so their pass rush should be stronger and more versatile than it was in week-6 (and better than the Chargers' rush was).
I think that the Pat's OL coordination, and blocking in general, has also improved, and integrated Gronk very well. The Pats' ground game should be as strong as it was against the Chargers and, more important, play-action should work as well against KCY. This base should keep Houston and Ford off Brady long enough for him to throw.
Against Indy, Chris Jones got a hand up to bat down 4 or 5 of Luck's throws. Brady has also had some issues with this (once or twice against the Chargers, IIRC), so I think we may see some cut blocks on Jones by the IOL.
I'm guessing that the Chiefs' coverage will also have improved and become a little more sophisticated, as their younger DBs have gained experience and a confidence that may be bolstered, at least somewhat, by the return of Berry. It seems likely to me that they won't be playing simple zone coverages as often as the Chargers did, and are likely to be significantly more effective in man than the Chargers' secondary was (the few times they used it).
With Burkhead back, and with Michel having caught a few more passes than he had by week-6, and with Patterson on tape having been used as an RB, and with Develin having been used as a rusher and a receiver much more this season than in the past, I think the Pats may use more 21 and 22 personnel than they did against the Chargers - sets that KCY reportedly doesn't defend well. The multiplicity of plays that the Pats can run out of 21 and 22 should help control the Chiefs' pass rush and also stretch their coverage both vertically and horizontally. And I'm pretty sure that McD will use the "run with Michel - pass with White" tendency he showed against the Chargers as a red herring. I'm guessing that McD will find a way to get a pass or two to Michel in space, someplace other than the flat or on a screen.
The question, then, is which receivers will be able to get open enough for Brady, especially if the Pats are in 21 personnel (only 2 WRs) more often?
- I'm guessing that the Chiefs make an extra effort to take Edelman away, and that Gronk won't be as heavily used as some people think, except on play-action.
- Patterson seemed "underused" against the Chargers, but then, he still may have been somewhat hindered by his knee issue (even though he was practicing "in full" in the week before the Chargers game). He may be more active in the passing attack on Sunday.
- I don't think that Dorsett has been targeted "deep" since week-3 (@DET). Since then, his average yds/tgt has been about 8, and he's caught 24/26 for 221 yds and 2 TDs (Dorsett's last incompletion before the Chargers game was way back in week-4 versus Miami). Having established himself as almost exclusively a short-area, possession target, a double-move by him my be very effective.
- Hogan has been targeted more in the past two games (NYJ and LAC) than he was in his 8 previous games, dating back to week-7 @CHI. The results have not been great (9/16 for 77 yds), and his last score came on the 63-yarder against busted coverage @PIT in week-15 (a month ago). I'm not sure how he may be used against the Chiefs, or how effective he may be, but I'm guessing that he'll see at least a few targets.
Overall, if Brady gets time to throw (and he won't need much), and his targets can get open (which doesn't need to be by a lot), the passing attack should be successful enough, especially if the running game is good.
It really all comes down to execution, ball security and player health. If the Pats' offense and defense can execute as well as they did against the Chargers (before they took their foot off the gas in Q3), and keep that up for 60 minutes, I think the Pats can come out with a solid win (~ 10 points or more).