The New England Patriots host the Kansas City Chiefs Saturday afternoon, Jan. 16, at 4:35 P.M. at Gillette Stadium.
The Chiefs went on the road and defeated the Houston Texans 30-0 during Wildcard Weekend, earning the right to travel to Foxboro. Here’s some initial thoughts on next week’s contest. —
After starting the season 1-5, Kansas City has won the last 11 games including the final 10 of the regular season. Head Coach Andy Reid, QB Alex Smith and their defense have the Chiefs rolling through the post-season with a lot of momentum.
The Chiefs may have lost wide receiver Jeremy Maclin as he went down Saturday evening, initially believe to be an ACL injury, but now called a high-ankle sprain. Maclin, who caught 72 passes for 875 yards and five scores in the regular season, has been a key fixture in the passing game. This leaves an already limited Kansas City offense even more short-handed.
Travis Kelce has emerged as one of the top tight end talents in the NFL. He’s been one of Smith’s top targets, hauling in 72 passes for 875 yards and five touchdowns. With Maclin possibly out, or at least limited, Kelce will be the focus of Kansas City’s offense.
The Chiefs lost star tailback Jamaal Charles earlier in the season and have turned to a running back by committee approach. Smith has been able to make something happen with his feet, actually the second leading rusher for the team with 498 yards throughout the year. New England will be challenged to pressure Smith without losing containment in the pocket.
Defensively, the Chiefs are very dangerous. Justin Houston and Tamba Hali are one of the best one-two pass rushing combos in the league, safety Eric Berry returned from his battle with cancer to Pro Bowl form and rookie cornerback Marcus Peters finished the season with eight interceptions. They are loaded with talent.
Kansas City is third in the NFL with 17.9 points-per-game allowed, fourth in sacks with 47 and have the second best turnover margin (+18) in the league. They have found a winning formula and present several concerns as they come to New England.
It will be interesting to see how the Patriots show up this weekend. A little over two months ago, New England would have likely won in a landslide. But injuries and uncharacteristic play have people skeptical. If New England’s injured players expected to return — Julian Edelman the most notable — are a full go, they will be in good shape. If not, it could be a long day.
Either way, it’s hard to predict anything but a dogfight. Both teams take care of the football and are efficient offensively. While Kansas City doesn’t score at a high rate, their defense keeps the score down. If New England can put some points up early and put pressure on the Chiefs to score, they’ll be in the driver seat.
More on this contest with pregame thoughts and three keys to the game later this week.
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