Chiefs at Patriots
Between their 11-game winning streak and the relatively fresh memory of the Chiefs harassing Brady into miscues in a 41-14 rout on Nov. 29 of ’14, you don’t have to look hard to find someone convinced that Kansas City is going to emerge with an upset of the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
A road playoff game didn’t bother Andy Reid’s team in the slightest in last Saturday’s 30-0 blowout of the Texans in Houston. It probably helped to lead after the game’s very first play since Knile Davis took the opening kickoff back 106 yards for a score, allowing the Chiefs to set a dominant tone. Houston’s Brian Hoyer was erratic and ultimately turned the ball over five times, but a defense that got Justin Houston and Tamba Hali back looked fierce and will set its sights on attempting to rattle Brady.
Last week’s annihilation of the Chiefs saw the defense send four or fewer pass rushers on 84 percent of Hoyer’s dropbacks, so don’t expect to see much blitzing of Brady, who gets rid of the ball faster than most. Kansas City is hoping a secondary featuring resurgent All-Pro Eric Berry, physical veterans Husain Abdullah and Sean Smith, as well as impressive rookie Marcus Peters can continue a strong run against opposing receivers and tight ends. Opponents have scored 20 or more points only twice during Kansas City’s 11 consecutive wins.
The Patriots are going to run the football to keep Kansas City’s front seven off balance, which means 32-year-old Steven Jackson will likely be heavily involved in his first playoff appearance since 2004. He joined New England in December, participating in the last two regular-season games and splitting work with James White and Brandon Bolden.
Brady is counting on having Rob Gronkowski available despite news he visited a hospital for treatment on his right knee earlier this week. Although he’s expected to be dealing with knee and back pain while less than 100 percent, he’s going to be counted on to create matchup problems. Julian Edelman is also back, returning from a broken foot suffered in mid-November. He caught 61 passes for seven touchdowns over just nine games this season. Danny Amendola is listed as questionable with a knee injury but also expected to play. He’s caught a pass in all 14 games he’s participated in this season, so count on him emerging as a factor.
While injury-related news regarding their receiving threats appears positive, the same can’t be said about other segments. Up front, rookie guard Tre’ Jackson, who started nine of the 13 games he appeared in, has been ruled out with an undisclosed injury. Tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who sat out the regular-season finale against Miami, is also listed as questionable but expected to play through a leg injury that has left him noticeably hobbled.
“It’s the playoffs,” Vollmer told NESN regarding the likelihood of his return. “I don’t think anyone is 100 percent out there. (Hali) is a force out there. He has been for a long time. He’s been giving us problems, giving a lot of guys a lot of problems… I think they’re fourth in sacks this year, and it shows.”
Keeping Brady upright will be New England’s biggest key, while maintaining possession to keep their defense fresh will be Kansas City’s primary concern. Hali and Houston are both listed as questionable but are expected to play. Offensively, the Chiefs ran for 207 yards in last year’s 41-14 win but also have issues along an offensive line being counted on to open holes for young running backs Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware.
The Chiefs beat Houston without starting center Mitch Morse and won’t have him back from concussion protocol against the Patriots. They’ll also be without starting guard Laurent Duverany-Tardif due to a concussion. Smith may not have top receiver Jeremy Maclin (high ankle sprain) available, which would make it easier for New England to concentrate on taking away dangerous tight end Travis Kelce. Speedster Albert Wilson is also listed as questionable with a hamstring issue.
The Patriots list Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones as questionable, but both should play, restoring the defense to full strength. There may be light showers to deal with, so even though the total of 42.5/43 appears low, keep in mind Mother Nature may play a role. Game-time temperatures are expected to be around 40 degrees and it might be mildly windy.