The first of this weekend’s divisional games sees the fifth seeded Kansas City Chiefs travel to Foxborough to face AFC East champions New England on Saturday. The Chiefs have won their last 11 games, including a 30-0 blowout win over Houston in last week’s wild card round. During their winning streak, Kansas City have overcome a wide variety of opponents; even beating Denver’s number one defense in Week 10. New England have struggled with injuries during the final stretch of the season. They lost running back Dion Lewis in Week 9, wide receiver Julian Edelman in Week 10, and saw Rob Gronkowski go down in Week 12 against Denver. But the Patriots should get several key pieces back in time for Saturday’s game. They missed out on the top seed, but are always dangerous in the playoffs.
Three Keys to the Game
How healthy are the Patriots?
The Patriots are due to see Edelman, Danny Amendola, Dont’a Hightower, Sebastian Vollmer and Devin McCourty return to face the Chiefs. They will need them against a Chiefs defense that is one of the best in the league. Edelman is Brady’s favourite target outside of Gronk, who missed practice this week but should be able to play after having an injection in his knee. Gronk was used mainly as a blocker against Miami, but should take on a much greater role against Kansas City. Don’t expect the Patriots to try and run the ball too much, as they have struggled to establish a ground game in recent weeks.
Can Kansas City’s defense deal with playoff Tom Brady?
Kansas City’s defense has been good this year, especially against the pass. Rookie corner Marcus Peters has been impressive, and is the focal point of a strong secondary. Justin Houston is one of the league’s premier pass rushers, but will be a game-time decision with a knee injury. A strong pass rush will be vital if the Chiefs want to beat New England, who have struggled to protect Brady with a patchwork offensive line. The Chiefs have allowed an average of 17.9 points per game this season, third lowest in the league. But the playoffs are where Brady does his best work. Brady is 21-8 in the postseason, with 58 touchdowns to 26 interceptions. Brady only threw seven picks this year, against 36 touchdown passes. With Edelman, Gronk, and Amendola back, can the Chiefs stop him from adding to those tallies?
Kansas City’s offense
The Chiefs run an efficient, if unspectacular offense. Alex Smith has thrown just seven picks all year, and is also an underrated scrambler. Kansas City have a good running game, but have relied more on the pass in recent games. Smith has good targets like Travis Kelce and Jeremy Maclin, although Maclin will be a game-time decision with an ankle injury. If Maclin isn’t able to play, the Chiefs’ offense faces serious limitations. The Patriots field a strong defense, and have several key pieces returning. They were second only to Denver with 49 sacks in the regular season, which will be an issue for a Kansas City team that allowed 46 sacks this year.
Match-up to watch
Marcus Peters vs Julian Edelman
Peters is a virtual lock for Defensive Rookie of the Year. The former Washington corner tied the league lead for interceptions with eight picks while also leading the league with 34 passes defensed. Now he lines up against the returning Edelman, who promised to go “full-throttle” on his return to action. With Edelman in the line-up for eight games, New England averaged 34.5 points per game. Without him for the final eight weeks, the Patriots could only average 23.6. Edelman has been practising for the last few weeks, so should be completely healthy. A clash between him and Peters is a mouth-watering prospect.
New England Patriots
At home, in the playoffs, and with pivotal starters returning from injury, the Patriots have an edge over Kansas City. The Chiefs are a strong team and will certainly give New England a test. But with Brady in the playoffs, the Patriots have to be favoured.