Kansas City continued its run of consistent excellence a year ago, grinding out another 12-win season and a division title in the AFC West. They were able to win the divisional tiebreaker over the Oakland Raiders, who matched their 12-4 record, by virtue of a season sweep of Oakland.
The Chiefs debuted an electric rookie in Tyreek Hill, whose multi-purpose talents led to ten total touchdowns. Tight end Travis Kelce enjoyed a career season as well with 1,125 yards receiving. The defense was opportunistic, leading to the Chiefs tying for first in the NFL in turnover differential. A heartbreaking 18-16 loss at home to Pittsburgh in the divisional round ended their season.
The Patriots continued their domination of the AFC East, once again coasting the division crown with a 14-2 record, four games in front of their nearest competitor. They managed to go 3-1 without Tom Brady at quarterback while he was serving his four-game suspension for “Deflategate”.
Once he returned, they were virtually unbeatable, finishing third in points scored and first in points allowed in the NFL. They posted easy victories in their two AFC playoff games, and then came back from a 28-3 deficit in Super Bowl LI to win the franchise’s fifth championship, all of which have come in the Brady-Bill Belichick era.
The 40-year-old version – After winning his fifth Super Bowl in a wild comeback over the Falcons a year ago, Tom Brady would seem to have nothing left to prove as he begins his 40-year-old campaign. But neither his competitive drive nor his talents have dimmed one iota. The Patriots have loaded him up with weapons this year on an offense that should be something to behold, unless, that is, you’re a team like the Chiefs who have to try and stop them. Their best bet is trying to pressure Brady, but the Chiefs were 28th in the sacks a year ago.
All eyes on Smith – Alex Smith has been a big part of the Chiefs making three playoff appearances in the last four seasons. But the 33-year-old quarterback continues to face questions about being a so-called “game manager” as fans wonder if that style is enough to get it done in the postseason. The Chiefs drafted a gunslinging type in Pat Mahomes to understudy behind Smith, but the rookie’s preseason play opened some eyes and maybe added to the pressure on the veteran. A great opening game against a quality opponent like the Pats would silence a lot of Smith’s doubters.
Isn’t that special? – The Patriots don’t appear to have a lot of weaknesses as they enter the 2017 season, but their special teams are definitely an area of concern. They lack a game-breaking returner, and Stephen Gostkowski, usually one of the game’s premier kickers, is coming off a struggling season that included a missed extra point in the Super Bowl. This appears to be one area of the game where the Chiefs can make up some ground. They are blessed with one of football’s most electric return men in Tyreek Hill, with three return TD’s a year ago, and a dependable young kicker in Cairo Santos.
Matchup to watch: Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski vs Chiefs S Eric Berry
It’s amazing that the Patriots rolled to another title last season with their top offensive weapon on the sidelines for much of the year. But Gronkowski is back and poised to make up for lost time in 2017, as long as he can keep clear of the injury bug. He figures to spend a lot of the evening trying to elude Berry, who is the undisputed leader of the Chiefs defense. Holding down Gronk won’t be easy and will probably take some help, but it’s imperative that Berry steps up.
Fantasy football tip: RB Charcandrick West
Rookie Kareem Hunt was a hot commodity in fantasy drafts and will probably be the Chiefs top back for most of the season with Spencer Ware out for the year. But in this pressure-packed opening contest where assignments need to be handled correctly, Chiefs coach Andy Reid might prefer the steadier hand of West, now in his fourth year with the team. He could be a sneaky source of points at an extremely low price in DFS leagues.
Prediction: New England Patriots 42-24 Kansas City Chiefs
With Hill, Hunt and tight end Travis Kelce, the Chiefs are building an explosive offense after years of plodding, and they should put some points on the board. But coach Bill Belichick, Brady and the Patriots as a whole love nothing more than making a statement. By blowing out Kansas City, a divisional champ a year ago, they’ll be telling the rest of the NFL they’re all playing for second.
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?