On Saturday the Kansas City Chiefs meet the New England Patriots in Foxboro in the AFC Divisional Round playoff match up. The winner punches their ticket to the AFC Championship Game and play for the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 50 while the loser begins a long off season of what could have been.
The Chiefs enter Saturday’s game on an NFL best 11 game winning streak which includes last week’s demolition of the AFC South Champion Houston Texans to the tune of 30-0. The Patriots, devastated by injury, limped into the playoffs losing 4 of their last 6 including back to back division losses in the last two weeks of the season. However the Patriots are coming off a bye week and should get several key players back from injury.
Thought Kansas City and New England have met 33 times since 1960, they have never met in the playoffs and the Chiefs do lead the overall series 17-13-3. So in yet another futile attempt to be non-bias and analytical, both teams were broken down in key areas to see how they will match up against each other and which one may have the key to a victory.
Quarterback – Patriots: Alex Smith is probably the prototypical “Game Manager” quarterback. His throwing attempts are low but efficient, he can make timely runs to keep drives alive, and he does not make costly mistakes. However if this game becomes a high scoring affair, Smith may not be able to keep pace with Tom Brady.
Running Backs – Chiefs: Since losing Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs have done a fine job with backfilling him with the combination of Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware. The Patriots, on the other hand, have struggled in the backfield with the loss of LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis. The addition of Steven Jackson may seem like a smart move but he has yet to prove that he has anything left in the tank.
Wide Receivers – Patriots: The return of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola should give the Patriots passing attack a much needed boost while the Chiefs may be in trouble if leading receiver Jeremy Maclin is unavailable due to a high ankle sprain.
Tight Ends – Patriots: While the Chiefs Travis Kielce may be considered “Mini-Grok”, the Patriots get the edge in this area thanks to “Original Gronk”.
Offensive Line – Push: Certainly it’s been well documented how poorly the Patriots offensive line has played especially in pass protection. What is not quite as well known is that the Chiefs offensive line may actually be worse at protecting the passer. The Patriots allow a sack for every 10.5 pass attempts with the Chiefs allow a sack for every 6.8 pass attempts. The Chiefs have run blocked better than the Patriots but there is no substantial advantage to either team in this area.
Defensive Front Seven – Push: Both the Patriots and Chiefs have virtually identical stats in stopping opponents running games and their ability to rush the passer. The Chiefs are allowing 98.2 rushing yards per game while Patriots are allowing 98.8 rushing yards per game. The Patriots have 49 sacks while the Chiefs have 47.
Secondary – Chiefs: Though many of the passing statistics are very close between the two teams, the Chiefs secondary gets the edge due to the amount of interceptions they have created.
Special Teams – Push: Both teams are fairly even in the kick and punt return areas. There is a slight advantage with Patriots having Stephen Gostkowski but Cario Santos for Kansas City has had a very good year in his own right.
Coaching – Patriots: Over the years, Andy Reid and Bill Belichick have become fairly good friends. Up until recently, both coaches would make a yearly trade during the draft and have publicly acknowledged their friendship over the years. On the field, their teams have met five times with the most notable meeting happening in Super Bowl XXXIX when Belichick’s Patriots beat Reid’s Eagles 24-21. Andy Reid’s only victory over Belichick came last season when the Patriots visited Arrowhead and were handed a 41-14 beat down by the Chiefs.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
Key’s to a Patriots Victory:
1) Know where Travis Kelce is: With the possibility of Jeremy Maclin not playing, it will be critical for the Patriots to shut down the one true weapon that the Chiefs have on the offense outside of their injured Wide Receiver. There is no reason why the Patriots should lose sight of where Kielce is on the field.
2) Unleash James White: For all of the well-deserved accolades that Dion Lewis received, one thing that has gone unnoticed is that James White actually has better pass catching numbers and more explosive passing plays that Dion Lewis did. Getting White involved early in the game could help take some pressure off of Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman.
3) Offensive Line Play: This is probably the most key area for the Patriots if they are to move on to the AFC Championship Game. If the Patriots can give Tom Brady decent protection, they will have an opportunity to win this game. If the pass protection falters, it may be a very long day in Foxboro.
Last season when the Patriots met the Chiefs, Kansas City handed New England their worst regular season loss since 2005. The Patriots, to their credit, used that loss to turn their season around and went on to win the Super Bowl. This year’s Patriots team has been derailed late in the season by injuries to key players on both sides of the ball. The hope is that the return of many of these players this Saturday will jump start the Patriots and get them back to the AFC Championship game where anything could happen. The Chiefs enter this weekend’s game as the hottest team in the NFL. IF the Patriots are not able to protect Brady, the results may look similar to what happened last season in Arrowhead.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 24 – Chiefs 21