By Mike DeVito
When New England is on Offense:
KC is stacked from top to bottom with playmakers on defense. On the defensive line, the Chiefs added big man Beenie Logan in free agency and he is an absolute force against the run. With two pro bowl caliber players in Allen Baily and Chris Jones next to him, this is one of the top interior defensive lines New England will play all year.
OLB Justin Houston is one of the best defensive players in the NFL (in 2014 Houston had 22 sacks which left him half a sack away from tying the NFL record) and is an absolute nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators. There aren’t many offensive tackles in the league that you can expect to block Houston one on one. Look for the Pats to slide the protection and/or chip him on pass plays. The problem is it doesn’t get any easier for New England on the opposite side of the defense with Dee Ford. Ford emerged as a true menace last year finishing the season with 10 sacks. Ford normally lines up on the right side of the defense, so he will be battling Nate Solider most of the game.
Middle linebacker Derrick Johnson is the Kansas Chiefs all-time leading tackler with 1,083 in his career. Johnson is coming off a second Achilles injury but after watching him in the preseason it is clear he hasn’t lost a step. Because of his athleticism, look for DJ to be involved with the task of covering Gronkowski (he is one of the few LB’s in the league with the ability to do it). The Pats will also have to account for Johnson in the run game because of his ability to quickly diagnose run schemes and shoot gaps.
Starting DB Steven Nelson is on IR, which is a significant loss for KC (Nelson had 16 pass break ups last year) but the Chiefs have plenty of play makers to make up for it. Led by, the heart of soul of the team, pro bowl safety Eric Berry, as well as pro bowl CB (I’m talking Revis in his prime talent) Marcus Peters. KC presents the Pats with one of the few defenses that has enough talent to account for New England’s playmakers.
When New England is on Defense:
The offensive line of the Chiefs is solid group led by RT Mitch Schwartz, C Mitch Morse, and LT Eric Fisher. Schwartz was brought over from Cleveland in 2016 because of his ability to block Von Miller one on one, (he’s also a technician as a run blocker). Fisher signed an extension in 2016 and backed up that deal on the field by being voted a pro bowl alternate. As a group, KC has the ability to run both gap and zone schemes extremely effectively. The battle with New England’s tough run stopping defensive line (Alan Branch, Trey Flowers, and Guy Lawrence), will be an interesting match up to focus on.
The Chiefs’ offense is led by QB Alex Smith, who had a pro bowl season in 2016 (15 TD’s, 8 INT’s) as well as some dangerous weapons, WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce (both pro bowlers last year). New England will have to account for both of them on every snap if they want to be successful on defense. The Chiefs lost RB Spencer Ware for the year during the preseason, but rookie Kareem Hunt has had a fantastic preseason and is set to be the starter Thursday night. With all-pro fullback ,and New England native, Anthony Sherman bulldozing over linebackers, it’s hard to see how any RB the Chiefs put in the game wouldn’t be successful.
One-name for Pats fans: Tyreek Hill. As a return specialist, Hill was named to the Pro Bowl as well as First Team All-Pro as a rookie in 2016. On punt returns last season, Hill averaged 15.5 yards per return and two touchdowns. He will be the fastest guy on the field Thursday night and has the ability on offense and special teams to change the game with his big play potential. New England’s perennial pro bowler and special team’s captain, Matthew Slater will have his hands full trying to slow Hill down.
Prediction: KC – 24 NE – 21
(Don’t worry Pat’s fans you’ll win the next 15!)
Mike DeVito (@MikeDevito70 on Twitter) is a 9 year NFL veteran with the Jets and Chiefs and a Maine Black Bear alum. Mike co-hosts the Football Thursday edition of The Drive on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.