Tonight is the night. It’s finally here. The NFL season begins with a match up of two division winners from last season. The New England Patriots welcome the Kansas City Chiefs in defense of their fifth Super Bowl title. We all remember how they stormed back from twenty five points down against the Atlanta Falcons, to win one of the most exciting games the NFL has ever offered, but how have these two changed since?
Both teams had busy offseasons. For the Patriots, they made a slew of high profile trades that added more juice to an already loaded roster. After acquiring Brandin Cooks, Dwayne Allen, and most recently Philip Dorsett, Tom Brady’s offense looks more deadly than ever, although he did lose his security blanket Julian Edelman to a torn ACL (Brady-led offense scores 10 lets points per game without Edelman than with him). Defensively, they return most of their starters, but free agency saw them net one of the league’s better cornerbacks, Stephon Gilmore, away from division rival Buffalo. In Kansas City, they said goodbye to GM John Dorsey and assistant Chris Ballard (now Colts GM), along with veterans Jeremy Maclin (Ravens) and Jamaal Charles (Broncos). In May, they drafted a quarterback in the first round in over twenty years with the selection of Texas Tech star Patrick Mahomes II with the tenth overall pick. Even after a stellar preseason, he isn’t projected to start this year, but the future looks bright for this Chiefs squad.
This will be a good test for both teams. The Patriots are led by a forty-year old Brady, who everyone is waiting for to finally show signs of his age. Kansas City is hoping to take the next step after suffering another one-and-done season in ’16. Knocking off the heavyweight Pats will go a long way in showing the world they should be taken seriously. The Chiefs are heavy underdogs in this one, with the Patriots favored by nine points. However, these two teams have split their last two meetings. The Patriots won 27-21 in the Divisional Round two years ago, and the Chiefs won 41-14 in an Arrowhead massacre the year before. I don’t expect either team to win in a blowout, or a Chiefs victory, but here is what Kansas City can do to shock the NFL world on opening night:
1. Score first
The Patriots have all the advantages. They’re playing at home, and with the pregame ceremonies, the fans will be electric and ready to welcome their team back home. The defending Super Bowl champ is 11-2 since the NFL started their tradition of the defending champ kicking off the season on Thursday Night. If the Chiefs can jump out to an early lead, it’ll go a long way in gaining an edge against the best the league has to offer by forcing the Patriots to become one dimensional, which will lead to an easier time for…
2. Justin Houston and Dee Ford need to show up. Big time.
The Chiefs pass rush never shows up in their playoff games, which is part of the reason why they can’t advance. In a playoff-like atmosphere (and possible preview), Kansas City needs it’s star edge rushers to be relentless. Atlanta got out to a lead because they forced Brady into rushed throws and hurried decisions. With the best ballhawks in football behind them, a few hurries could prove costly for Brady. Finally healthy, I’m anxious to see if Houston takes over the game like he’s done so often in the past. When healthy, he is a Top 5 defender in football.
3. Stop Rob Gronkowski (at all costs)
If the Chiefs let Gronkowski run wild, this game will get uglier than Ryan Fitzpatrick’s beard, and fast. Gronk is the best tight end in football, and even though he commands numerous eyes, he still finds ways to make big plays – although, historically, his numbers go down without Edelman on the field.
I’m watching Eric Berry and Ron Parker heavily in this one, because if they play tight coverage and limit his big play chances, it limits the Patriots offense as a whole.
4. Be aggressive on offense
The last thing the Chiefs need to do is trot out the offense that failed to score a touchdown against Pittsburgh. After watching Mahomes make deep throw after deep throw during the preseason, Alex Smith should be encouraged to do the same if his Chiefs are going to have any chance this weekend. While young and mostly inexperienced, Tyreek Hill, Chris Conley, and Demarcus Robinson all have the speed to get vertical. The Patriots won’t be expecting it, and some successful deep shots could change the entire game. We saw Smith uncork beauties at times last season, so we know he can (occasionally) do it. Let’s hope Andy Reid doesn’t forget to call them.
5. Special teams need to be special
The Chiefs scored twice on returns during the preseason, and if they’re to pull a shocker, they will need to do much of the same against the Patriots. With an offense guided by a limited quarterback, they will need good field position to keep pace with the Patriots offense. Cairo Santos missed three preseason games due to a groin injury, and in the last game he kicked four extra points, missing one. Hopefully he’ll be ready for a full workload on Thursday Night.
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