Patriots open title defense against Chiefs
It's time for Thursday Night Football. The last time the Patriots and Chiefs met in a primetime game was Sept. 29, 2014, in Kansas City. The Chiefs hammered the Pats, 41–14, dropping them to 2–2 and leaving some wondering if Tom Brady’s star was finally starting to fade.
Since that night, New England has won 43 of 52 games, including a playoff win over the Chiefs that same season, and two Super Bowls. Despite what many thought three years ago, Brady and company show no signs of slowing down.
In fact, most agree the Pats may have gotten better in the offseason, on paper anyway. Seventeen starters return, and a big piece was added on each side of the ball (WR Brandin Cooks and CB Stephon Gilmore). Losing WR Julian Edelman for the season hurts, but as long as Brady is healthy, this team is the Super Bowl favorite.
Kansas City went through some offseason upheaval in the front office, but the Chiefs also return 17 starters from a 12–4 team that won the AFC West and lost to Pittsburgh in the playoffs. It’s easy to imagine Kansas City fighting for another division crown with Andy Reid running the show, a veteran quarterback in Alex Smith and so many key pieces back. But it’s also hard to imagine Smith and Reid getting over the postseason hump against the likes of the Pats and Steelers.
Kansas City at New England
Kickoff: Thursday, Sept. 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Patriots -9
Three Things to Watch
1. Carrying the load
While both teams look very similar to last season, both will have new workhorse running backs. Kansas City lost Spencer Ware for the season thanks to a knee injury, but even before that rookie Kareem Hunt was making a push for a major role. Now the job is his, but he might find the going tough against a New England defense that ranked third against the run a year ago. With LeGarrette Blount gone to Philadelphia, the Patriots also have a new face in the backfield in former Buffalo reserve Mike Gillislee. While Gillislee is likely to assume the goal-line duties that allowed Blount to score 18 times last season, don’t be surprised if holdovers James While and Dion Lewis, account for some of the targets up for grabs after Edelman’s injury.
2. How will the Chiefs use Tyreek Hill?
As a rookie last season, Hill emerged as a threat to score every time he touched the ball. He scored six times on 61 receptions, added three more touchdowns on the ground and three more on kick returns — all despite starting just one game on offense. With Jeremy Maclin gone, Hill is expected to become an even bigger part of the offense. The question is can the Chiefs take full advantage of his abilities? Smith is not known for having the biggest arm, so much of Hill’s damage is done on short routes in the hope he can turn it into a big gain once the ball is in his hands. And given his expanded role in the offense, the Chiefs may choose to us him less on kick returns in an effort to keep him healthy. De’Anthony Thomas is a decent threat on special teams if Hill needs a break, but Kansas City wants the ball in Hill’s hands as much as possible.
3. How will Brandin Cooks fit in the Patriots offense?
When Cooks was acquired from New Orleans after back-to-back 1,000-yards seasons there, most figured he would be the deep threat the Pats may have been lacking. With Julian Edelman out for the season, he will likely be more than that. Is he ready to be Brady’s go-to guy right off the bat? Probably not, but there are plenty of veterans around him to help pick up the slack until he and Brady are totally comfortable with each other. A healthy Rob Gronkowski is always a good first option, and Brady has already built plenty of trust with White and WR Chris Hogan, who combined for nearly 100 catches a year ago. Throw in Danny Amendola and former Bengal Rex Burkhead, and you have plenty of guys who can find holes on short routes. But when the Pats need an explosive play, Brady will likely look to Cooks.
The betting line on this game seems a bit large given that the Chiefs won 12 games a year ago and return much of the same team. Then again, Kansas City did rely an awful lot on turnovers last season (33 takeaways); what if the ball doesn’t bounce the Chiefs’ way this season? The Pats have won primetime season openers each of the last two years, but both have been one-score games. We’ll predict another close one here.