Chiefs, Patriots square off in an AFC showdown on "Sunday Night Football"
The Kansas City Chiefs (5-0) will pay a visit to Foxboro to face the New England Patriots (3-2) for a primetime marquee matchup between AFC heavyweights on “Sunday Night Football.” The Patriots last hosted the Chiefs to open the 2017 NFL season on “Thursday Night Football.” New England entered that matchup as the defending Super Bowl champions and as nine-point favorites over the Chiefs. The Patriots exited the game as the victim of an embarrassing 42-27 upset. Kansas City’s 42 points in that game stand as the most points ever allowed by a Bill Belichick-coached New England team.
Kansas City will make its triumphant return to Gillette Stadium on Sunday. Despite the Chiefs’ unblemished record, and a top-5 offense that averages 35 points per game, they once again find themselves playing the role of underdog against the homestanding Patriots. The Kansas City offense has been nothing short of spectacular to this point behind the arm of phenom quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Chiefs’ defense, which ranks dead last in the NFL, surrendering 462 yards per game. Kansas City gave up 502 yards to Jacksonville just last week. But the Chiefs also forced five turnovers and racked up 424 yards of their own against the NFL’s top-ranked defense to secure a 30-14 victory over the Jaguars at home. The red-hot Chiefs now make their way to New England in a bid to repeat last season’s monumental upset and remain perfect on the season.
New England enters the big Week 6 matchup with a little momentum of its own. After a shaky 1-2 start to the season that had many of the New England faithful reaching for the panic button, the Pats appear to be returning to form. They have averaged 38 points per game over the last two weeks in blowout wins over the Dolphins and Colts. But the real test will come in the form of the visiting Chiefs on Sunday night. And despite New England’s recent turnaround, there are still a few wrinkles left for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady to iron out. The good news is that they have had ten days to prepare and rest up. The question is, will that be enough for the Patriots to avoid the same fate as last season against the surging Chiefs?
Kansas City at New England
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 14 at 8:20 p.m. ET
Spread: Patriots -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Brady vs. Mahomes
This may be the most intriguing quarterback matchup of the season, as the legendary 41-year-old veteran goes head-to-head against the 23-year-old upstart phenom. And this one should not disappoint. Both quarterbacks have very promising matchups awaiting on Sunday night, which means that this could very well turn into a shootout of epic proportions.
Fresh off his 500th career touchdown pass in Week 5 against the Colts, Tom Brady will now attempt to reach another milestone on Sunday night, becoming the first NFL quarterback to win 200 regular-season games. He enters Week 6 with 1,259 passing yards and 12 touchdowns on the season. However, Brady’s six interceptions through five games are just two fewer than he threw all of last season. That said, the reigning NFL MVP is looking sharper by the week. And with the return of Julian Edelman to go along with the addition of elite playmaker Josh Gordon, and the always-dangerous Rob Gronkowski still on hand, the New England passing attack should only get better from here.
Sunday night looks particularly favorable for Brady and company. The Kansas City pass defense is giving up a generous 343 yards per game through the air (31st in the NFL). The Chiefs also have allowed a league-high 27 pass plays of 20 yards or more. Additionally, it appears that the Chiefs will be without star pass rusher Justin Houston (hamstring) on Sunday night. Houston played a key role in Brady’s poor performance in last year’s game with two sacks.
Sunday night’s matchup also is shaping up to be a good one for Patrick Mahomes. The second-year quarterback is taking the league by storm. Mahomes leads all NFL quarterbacks with 14 touchdown passes through five games. And like Brady, Mahomes also etched his name in the record book last week, tying a franchise record with his fourth consecutive 300-yard passing game. He’s also a perfect 6-0 as a starting quarterback in the NFL.
Mahomes will be matched up against a Patriots pass defense that has been up and down so far this season. The inconsistent New England secondary has been inexcusably bad in its down performances. Case in point: Blake Bortles threw for 376 yards and four scores against them in Week 2. And Andrew Luck lit up the Pats secondary to the tune of 365 passing yards and three touchdowns just last week. New England hasn’t generated much of a pass rush so far this season, either. The Pats have just seven sacks through five games (second fewest in the NFL).
2. Kansas City playmakers
There may not be a more dynamic group of skill position players in the NFL than that of the Chiefs. Kansas City’s playmakers wreaked havoc on the New England defense last season, and they may prove even more dangerous this time around. Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt racked up 246 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns in last year's matchup. Hunt hasn’t been as active in the passing game so far in 2018, but he does rank fifth in the NFL with 376 rushing yards. He’s scored a touchdown in each of Kansas City’s last four games as well. Hunt will face a New England run defense that has looked much better than the one he faced last season. However, the Patriots are allowing a somewhat generous 4.4 yards per carry.
One player the Patriots did hold in check last season was Travis Kelce. New England will make a concerted effort to slow the elite tight end again on Sunday night, but it won’t be easy. Kelce leads all NFL tight ends with 81.4 receiving yards per game and serves as Patrick Mahomes’ favorite target. If New England does somehow manage to contain Kelce, that will only open the door for speedsters Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins. Hill already has nine receptions of 20 yards or more on the season. And he proved to be a big thorn in the side of the Pats secondary last season with seven receptions for 133 yards and a score. New England will surely have its hands full against Kansas City’s rare blend of dynamic playmakers.
3. New England running backs vs. the Kansas City run defense
New England will want to keep Kansas City’s high-powered offense off the field as much as possible. The only way to do that is by controlling the clock with a successful rushing attack. Rookie running back Sony Michel will spearhead that effort on Sunday night. Michel has played a pivotal role in New England’s recent turnaround, jumpstarting the Patriots ground game with 210 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns over the last two weeks.
Michel did pop up on the injury report with an apparent knee injury and was limited in practice on Thursday. However, reports suggest that it isn’t serious, and his limitations in practice are merely precautionary. If that is indeed the case, Michel should find success again this week against a porous Kansas City run defense. Opposing running backs are averaging a league-high 5.8 yards per carry against the Chiefs. Kansas City has given up the most receiving yards (454) to running backs in the NFL as well. That bodes well for pass-catching specialist James White, who ranks third among NFL running backs with 32 receptions for 270 yards and four touchdowns.
It’s hard to go against the red-hot Chiefs right now. After all, they are 5-0 and lighting up the scoreboard week in and week out. Kansas City also went into Foxboro last season as an underdog and dominated the Patriots. That said, it’s only a matter of time before the Chiefs’ anemic defense bites them. And this might very well be that week. The Patriots offense is starting to hit its stride, and Tom Brady finally has the weapons he needs to get the passing game hitting on all cylinders.
Bill Belichick is a master game-planner as well. And with 10 days to prepare for this matchup, he should have a few tricks up his sleeve. The Chiefs will still score plenty of points. However, their defense isn’t good enough to keep the Patriots from doing the same. Pats win a close one at home in a shootout.
Prediction: Patriots 34, Chiefs 31
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.