WHY THE PATRIOTS WILL WIN:
For New England there are four key factors that they will have to execute on Thursday night to defeat the Chiefs:
- Slow the pass rush
- Make big plays on offense
- Slow Travis Kelce
- Make KC one-dimensional on offense
The first factor is blocking up Kansas City’s explosive edge rushers. Although veteran Tamba Hali is not active due to injury, the Patriots still have to contend with Dee Ford and Justin Houston. That duo is capable of taking over a game, creating key turnovers, and pressuring opposing quarterbacks into poor throws and bad decisions.
The Patriots will have to defeat this pressure by making Chiefs pay for focusing on the pass rush and bringing extra rushers. Tight end Rob Gronkowski needs to work the scenes of the defense on intermediate routes, while newly acquired Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan need to stretch the Chiefs defense vertically. A few big plays downfield can give the Patriots the cushion they need throughout the game.
The Chiefs, like the Patriots with Gronkowski, have their own match up special at tight end. Travis Kelce has blossomed into one of the best tight ends in the NFL, and he creates mismatches with his ability to overmatch match safeties and run away from linebackers. It will take a group effort with the secondary and linebackers to keep Kelce contained and prevent big first down conversions and chunk plays downfield.
Finally, New England needs to give their Edge rushers some help to pressure quarterback Alex Smith. Slowing the Chiefs running game and making their offense one-dimensional will allow Trey Flowers and whoever else is opposite him to tee off and rush the passer without any concern of a running game and having to maintain their gap assignments. Getting an early lead, slowing rookie running back Kareem Hunt will make the defense’s job much easier.