By Weston Mills (@Wmills94)
Kansas City Chiefs @ New England Patriots
When: September 7, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts
Is there any better way to kick-off the Chiefs (and NFL) season than against the New England Patriots in the national spotlight? Well maybe if the game was played at Arrowhead instead of in Foxborough but nonetheless, the NFL begins the season with what could quite possibly (maybe? hopefully?) be the 2017 AFC Championship game! Here are my three things to watch in this prime-time match up:
1) Kansas City Stars
The Chiefs simply cannot beat the Patriots without their three biggest stars Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and Marcus Peters ballin’ out on the national stage. I know some of you may be thinking Justin Houston or Eric Berry might fall into that category, and you’re not wrong, but Hill, Kelce, and Peters seem to be the three that always shine in the spotlight. Tyreek had at least one touchdown in all three prime-time games last year including 95 rushing yards on 6 carries against Denver on Christmas and two touchdowns against Oakland on Thursday night football (including taking a Shane Lechler punt to the house). Kelce had a touchdown in two of the three prime-time games including 101 receiving yards against Oakland (the game he didn’t score a TD) and 11 catches for 160 yards against Denver. Marcus Peters, aka the Kansas City Thief (per Mitch Holtus), always seems to play his best when he has an elite QB or wide receiver lined up across from him. They will absolutely need all three if they want to take-down the reigning world champs.
2) Belichick’s Game Plan
There is no coach greater at exploiting another teams’ weaknesses than Belichick and no quarterback better at it than Brady. I know this narrative gets played over and over again but I honestly believe its under-appreciated. Most coaches in the league have an offense that they run and they are going to stick to it on a weekly basis. Not Belichick and Brady. With that in mind, the Chiefs are without starting cornerback Steven Nelson, who was placed on IR over the weekend. Expect the Pats to challenge Nelson’s replacements, Phillip Gaines and Terrance Mitchell, early and often. How they respond may very well decide the game. If Marcus Peters can shut down his half of the field, look for lots of help from Eric Berry and Ron Parker over the top of Gaines and Mitchell. With Julian Edelman out for the season, managing the Patriots passing attack and not allowing them to exploit Gaines and Mitchell, shouldn’t be as tall of a task.
3) Pressure on Brady
Tom Brady is the G.O.A.T. and I don’t think there is much of an argument to be made for anyone else. The best way to stop Brady: make him throw before he wants to or, even better, don’t let him throw the ball at all. The amount of pressure the Chiefs can put on Brady is, quite possibly, the biggest story-line for Chiefs Kingdom to follow. The Chiefs pass rush will not just set the tone against the Patriots but it will be the key to the Chiefs success the entire season. Is Justin Houston 100% healthy this year? Can Dee Ford play like he did in the first half of 2016? How will Allen Bailey respond after spending 2016 with a torn pectoral muscle? Will Chris Jones take another step forward after an impressive rookie season? The Chiefs front 7 may have a lot of question marks but is absolutely loaded with talent. As they go this team goes, for the season and against the Patriots.
Bonus: Rumor has it that Roger Goodell will be in attendance at Gillette Stadium. If you recall, Patriots fans are not too fond of the commish. Also rumored, Barstool Sports CEO/President Dave Portnoy (and avid Pats fan) has ordered 70,000 towels with Roger Goodell’s face with a clown nose to be passed out to Patriots’ fans prior to kick-off. Things could get interesting in Foxborough.