The New England Patriots started the season with a 10-0 slate, but did not come down the stretch with a heck of a lot of momentum, as they lost four of their last six contests. On Saturday (4:35 PM ET, Gillete Stadium) they go up against a team that has all the momentum in the world, when you consider that the Kansas City Chiefs are winners of eleven straight games. So can a strong case be made for the Pats to move past the Chiefs and on to the AFC title game?
This is a legitimate question, since these teams look like they have been moving in different directions. But the Pats have been an exception to most rules through the years, and they may prove to be an exception here again.
The guy you have to start with is Tom Brady. With the outstanding seasons from Cam Newton, Carson Palmer and Russell Wilson, who have stuck out like a sore thumb because they haven’t produced similar numbers before, Brady has been his consistent, spectacular self, with 4770 yards and a ratio of 36 TD passes to just seven interceptions. Of course, he does that kind of thing often, so he is lost in this MVP talk, even though he has gone without playmakers in the backfield and on the flank, and with an offensive line that is ever-changing. With 21 playoff victories (and four Super Bowl titles), he would have to be “Exhibit A” for us.
Brady gets Julian Edelman back for the this game, and that makes a lot of difference in this offense. Edelman, who caught 61 passes before going down with his foot injury, is so valuable that Brady has been only a 59% passer without him, and New England has converted only 31% of its third downs when he has been absent. So this team will have a little bit of a different character on Saturday than it has had in the previous eight weeks or so.
The Patriots simply don’t play into one of Kansas City strengths, which is the turnover category. Because they are so reticent to give up the football (only 14 giveaways), they are well-equipped to “take away” one of the things that the Chiefs have used in rolling over these last eleven opponents. So Andy Reid’s team will have to create more opportunities on its own.
Maclin (1088 receiving yards) has a high ankle sprain, so there’s no way he’ll be at full strength. That will make it a bit easier for Bill Belichick to restrict Alex Smith’s options, and let’s not forget that not only are the Patriots the best in the NFL at forcing three-and-outs (31.5% of the time), but they have also done a good job at shutting down opposition rushing games on their own field (allowing 3.1 yards per carry) and their 49 sacks are second in the league, only to Denver. So they could have the Kansas City signal-caller on the run all day.
It seems like everything is tranquil at the moment for Chandler Jones, who leads New England with 12.5 sacks. He was involved in a bizarre incident on Sunday, where apparently he had ingested some synthetic marijuana and had a bad reaction to it, winding up at a police station and eventually in the hospital. We don’t think this will affect his ability to play on Saturday.