Kansas City at New England (-9, 48.5), 8:30 pm ET, NBC/NFLN
Nine years ago on the exact same date as Thursday’s season opener, the Patriots opened the season against the Chiefs at Gillette Stadium and saw disaster strike almost immediately. Tom Brady suffered a season-ending ACL tear when Kansas City safety Bernard Pollard took out his knee in the first half, resulting in the only games he’s missed since 2002 not related to Deflategate.
If not for eerie similarities between today and 2008, this game would be more easily billed as a potential AFC Championship preview given how stacked the Chiefs look coming off a 12-4 season. They finished with the second-best record in the conference behind the 14-2 Patriots but never ran into them in the playoffs, lasting only a single round following an 18-16 divisional playoff loss to Pittsburgh. Although Kansas City cut top receiver Jeremy Maclin and will be without top running back Spencer Ware for the season after he tore his PCL in the third preseason game, there are still plenty of weapons for New England to be concerned with.
Travis Kelce has emerged as a Rob Gronkowski type and has managed to stay healthy enough to replace him as the NFL’s most productive tight end, leading the league in receiving yards and yards after catch while finishing second with 85 receptions. Tyreek Hill’s speed makes him a dangerous weapon who scored 12 touchdowns last season as an electric return man and emerging receiver. Rookie Kareem Hunt, versatile Charcandrick West and veteran import C.J. Spiller are in the mix to help replace Ware, so Andy Reid will have plenty of options to try and trouble a Patriots defense that struggled some in the preseason and saw LB Shea McClellin and DB/KR Cyrus Jones join receiver Julian Edelman in being lost for the season.
Despite those injuries, the defending champion Patriots’ hold on the favorite’s role entering this season has strengthened following the preseason. Rob Gronkowski looks to be 100 percent and newly acquired receiver Brandin Cooks should be a valuable weapon whose role likely increases with Edelman out of the equation. James White, Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis are all on board as backfield options, so replacing LeGarrette Blount should also be manageable for Bill Belichick.
Even replacing Brady, as Belichick managed to do to the tune of a 3-1 start during last season’s suspension, hasn’t proven too daunting a task for the Pats of late. Unless he’s out there mopping up after a blowout, New England doesn’t want to see backup Jimmy Garoppolo doing anything but holding a clipboard. Brady had a productive preseason, throwing three touchdowns and completing 75 percent of his 24 passes. His 10 yards per attempt ranked among the highest in the league.
Alex Smith was inconsistent, but still easily held off the challenge of first-round pick Patrick Mahomes II. The Chiefs generated big plays on both sides of the ball in a 30-12 preseason Week 2 win against Cincinnati, then struggled mightily in Seattle in the dress rehearsal game, falling 26-13 after failing to execute on plays that were there to be made.
The Patriots are 14-1 in home openers in the Belichick/Brady era, while Belichick is 13-4 with New England in Week 1 (15-7 overall). Andy Reid has won three of four openers since joining Kansas City and won four of his last five with Philadelphia, so there’s little doubt both teams should be prepared to get things started.
Kansas City Chiefs
Season win total: 9 (Over -120, Under +100)
Odds to win AFC West: 2/1 to 9/4
Odds to win AFC: 10/1 to 12/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 20/1 to 25/1
New England Patriots
Season win total: 12.5 (Over +100, Under -120)
Odds to win AFC East: 1/14 to 1/25
Odds to win AFC: 3/1 to 5/4
Odds to win Super Bowl: 6/1 to 11/4
The Patriots may as well have already won their division as far as the odds are concerned since they’re a wild 1-to-25, which is almost as amusing as the Jets going from 100-to-1 to 200-to-1 to win the AFC East before playing a game that counts in the standings. Since 2003, New England has prevailed 13 of 14 times, with the lone outlier coming in ’08 after Brady was lost for the season and Matt Cassel was pressed into duty.
Kansas City has the second-best odds to win the AFC West, placed behind favored Oakland (5/4) and ahead of Denver and San Diego (9/2). Considering the Chiefs have won 22 of their last 26 regular-season games, a projected win total placed below double-digits raised a few eyebrows. Between the loss of Ware and their inconsistent preseason, the Chiefs have seen their conference and Super Bowl future odds become more longer overthe last few weeks.
As far as this matchup is concerned, the Patriots are currently laying 9 points in this first contest after the line initially opened at 7 and hovered at 7.5. The total opened at 49.5 but is set at 48.5 at many books as of Wednesday afternoon. Weather conditions are supposed to be clear and perfect for football.
Kelce made this week’s injury report due to a calf injury but was removed and is expected to play without limitations. The news isn’t as positive on guard Parker Ehringer, who was downgraded to doubtful along with new linebacker Reggie Ragland. DT Bennie Logan (knee) and kicker Cairo Santos (groin) are also expected to play.
The Patriots have seen speedy WR Malcolm Mitchell limited by a knee injury throughout camp, so we’ll see whether he can be a factor. The Patriots traded for WR Philip Dorsett from the Colts and also envision a larger role for Danny Amendola. Backup offensive tackle Cameron Fleming returned to practice but is uncertain here. Safety Nate Ebner is also questionable for New England.
RECENT MEETINGS (New England 3-2 SU, 3-2 ATS last five; UNDER 3-2)
1/16/16 New England 27-20 vs. Kansas City (NE -5.5, 43)
9/29/14 Kansas City 41-14 vs. New England (NE -3, 46)
11/21/11 New England 34-3 vs. Kansas City (NE -17, 47)
9/7/08 New England 17-10 vs. Kansas City (NE -16, 43.5)
11/27/05 Kansas City 26-16 vs. New England (KC -3, 51)
PATRIOTS AS A HOME FAVORITE
Since losing to Seattle at Foxboro in Week 10, New England is a perfect 5-0 SU/ATS at home, including playoff wins over the Texans and Steelers. They’re averaging 33.4 points in those wins. Both of the Patriots’ losses last season came as a home favorite.
CHIEFS AS A ROAD UNDERDOG
Kansas City was a road ‘dog only four times last season and won three of those instances outright, carrying a streak into 2017. The Chiefs beat the Panthers, Broncos and Falcons in a four game streatch from mid-November to early December in 2016. The Chiefs haven’t been this heavy an underdog since Week 2 of the ’14 season when they covered at Denver in a 24-17 loss as a 13-point underdog. The last meeting between these teams saw Kansas City in this role in the 2015 Divisional playoffs. New England won and covered.