By Gregory Hunt
After enjoying a first-round bye, the New England Patriots are now preparing to meet the Kansas City Chiefs in an AFC Divisional Playoff game Saturday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. With a victory, the Patriots would advance to the AFC Championship Game against either the Denver Broncos or the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Patriots are the number-two seed in the playoffs, so a game against the number-one Broncos would be on the road while a game against the number-six Steelers would be at home.
After starting the season 1-5, the Chiefs won their final 10 games of the regular season to finish 11-5, putting them in second place in the AFC West one game behind the 12-4 Denver Broncos. As the number-five seed in the AFC, the Chiefs met the fourth-seeded Houston Texans in the Wild Card round last weekend and came away with a 30-0 victory at NRG Stadium.
The Patriots/Chiefs rivalry dates back to 1960 when both teams were charter members of the American Football League. The franchises were originally known as the Boston Patriots, until the team moved to Foxboro in 1971, and the Dallas Texans, until the franchise moved to Kansas City in 1963.
The Chiefs lead the all-time series against the Patriots 17-13-3. Despite spending more than a half-century in the same league or conference together, Saturday will be the first time the teams have ever met in the postseason. Kansas City won the most recent meeting 41-14 at Arrowhead Stadium on September 29, 2014.
Chiefs on Offense
Under head coach Andy Reid, the Kansas City offense has been rather conservative this season. Even though the team lost star running back Jamaal Charles to a season-ending injury in Week 5, the Chiefs have retained their identify as a run-first team. It’s not unusual to see the team line up in a one-receiver set on early downs, and Kansas City’s average of 4.7 yards per rush was third in the NFL.
Quarterback Alex Smith isn’t asked to make too many big plays. Most of his passes are quick, short ones, particularly to Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce, who caught eight passes for 128 yards in the Wild Card game against Houston. Which Smith does look to throw deep, his favorite target is wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, but Maclin left the Wild Card game with an ankle injury, so is status for the Division Playoff game is uncertain.
Chiefs on Defense
After a dominant performance against the Texans last week, Kansas City’s defensive unit is playing with a lot of confidence. It forced the Texans into six turnovers, and the team was third in the NFL in scoring defense (17.9 PPG) and second in the league in interceptions (22).
However, the Chiefs’ pass rush is a little hobbled, as two of their top rushers, linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, are both trying to recover from significant injuries. Both of them played in the Wild Card game, but Houston missed the last five games of the regular season with a knee injury while Hali did not practice last week due to a broken thumb.
Chiefs Players to Watch
If Maclin is able to play against the Patriots, he’ll bring more than his physical talent to the team. “He rubs off on everybody, the competitor that he is, what he brings on game day, that energy,” said Smith. “I think everybody kind of feeds off that.” In the regular season, Maclin caught 87 passes for 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns.
Safety Eric Berry had a stellar regular season that resulted in getting selected first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press, but don’t discount his teammate, rookie cornerback Marcus Peters, who was selected to the second team. Peters tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with eight, and he’s a leading candidate to be named Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Most members of the current Patriots team remember last season’s embarrassment at Kansas City, so they should have plenty of motivation to play well against the Chiefs. On the injury front, both left tackle Sebastian Vollmer (ankle) and wide receiver Julian Edelman (foot) have been cleared to play against the Chiefs, so that should be a big boost to New England’s passing game. Rain is in the forecast for Foxboro on Saturday, so this could be a low-scoring game that comes down to either who plays the best defense or who makes the fewest turnovers.
Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.