By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Sunday night’s Patriots-Chiefs showdown at Gillette Stadium has all the makings of a shootout.
And why not? We’ve seen an offensive explosion throughout the league to start the year, with teams are scoring more points than ever, throwing for more yards than ever, and basically doing whatever they want on the offensive side of the ball. Both the Patriots and Chiefs tout high-powered offenses led by quarterbacks who can put points on the board in a hurry. Kansas City is averaging 35 points per game over the first five weeks of the season, second-best in the NFL to New Oreleans’ 36 points per game, while the Patriots have scored more than 30 points in each of their last two games. New England’s defense is rounding into form, but they still give up a boatload of yards every game as they bend but don’t break. The KC defense is simply putrid, giving up a league-worst 461.8 yards per game, so it’s a good thing they score all those points.
The over/under for Sunday night is set at 59 points, which seems a little low. No brainer to bet the mortgage on that one, right?
Not so fast. Don’t get me wrong; points will be scored. There is a good chance when the scoreboard hits 00:00 we’ll see at least 60 points scored between the two teams (heck, one team may hit that total by themselves). But what if both sides approach the game with the “best defense is not letting the offense on the field” approach? Maybe we won’t get the shootout everyone is predicting after all.
Chances are that won’t be the case, because even if the Patriots try to drain the clock with long, drawn-out drives, the KC defense is so bad that the Pats will probably score quickly anyways. And with the Kansas City offense looking to bounce back from a “down” day against the Jaguars last weekend, why would Andy Reid want to change things up? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Then again, this is Andy Reid we’re talking about.
Here’s what we’ll be watching for when the Pats and Chiefs kick off Sunday night (in 90 second intervals, between David Price pitches):
The Amazing Chiefs Offense
New England fans have a pretty good idea of what a great offense looks like. For the first five weeks of the season, KC’s offense has been even greater than great.
Patrick Mahomes is the real deal. He was somewhat human last week against the Jags, throwing the first two interceptions of his season, but he still threw for over 300 yards and found the end zone with his legs for the second time in as many weeks. He has an absurd arsenal with the likes of Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt. And while he certainly is not worth the ridiculous contract they gave him in the offseason, Sammy Watkins is also out there catching passes from Mahomes.
It’s a fun offense to watch because they keep defenses guessing throughout the game. They’re deceptive thanks to Reid’s creative playbook that is littered with different formations and those feared run-pass options (instead of betting the over/under for points, bet the over for how many times Cris Collinsworth will say RPO).
They also have a knack for hitting on big plays, with Mahomes third in the NFL with 25 completions of 20 or more yards. The New England defense is not going to keep Kansas City off the board, but keeping all of Mahomes’ options in front of them will be imperative to slow down such a high-powered assault.
The Greatest Tight End Battle Of All Time
The great Gronk vs. Kelce debate has been raging on for years, and while Gronkowski will likely go down as the G.O.A.T. at his position, Kelce is no slouch. He may be a smidgen better than Gronk as an offensive threat/receiver, but most will agree that Gronk gets the overall nod as a tight end because of his excellent blocking.
Kelce has better stats than Gronk this season, posting 28 receptions for 407 yards and three touchdowns. Gronk has 23 catches for 308 yards and one touchdown, but hasn’t found the end zone in the last four games. That should change this weekend.
Either way you feel about the great Gronk vs. Kelce debate, there is no denying that both are game-changing talents that will have their fingerprints all over Sunday night’s game.
Josh Gordon’s Breakout Game
The former All-Pro played just 18 snaps against the Colts, but made the most of them. He caught two of the four passes Tom Brady sent his way, including a 34-yard touchdown that has Patriots fans salivating at his deap-threat potential. Gordon showed off his ability to fight through double coverage with that touchdown snag in the end zone, and it’s clear that Brady is getting more comfortable with him by the day.
With 10 days between games, Gordon had a great opportunity to study up on the playbook and further learn the New England offense. Surprisingly, the KC secondary has only given up one monster receiving game this season, a 13-121-1 game by Pittsburgh’s JuJu Smith-Schuster in Week 2, but this is a matchup that Brady and Gordon should be able to exploit a handful of times.
More Progress For Michel
If the best defense against Mahomes is to have him on the sideline, then Michel is going to be in for a heavy workload Sunday night.
The rookie running back has sparked a lot of debate over the first four weeks of his NFL career, with some people (if you can call them that) complaining that he doesn’t run for 100 yards every single time the ball is placed in his hands. As a late first-round pick, that’s the expectation placed on Michel. And when he does pick up yards, it’s only because the New England offensive line opened up a big hole for him to run through. These people need help.
But Michel has shown some steady progress since making his pro debut in Week 2, and he’s turned in two straight solid games (albeit against some not-so-great defenses). He ran for 112 yards two weeks ago against Miami, and nearly eclipsed the century mark again Thursday night with 98 yards against the Colts. He found the end zone in both of those games, and averaged 4.9 yards per carry.
We should see more progress from Michel on Sunday night, as he faces a Chiefs defense that has allowed a league-worst 5.8 yards per carry.