- Do the Chiefs have any chance against the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots in the first game of the 2017 NFL season?
The Chiefs’ combined record over the past four seasons, constituting the entirety of Andy Reid’s tenure there: 43–21, with three playoff appearances. By most measures, a healthy dose of success. And also not good enough.
In 2013, the Broncos captured the AFC West and the conference title behind a historically great offense, and then in ’15 left the Chiefs—and everyone else—in their wake en route to a Super Bowl victory paced by a historically great defense. The Chiefs’ opponent for Thursday night’s NFL season opener, the Patriots, ruled in both 2014 and ’16, and they bounced Kansas City from the ’15 playoffs. For all their regular-season accomplishments under Reid, the Chiefs have but one playoff victory and have yet to reach the AFC championship game.
Will anything change this year?
Week 1 tends to breed fluky results (the 49ers, for example, are 2–0 in openers but 5–25 elsewhere the past two seasons), so any seismic shifts in the conference landscape will have to wait. Still, the Chiefs stealing a game Thursday night would offer up a reminder that they’re every bit a part of the AFC race as the Patriots, Steelers or Raiders.
Of course, one simply does not walk into Mordor Foxborough. The Patriots should have no problem finding motivation, as their fans look to rub last season’s Super Bowl triumph in the face of commissioner Roger Goodell, who’s expected to be in attendance. Goodell remains Public Enemy No. 1 in New England, because of the four-game suspension handed down to QB Tom Brady ahead of the 2016 campaign.
Brady, by the way, is now a staggering 52–1 at home against AFC opponents over the past decade. The lone loss came to the Bills in Week 17 of the 2014 season, a game in which Brady split time with Jimmy Garoppolo as his team prepped for the playoffs.
There is some measure of uncertainty surrounding the defending champs, if only because they’ll head into the season down top receiver Julian Edelman, who tore his ACL during the preseason. Edelman caught 98 balls a year ago and racked up 358 receptions between 2013-16. Brady will have new faces all around him as the Patriots try to replace that production: ex-Saints WR Brandin Cooks, recently acquired ex-Colts WR Phillip Dorsett, ex-Bengals RB Rex Burkhead and ex-Bills RB Mike Gillislee.
Even without Edelman, there is no shortage of weapons. How exactly they are employed, especially in a crowded backfield (Burkhead, Gillislee, Dion Lewis, James White) remains to be seen. As is often the case with the Bill Belichick-led Patriots, the answer figures to change from week to week.
Brady will find a way to test Kansas City through the air, but what the defense does against those backs is a key headed into Thursday night. The Chiefs allowed 4.4 yards per carry last season, then swapped out Dontari Poe for Bennie Logan during the off-season. They’ll also have back healthy LB Derrick Johnson, whose absence was felt down the stretch in 2016.
The Patriots’ run defense held opponents under 4.0 yards per carry a year ago (3.9), although most foes wound up passing a ton in an effort to keep pace with Brady & Co. The Chiefs will go after that front seven nonetheless, because a) it’s not necessarily a dominant unit, on paper; and b) the New England secondary is loaded, after the off-season arrival of CB Stephon Gilmore.
The Chiefs still trust QB Alex Smith, but the last thing they want is for him to have to engage in a shootout with vs. Brady.
Impact player: Rex Burkhead. Maybe. Possibly. Again, we never really know what Belichick has planned until he puts it in motion on the field. Burkhead, though, stands as another sensational backfield fit—along with the versatile Lewis and White—in New England’s offense. He was Cincinnati’s most effective RB last season (4.6 yards per carry, 8.5 yards per reception); he just never had a clear path to playing time there, probably a mistake on the Bengals’ part.
Edelman’s injury could allow Burkhead to pick up snaps from the slot, too, should the Patriots opt to go that route.
Bold prediction: Charcandrick West will lead the Chiefs in yards from scrimmage.
Kansas City’s third-round draft choice of RB Kareem Hunt should pay off for years to come. The dude’s good. A lot is being asked of him Thursday, however, as he draws the start for his NFL debut, in place of the injured Spencer Ware. While Hunt should see the bulk of the work early, I’m still expecting West to play a prominent role—more so if the Chiefs are playing from behind (and throwing a lot) in the second half.