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Monday, November 21, 2011
Patriots vs. Chiefs: Three things to watch

By James Walker

The New England Patriots (6-3) will conclude Week 11 in the AFC East with a game against the Kansas City Chiefs (4-5) on ESPN's "Monday Night Football."

Here are three things to watch for New England:

1. Will the defense continue to improve?

New England's defense made strides in last week's 37-16 victory against the New York Jets. But this often-criticized unit still has a lot to prove. The Patriots remained last in total defense entering Week 11. But New England has the NFL's easiest remaining schedule. Also, playing against Kansas City backup quarterback Tyler Palko should help. Expect New England, which had five sacks last week, to be fearless in pressuring Palko. The Patriots have to feel confident Palko cannot beat them with his arm.

2. What does Romeo Crennel have in store?

Very few coaches know New England's personnel better than Kansas City defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. He was the Patriots' defensive coordinator during their three Super Bowl titles last decade. Crennel's defenses had to practice every day against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, and many are curious to see what Crennel draws up against his former team. Kansas City playing stellar defense is one of the few ways the Chiefs can pull off the upset.

3. Can the Patriots stay injury-free?

The last time the Patriots played the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008, Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury. This is exactly the type of thing New England needs to avoid Monday night. The Patriots are expected to win this game pretty convincingly. But that doesn't mean it won't be a physical game. The best thing New England can do is jump on Kansas City early, then allow some of the Patriots' key players to rest in the fourth quarter.