Quick-hit thoughts on possible foes

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
6:45
AM ET
Some quick-hit thoughts on the Patriots' three possible playoff opponents -- Bengals, Colts and Chiefs -- after watching the Week 16 Colts-Chiefs game, and the Week 17 Bengals-Ravens game:

1. One common thread between all three teams is that they have quarterbacks who can make plays with their feet. Cincinnati's Andy Dalton and Kansas City's Alex Smith both had plays in which they faked an inside handoff and gained signifiant yardage on a keeper by gaining the edge. Dalton hurt the Patriots on a similar third-down play Oct. 6. Indianapolis' Andrew Luck also has shown a knack for making plays with his feet. This will highlight the importance of defensive ends Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Andre Carter in staying disciplined on the edge.

2. While A.J. Green is the Bengals' clear-cut No. 1 receiver, you almost come away more impressed with No. 2 Marvin Jones (6-foot-2, 200 pounds). The 2012 fifth-round draft choice out of Cal totaled 10 touchdowns on the season and it was easy to see why. He made some big-time plays. From a Patriots perspective, he's a good example to point to when projecting the potential growth of receivers Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins in their second seasons. Jones looks like a different player this year.

3. Of the three teams, the Bengals are the most pressure-based on defense. They come from all three levels of the defense and blitzed the most. The defensive line, led by 6-foot-7 end Michael Johnson, also gets their hands on footballs with tipped passes by disrupting the passing lanes.

4. Player I wanted to learn more about because he kept showing up with solid plays and I didn't know who he was: Colts receiver Griff Whalen, a second-year player out of Stanford (5-11, 198). He's been back and forth between the team's practice squad and active roster. Another player who fell into that category: Bengals receiver Andrew Hawkins (5-7, 175), who was very quick and picked up yardage in a hurry after the catch.

5. The Chiefs' offensive line looked the most vulnerable of the three teams in pass protection. I watched left tackle Donald Stephenson, playing in place of Branden Albert, struggle against Colts end Robert Mathis. Then again, a lot of tackles struggle against Mathis, who looked like the best defensive player among the Patriots' possible playoff opponents. He's still a game-wrecker and would be a big challenge for left tackle Nate Solder.

6. Dalton still makes some decisions and throws that make you wonder what he was thinking. If I was a Bengals follower, confidence in him would be shaky. Luck, on the other hand, seemed to make only one critical mistake in that Week 16 game against the Chiefs and he got away with it (a short pass that should have been intercepted). He plays very smart football.

7. Former Patriot Brandon Tate (2009 third-round pick) is the primary kickoff and punt returner for the Bengals. He looks pretty good. Ditto for former Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis; no surprise to see him still running hard as the power complement to the more dynamic Gio Bernard. For the Colts, cornerback Darius Butler seems to be competing well in the nickel.

8. The Colts, now in Chuck Pagano's second season as head coach, seem to have better parts to fit the type of defense Pagano wants to play (think more along the lines of the Ravens). Specifically, they are bigger on the interior with players like Aubrayo Franklin. It's a noticeable difference from the old Colts' 4-3 units that were undersized but quick. They play tough. First-round pick Bjoern Werner showed up with a few strong third-down rushes.

9. When Chiefs rookie running back Knile Davis has the ball on offense or special teams, he's a ball-security threat. He put it on the ground twice in the game I watched. Overall, the Chiefs' offense seemed like the least dynamic of the three possible playoff foes, with the least reliable pass-catchers.

10. Ending on a lighthearted note: I think the Colts' road white uniforms, with the blue horseshoe on the helmet and the blue numerals and trim, are my favorite in the NFL. Simple, crisp and clean, almost like a throwback that has stood the test of time.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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