Friday, January 3, 2014
Possible playoff opponents: Chiefs
By Field Yates
Continuing our look at the Patriots' possible playoff opponents, here's an overview of the Kansas City Chiefs, the team we deem to be the most difficult matchup for the Patriots, stemming largely from the presence of one of the league's most explosive offensive players.
Division status: AFC West runner-up, top AFC wild card
Vs. Patriots: No matchup in 2013
How these two can face off: If Kansas City beats Indianapolis on Saturday and San Diego beats Cincinnati on Sunday.
Top offensive player: Running back Jamaal Charles. If not for the brilliance of Peyton Manning in 2013, Charles would likely be the top candidate to earn league MVP honors. He totaled 19 touchdowns this season and led the Chiefs in rushing and receiving.
Top defensive player: Linebacker Derrick Johnson. It's hard to pick just one from an excellent front seven, but Johnson is the quarterback who makes thing go. He's all over the field and may be the best coverage linebacker in the NFL.
How they can stress the Patriots: The offense is built around Charles and his unique ability to impact the game as both a rusher and receiver. Reid is among the most creative and timely coaches as it relates to the screen game, and the Patriots must be on alert for such an attack. Charles isn't a big back, but he's tough, agile and incredibly fast. If he gets in the open field, he's as good as gone. The Patriots have struggled both defending the run and defending against running backs as receivers. If they face the Chiefs next Saturday, their defensive game plan is likely to revolve around containing Charles.
How the Patriots can stress the Chiefs: Injuries to both Justin Houston and Tamba Hali dramatically impacted the Chiefs' pass rush, which had a trickle-down effect into the secondary. And while Kansas City will be represented by two Pro Bowlers from their secondary, the group on the whole is an area of limitation for the defense. Opposite of Brandon Flowers, Sean Smith has given them size and length, but the team has had struggles finding consistent play from their sub package cornerbacks, while safety Kendrick Lewis has been beaten down the field on occasion this season. The Chiefs' run defense has an identical 4.5 yards per carry allowed to the Patriots' season-long total.
X factor: The tiebreaker for us in deciphering between the Chiefs and Colts as the toughest matchup for the Patriots (the pillar for either argument is Charles and Andrew Luck, respectively) was the Chiefs' special teams. Kansas City combined for a league-best four return touchdowns for a score, two apiece on punt and kickoff returns.