Patriots’ keys to victory over the Chiefs
When: Thursday, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough
TV, radio: NBC, WBZ-FM (98.5)
When the Chiefs run
The Chiefs have a revamped rushing attack led by rookie Kareem Hunt. The 5-foot-10-inch, 216-pounder has a muscular frame and an explosive first step. He has excellent vision and wastes no time dilly-dallying behind the line of scrimmage. Hunt keeps his feet moving and his legs driving and consistently will power through tackles. He rarely takes a loss and likes to deliver a nice shoulder pop when he knows the end of the run is near. Charcandrick West has superb speed and good size at 5-10, 205. He will slide through creases, string together moves, and kick into high gear. He absorbs contact well and will grind out yards after contact. UConn’s Anthony Sherman is a solid fullback. Center Mitch Morse is athletic and smart and takes good angles to delay defenders. Right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (6-5, 321) is a surprisingly quick athlete who played offense and defense at that football hotbed of McGill University in Montreal. He has strong hands and will jolt guys with an initial punch. Left guard Bryan Witzmann is huge (6-7, 311) and smooth. New England’s interior is stout, with Alan Branch and Malcom Brown as the first line. Branch can wipe out blockers and bear down on the ball. Brown can anchor and pursue. At the second level, David Harris is a standout against the run. He’s smart, instinctive, and always around the ball. Elandon Roberts pounds people.
RUSHING YARDS PER GAME
Kansas City offense: 109.2 (15th)
New England defense: 88.6 (T-third)
When the Chiefs pass
Alex Smith is an excellent game-manager quarterback. He is smart and has an exceptional grasp of this offense, which relies more on horizontal route combinations than vertical threats. Smith has good recognition skills, gets rid of the ball quickly, and doesn’t turn it over much. The 13-year veteran still has the athleticism to make plays with his legs. Tyreek Hill is a blur. He has world-class speed and strong hands, allowing him to be effective on deep shots or in the dink-and-dunk game. Chris Conley (6-3, 213) is big and strong and uses that muscle to gain separation. He’s a fluid receiver who can make yards after the catch but he lacks elite speed. Travis Kelce is a terrific tight end. He has good size (6-5, 255), strength, and dependable hands. Kelce will make a lot of yards after the catch and a lot of noise after the play. Kareem Hunt and Charcandrick West are effective receivers and will do damage in space. Left tackle Eric Fisher is athletic but can be overmatched at times. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz is wily and scrappy. The Patriots’ edge rushers will look different this season, but the relentless Trey Flowers and the versatile Dont’a Hightower will lead the charge. Corners Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore will man the edges, and both have the quickness to cover underneath and the speed to go downfield. Safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung are well-rounded in run support and coverage.
PASSING YARDS PER GAME
Kansas City offense: 233.8 (19th)
New England defense: 237.9 (12th)
When the Patriots run
The big question with this deep and talented group is, “Are there enough carries to go around?” Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead were added to a room that already had James White and Dion Lewis. Gillislee is a chiseled, 5-foot-11-inch, 219-pound thumper. He’s a tough, one-cut, downhill runner who accelerates well and finishes his runs with a flourish. He’ll likely get the early-down carries and should be the goal-line bulldog. Burkhead (5-10, 210) may be the most well-rounded member of this corps. He’s equally adept at rushing and receiving. Burkhead has good vision and escapability. He can squirt through tiny creases and will run hard through the second level and gives great second effort. White has quick feet and excellent receiving skills. He turns upfield smoothly and improved his ability to avoid and break tackles greatly last season. Lewis is electric. He has the ability to change speeds fluidly and cut on a dime. He won’t break a bunch of tackles, but he will avoid a ton of them. Look for the return of the “pony backfield” with White and Lewis at times this season. With so many options, fresh legs shouldn’t be a problem. Kansas City nose tackle Bennie Logan can be disruptive but he’s streaky. Inside linebackers Derrick Johnson (he’s fast and physical) and Ramik Wilson (big hitter) will pursue aggressively. Strong safety Eric Berry is a complete player and will step up into the box and deliver.
RUSHING YARDS PER GAME
New England offense: 117.0 (seventh)
Kansas City defense: 121.1 (26th)
When the Patriots pass
Even without Julian Edelman in the mix, this offense is primed to put up ridiculous numbers through the air. Tom Brady has reliable weapons Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, and James White back, and Brandin Cooks and Phillip Dorsett have been added. A healthy Gronkowski is such a difference-maker, as he is the most complete tight end in the league. He is an excellent athlete with great hands, and no player attacks and exploits the seam better. Tight end Dwayne Allen is another tremendous blocker who will surprise as a receiver. Hogan has the ability to play inside and outside and is indefatigable. He has the quickness to play the slot and the speed to stretch the field. Amendola has great quickness, finds soft spots, and is a clutch third-down performer. Cooks’s addition has the potential to be huge. His game-breaking speed was on display all camp but not really showcased during preseason games. He starts fast and accelerates to a gear rarely seen in these parts. Dorsett is a burner, too, but he’ll need time to catch up. Malcolm Mitchell is a reliable receiver but his availability is always a question mark. Kansas City’s Marcus Peters is an above-average cover corner who can blanket most receivers. Strong safety Eric Berry seems to be in on every tackle. He’s both a punishing hitter and a ball hawk. Free safety Ron Parker has excellent range and impressive closing burst.
PASSING YARDS PER GAME
New England offense: 269.2 (fourth)
Kansas City defense: 247.4 (18th)
Chiefs key player: WR-KR Tyreek Hill
One of the most explosive and versatile athletes in the NFL, the 5-foot-10-inch, 185-pounder can hurt you as a runner, receiver, and returner. He’s a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball.
How he beats you: With exceptional speed and quickness. He can rush out of the backfield (and on gadget plays), will line up inside or outside as a receiver, and few players weave through traffic better in the return game.
How to shut him down: By not giving him a cushion. And punishing him. He can gobble up space quickly, so it’s important not to give him any. He’s lacks bulk, too, so make every hit count and wear him out.
Chiefs’ keys to victory
1. Don’t believe the hype: Opening against the champs on banner night can be daunting and distracting. Keep the focus on the field.
2. Bring the noise: Slowing Tom Brady is the top priority. Pass rushers Chris Jones, Justin Houston, and Derrick Johnson can get after it, and they’ll have to.
3. Fight the power: Use Kareem Hunt and Charcandrick West to chew the turf and kill the clock — at least before Andy Reid kills it all by himself.
Patriots’ keys to victory
1. Welcome to the Terrordome: Time to unleash the hounds. Let scary downfield threats Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, and Rob Gronkowski take off and set the tone.
2. Shut ’em down: Tight end Dwayne Allen and the backs must chip in and help the big uglies keep Kansas City’s relentless pass rushers off Tom Brady’s back.
3. You’re gonna get yours: Get some consistent pressure on Alex Smith. If he’s given time, he will pick apart a defense. Get him on the run and get him on the ground.
PREDICTION: Patriots 30, Chiefs 9