Patriots’ keys to victory over the Chiefs
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When: Sunday, 6:40 p.m.
Where: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.
TV, radio: CBS, WBZ-FM 98.5.
When the Chiefs run
Damien Williams has performed well since being elevated to the first team because of suspensions and injuries. His understudy likely will be rookie Darrel Williams (no relation). Damien is a muscular 5-foot-11-inch, 224-pounder with good vision and quick feet. He moves well laterally and can freeze defenders and make them miss. He runs with nice balance and will keep his feet and rumble for extra yards after initial contact. He doesn’t possess great acceleration or breakaway speed, so he won’t hit a ton of home runs. He is a rhythm runner, and when he’s feeling it, he has just enough initial quickness and bulk to wear a defense down. Darrel shares more than a last name with Damien. The rookie is a well-built 6-foot-1-inch, 229-pounder whose best move is a nifty jump-cut to the hole. Damien runs behind his pads – but a little too upright — and won’t shy away from contact. Spencer Ware (hamstring) could return. Ware is a compact, no-nonsense runner who will give as good as he gets. Center Mitch Morse (6-6, 305) is deceptively athletic for his size. He’s light on his feet but he packs a heavy wallop. Guards Cameron Erving (he’s competitive) and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (he’s returning from a broken leg) are technically sound. New England linebackers Dont’a Hightower (he’s smart and powerful), Kyle Van Noy (he fights to the ball), and Elandon Roberts (he’s a ferocious lane filler) are stout.
RUSHING YARDS PER GAME
Kansas City offense: 115.9 (16th)
New England defense: 112.7 (11th)
When the Chiefs pass
Patrick Mahomes is a gunslinger unlike any the NFL has known. This baby-faced assassin has tremendous athleticism, a quick release, and major-league velocity (thanks, Dad!). Perhaps most important, Mahomes has been unflappable in putting together an MVP-type season in his first year as a starter. His pairing with Andy Reid has been perfect. The coach adjusted his offense to fit his Air Raid quarterback’s skills. Mahomes reads defenses quickly and can throw beautifully spun, accurate spirals into tight windows. He has ridiculously quick feet and uses them to extend plays for ridiculous amounts of time. Mahomes loses very little accuracy on the run and will launch the ball from every conceivable arm angle. Oh, and he recently added a no-look pass that would make Larry Bird blush. Mahomes has myriad weapons, but his two favorites are wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. Hill will line up everywhere (including the backfield) and has awesome acceleration, superior speed, and hungry hands. If the Patriots match up Stephon Gilmore against Hill, it’ll be highly entertaining. Kelce has a great blend of size, strength, and speed. He can run crossers or attack the seam and will compete for every ball. He might be the best red zone target in the league. Look for Patrick Chung to run with Kelce all day. Receivers Sammy Watkins (he can fly, too) and Chris Conley (he’s physical) are no slouches.
PASSING YARDS PER GAME
Kansas City offense: 309.7 (third)
New England defense: 246. 4 (22d)
When the Patriots run
Sony Michel has power and speed, but what stands out about this standout rookie is his vision. He’s always been a decisive runner, but over the second half of the season he’s been seeing the paths to success quickly and bursting through them. Michel’s strength allows him to be productive between the tackles, and his acceleration make him a threat around the edges. He has a bevy of subtle moves (including shoulder dips and head fakes) in the open field. Michel runs with balance and good pad level and will break through arm tackles. He keeps his legs pumping after first contact and almost always falls forward. Michel will get stymied at times, but it’s important to stick with him because he will pop a big run. Rex Burkhead can provide a spark. He’s instinctive, deceptively quick to the hole, and tough. Burkhead will always give max effort. James White is like Speed Racer: He’s a demon on wheels. He does his best work in space and will often provide a pop out of the backfield, particularly out of the shotgun formation. Burly fullback James Develin will punish defenders and push the pile. New England’s offensive line has been squashing defenders for the better part of a month. The interior three of David Andrews (he’s smart), Joe Thuney (he’s steady), and Shaq Mason (he’s swift) have been shedding blocks and getting to the second level consistently. Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon can set edges with quickness and power.
RUSHING YARDS PER GAME
New England offense: 127.3 (fifth)
Kansas City defense: 132.1 (27th)
When the Patriots pass
Surprise, surprise, Tom Brady is playing his best football. The sage (yet spry) quarterback gave a glimpse of playoff things to come when he ravaged the Jets in Week 17. Brady was at his brilliant, distributing best against the Chargers, and he’ll need a similar effort to punch another Super Bowl ticket. Brady will face a defense that led the league in sacks, powered by outside rushers Dee Ford and Justin Houston and interior monster Chris Jones. Like Patrick Mahomes, Brady has multiple weapons, but his top targets are Julian Edelman and James White. Edelman has superb quickness and toughness. Even when the slot devil isn’t given a clean break at the snap, he finds a way to get open. Because Edelman always is in lockstep with Brady, he need only maintain separation for a heartbeat. Edelman is fearless across the middle and will never duck out of bounds if there’s an extra inch to be gained. White’s hands are as sweet as his feet. He can line up everywhere and often goes in motion. He snags screen passes efficiently and is wicked good at sifting through traffic and finding the express lane to the secondary. When he’s clicking, he opens things up for the running game and the deeper passing game. Rob Gronkowski could get more targets against a safety duo that’s banged up (Eric Berry) and raw (Jordan Lucas). Wideouts Chris Hogan (he’s versatile) and Phillip Dorsett (he’s sneaky) will get some targets.
PASSING YARDS PER GAME
New England offense: 266.1 (eighth)
Kansas City defense: 273.4 (31st)
Chiefs’ key player: DL Chris Jones
The offensive stars get most of the praise in Kansas City — and rightfully so; those guys are monsters. But this 6-foot-6-inch, 310-pound beast deserves some love, too. He racked up 15½ sacks this season.
How he beats you: With relentless pressure and big mitts. Jones has good quickness and closing speed whether he’s crashing in off the edge or firing up the A gaps. He’s either knocking down quarterbacks or knocking down passes.
How to shut him down: By using combo blocks and matching his relentlessness. He’s a terror one on one, so chip him and then engulf him. If you pound him early, fatigue will set in and he’ll get frustrated.
Chiefs’ keys to victory
1. Chief Rocka: Tom Brady never hit the turf last week. If he has a clean shirt after this one, the Chiefs are going on vacation. Justin Houston, Dee Ford, and Chris Jones have to get him down.
2. Chief risk officer: They must hang onto the ball. Giving the Patriots extra chances is a formula for disaster. For all the excitement Patrick Mahomes generates with his crazy, contortionist passes, better safe than sorry.
3. Chief distruptors: Returners Tyreek Hill and Tremon Smith are electric. If they can keep the field — and the subsequent drives — short, it will keep this offense fresh for four quarters.
Patriots’ keys to victory
1. Kansas City scouts: Patrick “Mobile” Mahomes has insanely quick feet, so using a spy as a second level of pressure when he starts to scramble makes sense. Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy, you’re up!
2. Kansas City, here I come: Getting the ball into James White’s hands so he can work his magic against inside ’backers Anthony Hitchens and Reggie Ragland (hint: they can’t catch him) is a must.
3. Kansas City jayhawks: Play man defense — Gilmore on Watkins, Jackson on Hill, Chung on Kelce — to keep Mahomes’s windows tight. He’ll hit some of them, but you can’t make it easy on him.
PREDICTION: Patriots 31, Chiefs 27