Chiefs-Patriots preview, prediction, and keys to victory
Their fifth Super Bowl banner will be unfurled before the Patriots play host to the Chiefs in the NFL opener on Thursday at Gillette Stadium.
Declaring its next Super Bowl title just ahead, Sports Illustrated last week featured the home team on its cover with a goliath Tom Brady roaring at the gnats of other teams. The text with the image: “Can the unstoppable dynasty be stopped?”
Meanwhile, thousands of towels depicting despised-in-New England NFL commissioner Roger Goodell with a clown nose will be distributed outside the stadium to commemorate Goodell’s first regular-season visit here since Deflategate.
No wonder someone suggested the atmosphere will be electric.
“I love the electricity,” said tight end Rob Gronkowski, who couldn’t help adding, “And I love being electric.”
But if all of that will make it bedlam for Patriots fans, and ample fodder for those who love to hate them, the team is compelled to dismiss the sideshows amid the matters at hand.
For one thing, there are the annual mysteries of an opener looming even over the defending Super Bowl champs, who are the presumptive leading contender to win again until someone demonstrates otherwise.
“Opening day’s always a time where you have a lot of questions (and) butterflies,” New England coach Bill Belichick said on Tuesday, with an acknowledgment that contrasted with the grim face that is his resting demeanor for news conferences. “Lot of unknowns on our team. Lot of unknowns on their team.
“Lot of unknowns when the two collide.”
Then there’s the more specific matter of the Chiefs as coached by Andy Reid, who has guided the franchise to a 43-21 record the last four seasons and has earned the friendship and respect of Belichick.
Told Reid had said “nobody does it better” than Belichick, Belichick said, “Feel the same way. … I respect the way he coaches his team. I respect the way they play. They’re always tough. I’ve had great battles with him.”
Yes, Belichick is 5-1 against Reid. But three of those victories are by a total of 13 points — including 24-21 in the 2005 Super Bowl and 27-20 in the 2016 playoffs.
And the lone loss was lopsided enough to send a shudder through the Patriots.
“I can’t think of too many teams who’ve handled us better than the way they handled us in 2014,” Belichick said.
The Chiefs’ 41-14 victory in that Monday Night Football game at Arrowhead Stadium featured a 142.2-decibel burst that was recorded as the standard for loudest crowd roar by the Guinness Book of World Records.
It also briefly made big noise in New England, where some wondered if that night was the beginning of the end for an ineffective Tom Brady.
Instead, the game proved a pushing-off point for the Patriots and Brady, now 40 and seemingly with no end in sight.
They went on to win seven straight games and their fourth Super Bowl after what Belichick would later call the “turning point” of the season being furnished by the Chiefs game.
Now each team will seek to make an early impression on the blank slate of this season with whatever takes place Thursday, which some will see as a foregone Chiefs loss even if it doesn’t have to be.
The Chiefs were the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs in 2017, but they have to take on both the reality and mystique the Patriots have created here under Belichick — 226-80 since taking over in 2000 — and Brady, who is 106-18 in home starts.
Much is being made of Reid having a 26-10 record in openers and after bye weeks, but that perceived advantage seems offset by the fact that Belichick is 25-9 in the same circumstances with the Patriots (and 40-12 overall including postseason games with two weeks to prepare).
Still, the preparation and ingenuity that have made Reid’s teams particularly salty in those situations create a challenge for the Patriots.
Belichick made the point well as he shed some insight on what rival coaches have to account for in Reid-coached teams, stuff that may not meet the eye of the casual fan.
“Andy’s a West Coast offense disciple, and that’s a very extensive system,” he said. “So I think it’s going to be within the West Coast family of what he does … I don’t think he’s going to come in and run the wishbone.
“But that being said, there’s a lot of ways to dress it up. There’s a lot of ways to make it look different, but it’s really the same. To force different defensive adjustments or personnel groups and run the same play, but it’s on a different guy, so the same player can’t really repeat his read on the play, things like that. …
“It’s sound, it’s well-balanced. They have complementary plays, so if you’re stopping one thing, they have something else they can go to.”
One thing they can go to that Belichick hasn’t had to contend with before is Tyreek Hill, who along with tight end Travis Kelce figures to be the option he most tries to take away.
Hill “can attack the defense at all three levels,” Belichick said. “Tough guy to defend. Tackling’s an issue when he gets the ball. Sometimes they throw it to him, sometimes they hand it to him, sometimes he gets it on kick returns …
“So it’s a lot of stress on your team.”
Especially since no one player can match up with him, at least as Belichick was putting it publicly.
“Every guy on the team, basically, in the kicking game or on defense might have to deal with” Hill, he said.
As for the other side of the ball, the Patriots are hyper-conscious of the Chiefs being the best in the NFL at creating turnovers last season, with 33 takeaways.
And, again, as with his description of Reid’s offense, Belichick provided astute observations of a key aspect of that: Marcus Peters, who has an NFL-best 14 interceptions the last two seasons.
With what Belichick called “ball-hawking” and great awareness of where the ball is, Peters often makes plays on passes intended for someone other than the one he appears to be defending.
Peters will fall off the player you think he’s covering, Belichick said, and make the play elsewhere.
“That’s tough on the quarterback, because you think he’s occupied, he makes you think he’s occupied,” Belichick said. “But he really isn’t.”
As for the Patriots’ greatest apparent internal challenge, it’s not yet clear just how they’ll try to compensate for the absence of injured receiver Julian Edelman.
But Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola seem to offer part of the solution — and the return of Gronkowski from back surgery another.
“You can’t really replace Julian, the way he plays the game, the way he goes out there,” Gronkowski said. “It’s going to be a unit, it’s going to be the whole offense stepping up to fill (the) void.”
So those will make for some of the games within the opening game — one that for all the hoopla around it will leave even the most seasoned hands jittery until it unfolds.
“It’s very unpredictable,” Brady said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
Even if you’re a face of the dynasty everyone else wants to stop.