By Sam McPherson
Overall in the history of two original American Football League franchises, the Kansas City Chiefs hold a 17-13-3 edge in their matchups against the New England Patriots. However, since Bill Belichick took over the head-coaching position in New England 16 seasons ago, the East Coast team has had the advantage over the Midwest team: Belichick is 5-2 against Kansas City, including a 4-0 record at home in Foxborough.
This Saturday's AFC Divisional Playoff game between the two teams will be played back east, as the Patriots are the champions of the AFC East Division while the Chiefs merely qualified as a wild-card team out of the AFC West Division. However, Kansas City has won 11 straight games now, and New England has lost four of its last six games. The two teams appear to be headed in opposite directions, yet the Patriots are still the defending Super Bowl champions, so no one is counting them out prematurely.
Last Meeting Between The Two Teams
It was Week 4 in 2014 when New England paid a visit to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, and the Chiefs wiped the field with the Patriots, 41-14. Of course, New England went on to win the Super Bowl last year, while Kansas City struggled to a 9-7 finish, missing the postseason. How much weight can be put on that single game result from 15-plus months ago? Rosters are different, and the circumstances are different.
However, the Chiefs jumped out at a 17-0 halftime lead, and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady didn't finish the game after throwing two interceptions. Kansas City rolled up 443 yards of offense without committing a turnover. Only a mid-fourth quarter TD pass from New England backup Jimmy Garoppolo to tight end Rob Gronkowski made the score what it was. The Chiefs dominated, and because they've done it recently, the Kansas City roster and staff must have confidence they can do it again—even if everything is different this time around.
Common Opponents This Season
The Chiefs and the Patriots played four common opponents in 2015: Buffalo, Denver, Houston, and Pittsburgh. The two playoff opponents went 3-0 against Buffalo, 3-0 against Houston (including last week's playoff win for Kansas City), and 2-0 against Pittsburgh. The Chiefs split two games with Denver, while the Broncos defeated the Patriots in overtime.
The Denver games become the focus, as a result of both teams' struggles against the Broncos. However, it's tough to compare, as the Chiefs lost to the Peyton Manning version in Week 2 before beating the Manning-led Broncos in Week 10. That game was the one Manning threw four INTs and completed only five passes before being benched and replaced by Brock Osweiler. Meanwhile, it was Osweiler who led Denver to the overtime win over the then-undefeated New England squad.
Manning was clearly hurt in the second K.C. game, and the Broncos were firing on all cylinders otherwise when they beat the Patriots in Week 12. In the end, there's really not much to be learned here from comparative-score analysis. In the end, all we know is that the Chiefs beat the Broncos amid their 11-game streak, and the Patriots loss to the Broncos began their current struggles.
Injuries, Injuries, Injuries
While New England has had its fair share of injuries this season, most of their current problems seem to be coming around positively. For example, wide receiver Julian Edelman is returning from his broken foot, and that will give a big boost to the Patriots offense. Without him, Brady has struggled over the last handful of games, but it looks as though New England will be at its best possible health status by Saturday.
Meanwhile, Kansas City has key injury concerns on offense now in wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and running back Spencer Ware. Both have sprained ankles, and both are vital to the Chiefs offensive diversity and flexibility. Game-day health is going to be a huge factor for the offenses in this matchup for both teams.
It Will Come Down To Alex Smith
Kansas City QB Alex Smith tossed his first NFL postseason interception last week in the Chiefs 30-0 blowout win over the Texans on the road. He has a career postseason QB rating of 107.0 now, which is higher than Brady's career mark (89.0)—albeit in significantly fewer games. If Smith can play error-free football on Saturday, the Chiefs have an excellent chance of extending their win streak to 12 games. Smith's whole game is predicated on mistake-free play, so as long as K.C. Head Coach Andy Reid can keep his QB's head straight, the Chiefs should be good to go on Saturday.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.
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