Just don't try telling that to the Kansas City Chiefs, themselves a 6-4 team whose fight to stay in contention in the AFC playoff picture would take a serious hit with a loss to the Patriots on Sunday in Arrowhead Stadium.
"I don't think you can say the Patriots are having a down year," said Chiefs defensive end Eric Hicks. "They've had a lot of injuries, but if there's one team that can overcome that, it's the Patriots. They've defied the odds for years to be the best team in pro football for three of the past four years.
"It's hard to count them out of anything."
The Chiefs know just how tough the Patriots can be, having lost to them at Arrowhead just a year ago, 27-19. The Pats went on to a 14-2 season and their third Super Bowl in the past four seasons. And while this year's team went through a win one/lose one stretch through the season's first four games, Hicks wouldn't be surprised to see the Pats make the kind of season-ending run they made in 2001, when they were 5-5 before winning the final six regular-season games and the Super Bowl.
"They don't get down," Hicks said. "They know they'll weather any storm. And they always know they can look to No. 12 for guidance. He's the straw that stirs that drink."
No. 12 - Tom Brady - shredded the Chiefs a year ago at Arrowhead. Brady threw for 315 yards last Nov. 22, when the Patriots jumped out to a 24-13 lead.
Kansas City's pass defense won't be in the best shape to deal with Brady and whoever turns up healthy enough to catch his passes.
The Chiefs likely will be without left corner Patrick Surtain, who was used to facing New England twice yearly during his years in Miami.
And while the Pats also will be without some key players, the Chiefs know they'll have all they can handle with whatever group of veterans and new faces the Patriots bring to Arrowhead.
"I don't care who they have in the game, they always expect to win," said DT Lionel Dalton. "They can have a bunch of backups and they'll still find a way to win.
"You never want to underestimate the Super Bowl champs," Dalton added. "They're the champions until someone dethrones them. If we can beat these guys, it could be a big momentum builder for us."
This is the 30th regular-season meeting between the two clubs. Kansas City holds a 15-11-3, but have lost the last three meetings since 2000. Kansas City lost in overtime at Foxboro in 2002 after rallying to tie the game on the final play. New England won in Kansas City last year after the Chiefs got as close as 24-19 after a 97-yard scoring drive with 6:13 remaining.
Running back Larry Johnson was named the AFC's Offensive Player of the Week following his 211-yard, two-TD rushing performance against Houston last week. It was the best single-game rushing effort in the NFL this year and the best in the league since LaDainian Tomlinson ran for 243 in a December, 2003 game against Oakland.
As usual, Johnson wasn't talking about his first-ever such designation with Kansas City-area reporters Wednesday. He did the conference call with the New England media, but continued his silent feud with Kansas City reporters, some of whom have had a field day with Johnson's frequent open-mouth, insert-foot comments.
"I think it's his way of just saying, 'To hell with you,'" said coach Dick Vermeil. "He does have that right. His name has been in the paper a lot, and it's more about problem things."
Of the eight teams currently in contention for the AFC playoffs with records of 6-4 or better, the Chiefs have the toughest remaining six-game schedule. All six opponents - New England, Denver, San Diego and Cincinnati at home, and Dallas and the Giants on the road - currently have winning records. Their combined 41-19 record is four games better than the record of Pittsburgh's final six opponents (37-23).
Most of the Chiefs figure they'll have to win four of their last six games to have the 10-6 record that would seem to be the bare minimum for entry into the AFC playoffs. Some figure it might take an 11-5 record. Accordingly, the Chiefs playoff season likely begins this week against the Patriots.
"We have to approach every single game that we play from here on out as a playoff game," Vermeil said. "We need to try to create that same kind of focus and preparation, that same kind of pressure that exists when you're playing a playoff game. At the same time, we need to turn the pressure around and use it as a positive to enhance performance rather than to be tied up in knots and worry."
Vermeil, who normally has an excellent seat for the traditional Thanksgiving Day lighting of the Country Club Plaza, will have to battle the elements during the crowded nighttime ceremony this year.
Vermeil, who normally watches the ceremony from his condo overlooking the scenic shopping area, now will have to battle the crowds as he and his wife Carol will throw the switch for the first time in his five years in Kansas City.
BY THE NUMBERS:
8 of 9 - The number of plays that produced first downs in Kansas City's first two possessions against Houston last week when the Chiefs put up 10 points.
1964 - Prior to New England's victory at Arrowhead last year, the last year the Patriots won a game in Kansas City.
4.8 - Average points separating the Chiefs and Patriots in their four games since 1999.
CHIEFS QUOTE TO NOTE:
"A lot of people will say, 'They're not doing as well as they've done in the past.' Well, when you've won three of the last four championships, you're still the king of the mountain." - Chiefs fullback Tony Richardson, on the Patriots.
CHIEFS STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Long considered one of the NFL's best long snappers, Kendall Gammon saw his streak of 218 consecutive games end when he was placed on injured reserve this week after fracturing his fibula in the winning over Houston.
Gammon never missed a game in four seasons with Pittsburgh (where he played in one Super Bowl and one Pro Bowl as a need layer), four in New Orleans and four-plus years in Kansas City. He even continued playing in Houston after initially cracking his leg upon taking a hit on the line of scrimmage during a punt play.
"I tried to suck it up and get down the field to make the tackle, but I knew it was going to hurt," Gammon said. "I played the rest of the half, but it was pretty painful. Once our doctors determined what was wrong at halftime, they wouldn't let me go back in."
The Chiefs have signed Ed Perry, who did the long snapping in Miami for eight seasons, as Gammon's replacement. DE Jared Allen, who last snapped in a real-game situation in college at Idaho State, handled two placement and one punt snap cleanly last week after Gammon went down.
Though the Chiefs had yet to announce it, linebacker Shawn Barber, a former starter who has been out more than a year since tearing his ACL ligament in a Week Eight game in Tampa Bay last year, confirmed Wednesday that he had been activated to the 53-man roster. Barber's year-long recovery was necessitated when two surgeries were required to repair his damaged knee. Barber likely will work primarily with the special teams when he is put on the 45-man game-day active list.
CHIEFS PLAYER & PERSONNEL NOTES
LT Willie Roaf, a 10-time Pro Bowl tackle who has missed six of 10 games after injuring his hamstring on the second series of the season opener, returned to practice Wednesday after a three-game absence. Roaf is listed as questionable even though he expects to play.
CB Patrick Surtain could not practice Wednesday on his sprained ankle. Surtain is officially considered only questionable, but it appears unlikely that he will play.
CB Dewayne Washington, a starter for most of his previous 11 seasons with Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, likely will start at left corner if Patrick Surtain is not able to play. Washington filled in capably for Surtain when he missed the Oakland game and part of the San Diego game earlier this year.
RT John Welbourn will retain his position as a starter even if Jordan Black is not needed to play at Willie Roaf's left tackle spot.
DT Ryan Sims, a starter out since the season opener with a foot injury, was upgraded to questionable this week. Though Sims got in some work with the regular defense Wednesday, coach Dick Vermeil said it is more likely that Sims might be active for next week's home game with Denver than Sunday's game against New England.
CHIEFS GAME PLAN:
The Chiefs might be able to run effectively against New England's 22nd-ranked rush defense, but then, they managed only 64 yards last year when Derrick Blaylock was the featured back in the absence of injured Priest Holmes. Larry Johnson should fare better this time. But running effectively doesn't guarantee the Chiefs anything. Johnson ran for 132 in Buffalo and the Chiefs managed only three points.
They simply have to give Trent Green the kind of pass protection he had in Houston when KC established the run-pass balance that makes them most effective. Tony Gonzalez has had seven or more catches in four of his last five games, and could be a big factor here.
Defensively, the Chiefs secondary, likely playing without Patrick Surtain, will be hard pressed to limit Brady when throwing to Deion Branch or David Givens (if healthy) or Benjamin Watson or Andre Davis or any other backup who steps up big when the starters are down.
The Chiefs will have to generate pressure on Brady with their front four and an occasional blitz, which they might be able to do given the presence of two rookies on the Patriots line. They're also hoping Corey Dillon, who burned them for 98 rushing yards last year, isn't fully healthy.
Chiefs running offense vs. Pats rushing defense. Pro Bowl guards Brian Waters and Will Shields will occasionally work free to hunt Patriots inside linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel. Watching Willie Roaf trying to deal with Pats DE Richard Seymour while nursing a sore hamstring will be a key matchup. TE Jason Dunn can provide help all across the offensive line.
Reserve FS Jerome Woods remains out with a hamstring.
Starting CB Patrick Surtain (questionable, ankle) wasn't practicing or even moving around much Wednesday and doesn't seem likely to play.
T Willie Roaf (questionable, hamstring) looked to be moving reasonably well at Wednesday's practice, his first full workout since missing the previous three games.
DT Ryan Sims, though listed as only questionable, still isn't in game shape after sitting out nine games with a significant foot injury.
Backup FB/HB Ronnie Cruz is doubtful with a knee.
Linebacker Kris Griffin another backup is likley out with strained hamstring.
First Glance: New England vs. Kansas City
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