WHEN THE CHIEFS PASS
Chiefs quarterback Brodie Croyle is starting his first season opener. Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert is starting his first NFL game. Kansas City has only one proven wide receiver, second-year man Dwayne Bowe.
Despite the inexperienced elements in KC's passing attack, they do have some hope in this matchup. New England's best corner, Ellis Hobbs, is a physical mismatch against Bowe. The Patriots don't have a strong cover man in the linebacker corps or among the safeties who's capable of stopping Tony Gonzalez, who has found success against Bill Belichick's defense in recent years.
Where the Chiefs suffer is in pass-protection matchups, as Albert will have his hands full with Pro Bowl defensive end Richard Seymour and outside linebackers Adalius Thomas (6.5 sacks last season) and Mike Vrabel (12.5 sacks last season), both of whom will rush from either end of the line of scrimmage at times. Kansas City's right tackle, Damion McIntosh, didn't look stellar in preseason, either.
Look for the Chiefs to attack Patriots' rookie cornerback Terrence Wheatley, who will likely draw the assignment of covering Devard Darling, who didn't catch a pass this preseason, but had a solid training camp and will start. Due to injuries to Will Franklin and Maurice Price, it appears the Chiefs may suit up only three wide receivers in New England.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS
Tom Brady missed the entire preseason, his left tackle, Matt Light, missed most of preseason, and New England's offense was generally horrible in August. None of that really means anything, because until proven otherwise, the Patriots' passing game must still be regarded as the league's most-feared.
The Chiefs have issues rushing the passer (right defensive end Tamba Hali couldn't log one sack this preseason), and youth in the secondary. Randy Moss dwarfs every Kansas City cornerback by at least four inches, and can beat each of them in a foot race. New England may be without starting tight end Benjamin Watson, but second-year man David Thomas is an underrated player.
Look for the Patriots to challenge KC's rookie corners, Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr (nickel back), early and down the field. Chiefs defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham loves to blitz, but will he risk it against such a deadly passing attack? If Kansas City's front four can't get to Brady, he may have no choice.
WHEN THE CHIEFS RUN
Kansas City fielded the NFL's worst running game in 2007, but made steps to improve this offseason. The Chiefs have a massive new starting left tackle (Albert), a bigger center (305-pound Rudy Niswanger), and a new right guard (Adrian Jones). Throw in rookie fullback Mike Cox, the first real fullback the Chiefs have had since Tony Richardson, and there's reason to believe KC's running game might return to form this year.
But there's also reason to believe the Patriots will shut them down. Ty Warren, New England's 300-pound left defensive end, is exactly the kind of player who gives KC right tackle Damion McIntosh fits, with his strength and size. Niswanger, making his first NFL regular season start at center, will have his hands full with Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork.
The only saving grace for the Chiefs is that they have a deep and talented running back unit (Larry Johnson, Kolby Smith, Jamaal Charles) who should be able to take advantage of some age in New England's linebacker unit. Of course, veteran safety Rodney Harrison will come down into the box at some point – look for an audible from Brodie Croyle if the line of scrimmage gets too stacked.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN
The Chiefs had difficulty stopping the run a year ago, ranking 28th, but took steps to improve this offseason. Rookie Glenn Dorsey will command a double-team in the middle, and second-year defensive tackle Tank Tyler made strides in training camp to win a starting job. Dorsey and Tyler were stout against the run in preseason, and new Kansas City middle linebacker Pat Thomas appears to be a tougher, stouter upgrade over former starter Napoleon Harris.
The Patriots upgraded their offensive backfield by adding free agent LaMont Jordan this offseason, to complement starter Laurence Maroney. The Chiefs' safeties had issues last year coming down to tackle running backs on the edge, so look for the Patriots to get Maroney and Jordan outside to test Jarrad Page and Bernard Pollard. Kansas City's rookie corner, Brandon Flowers, is an outstanding tackler despite his small frame.
The Chiefs have a Pro-Bowl caliber punter in Dustin Colquitt and hope they've found an answer at placekicker in Nick Novak, who won a job despite heated competition in the offseason. New England has a weakness at punter in Chris Hanson, but can the Chiefs take advantage? BJ Sams and Dantrell Savage, who returned punts in preseason for Kansas City, both had issues.
The Patriots no doubt still remember last season's Super Bowl, and won't take the Chiefs for granted despite KC's young roster and nine-game losing streak. How rusty will Tom Brady be after sitting out the entire preseason? Chiefs Head Coach Herm Edwards is 2-6 lifetime against Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick.
The Chiefs won't roll over and die in New England as many have predicted, but the Patriots are too experienced, too talented and playing at home. Kansas City is improved, but youth seldom overcomes experience this early in the regular season.
Patriots 35, Chiefs 17
The Matchups – Chiefs vs Patriots
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