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AFC Divisional Game Preview: Patriots vs. Chiefs

The 12-4 New England Patriots welcome the 12-5 Kansas City Chiefs to Foxboro tomorrow for an AFC Divisional Playoff showdown. Both teams have their fair share of injuries, but Tom Brady and Alex Smith will both be on the field trying to make plays regardless of who's out there with them. Let's breakdown the matchup and figure who wins tomorrow's game.

When the Patriots Run: The Patriots tried to establish the run vs. the Dolphins in Week 17, and although they did have some success, specifically Steven Jackson in short yardage situations, it will be tough to find yards against a Chiefs defense that was ranked ninth against the run in 2015, allowing just 98.2 yards per game. Last season when these two met, the score got out of hand and the Patriots were forced to throw pretty much every down. They did run it 16 times for 75 yards, an average of 4.7 yards per carry. The Chiefs defensive front is very good, but they are dinged up, and the best way for the Patriots to get their offensive line going is to establish the run. Jackson is definitely going to be part of the gameplan and if he gets it going early the Patriots will not be hesitant to hand it to him 15-20 times. James White really isn't a factor in the running game, but he will definitely be part of the passing game. Overall, expect New England to be able to run in short yardage situations and the passing game to be the Patriots bread-and-butter, as usual.

When the Patriots Pass: The last six weeks have been an adventure for the Patriots passing game, but with the whole group back together after a couple weeks to recover, we should see something closer to the first ten weeks compared to the last six. Rob Gronkowski is the mystery, being listed on the injury report as questionable after multiple reports came out stating he had an injection in his knee and he also may have a back issue. If he's good to go, New England will be tough to defend like they were during their ten-game win streak, but if he doesn't play, it could be a tough day for the Patriots aerial attack. What Patriots fans should expect to see is more in between, which will be much better than the last six games but not quite as efficient as the first ten. Julian Edelman's return to the lineup is going to be big, but let's not forget that he's playing with a screw in his foot and a metal plate in his shoe to protect him, so he's not 100% either. If he stays upright, his presence, like Gronkowski, changes everything for the New England offense. The Chiefs finished ninth against the pass in 2015, allowing 231 passing yards per game, which is a solid number to hold teams to, but it wasn 't all positive. Kansas City allowed 25 touchdowns through the air, tied for 15th in the league, which shows their beatable in the red zone.

When the Chiefs Run: .Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware have done well stepping in for All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles, but today they'll be facing a run defense that was excellent all year, and today Dont'a Hightower most likely returns, so there won't be a lot of easy yards. New England was ranked ninth against the run in 2015, allowing 98.8 yards per game and only eight touchdowns. The Chiefs were the sixth ranked rushing offense in the NFL, cracking the 2,000 yard barrior (2044) and running for 19 touchdowns. Kansas City is absolutely going to try and establish the run today because teams that have had luck against New England were able to establish their ground game, but Belichick and Co. can put more defenders in the box because the Chiefs are so limited in the passing game. Expect the Chiefs to run for around 100 yards, but they won't run wild vs. a tough Patriots defense.

When the Chiefs Pass: The Chiefs had a decent passing game in 2015, featuring wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and tight end Travis Kelce, but when Jamaal Charles went down, Kansas City became very easy to defend. Maclin is questionable headed into today's game, and if he doesn't play it will be a long day for Andy Reid and the Chiefs. Kelce has been excellent this season and New England will be forced to keep a close eye on him; expect him to make a few plays but not enough to turn the game in Kansas City's favor. Alex Smith is a smart quarterback and can get out of the pocket and make plays, but his speed won't hurt the Patriots defense like it has in the past because their defense is extremely fast. New England's pash rush is the best it's been in over a decade, which is something Kansas City didn't see last year when they waxed the Patriots at Arrowhead. Overall, expect the Chiefs to make a few plays, but ultimately their lack of plays in the passing game is going to doom them.

Special Teams: Both teams have strong kicking games, and according to Football Outsiders, the Patriots are ranked fifth overall while the Chiefs are ranked seventh. The Patriots have had major issues on the punt return unit and they need to avoid fumbles. It cost them the top seed and I'm sure it was stressed this week to protect the ball because it could end their season. One thing to watch is kicker Cairo Santos, who's had an excellent season. Sometimes the winds in Foxboro can change directions at the worst times, as Billy Cundiff can attest to, so Cairo better stay focused or he could have a long day.

Coaching Matchup: Bill Belichick vs. Andy Reid, a battle of two long-tenured NFL coaches. Belichick and Reid faced off last season and it wasn't even close as the Patriots and their coaching staff were completely outdone by the Chiefs, but that was a long time ago. After that dismantling, the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl and many say that game is the one that woke them up. The venue is a huge factor too; playing in Foxboro on Saturday night is a lot more appealing to the Patriots than playing in Arrowhead on a Monday night. As I always say, typically the coaching advantage goes to the team with the better personnel, and that theory is in place again this week. Assuming most of the Patriots injured players can make it through the game, they should give Belichick the advantage in what could be a tight game.

Prediction: Patriots 27, Chiefs 16

New England gets what they need from returning starters and after a slow start they get the pasing game rolling and win by two scores. The Chiefs are a good team, and if they had a healthy Maclin and Charles they could beat New England, but the reality is they're limited offensively and that will be the reason their season ends today.

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