KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS, Dick Enberg, Dan Dierdorf, Armen Keteyian
SERIES: 30th meeting. The Chiefs lead the series 15-11-3, but the Patriots have won three straight and four of last five, including a 27-19 victory at Arrowhead Stadium last season. That was the Patriots' first win in Kansas City in 40 years - since a 31-24 decision at old Municipal Stadium in 1964. The Patriots had lost seven straight road games to the Chiefs since then. Both teams were charter members of the American Football League in 1960.
2005 RANKINGS: Patriots: offense 9th (27th rush, 4th pass); defense 31st (23rd rush, 31st pass). Chiefs: offense 7th (4th rush, 11th pass); defense 25th (5th rush, 29th pass)
PREDICTION: Patriots 30-27
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Chiefs have to find a way to contain Patriots QB Tom Brady, and they likely have to do it without their best cover man as CB Patrick Surtain (ankle) appears unlikely to play. In two career games against Kansas City, Brady has completed 70 percent of his passes for 725 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. The good news for the Chiefs, however, is the Patriots' running game is sputtering this season and Kansas City should be able to focus more on pressuring Brady. The Chiefs also have the ability to dominate time of possession with their strong ground game. They would get an extra boost if LT Willie Roaf is able to return from a hamstring injury. And will New England's secondary a constant game of musical chairs due to injuries, Kansas City TE Tony Gonzalez should have room to work -- especially if Roaf plays and free Gonzalez of some of his pass-blocking responsibilities.
FAST FACTS: Patriots: K Adam Vinatieri needs 10 points to past K/WR Gino Cappelletti (1,130) for the most points in franchise history. ... Remaining opponents have a combined 24-36 record. Chiefs: All six remaining opponents currently have winning records and are a combined 37-23. ... RB Larry Johnson seeks a career-best fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing game.
GAME PLAN: The Patriots want to make sure their improving run defense doesn't take a step backward against the Chiefs' top-flight running game. In last year's matchup, the Patriots scored a clear knockout, limiting Kansas City to 64 yards on the ground. However, that was with Derrick Blaylock, not Priest Holmes or Larry Johnson, carrying the ball. The Patriots also know they have to guard against TE Tony Gonzalez. Tight ends hurt the Patriots earlier in the season, and while their strong safety position has stabilized, they still don't have Rodney Harrison back there. Offensively, the Patriots' running game has been effective the last two weeks, but it won't be a full partner with the passing game unless Corey Dillon gets healthy. That should mean plenty of throws for Tom Brady. Last week's obsession with the deep ball should give the Chiefs' defensive backs something to consider.
INJURY IMPACT: The defense is in relatively good shape, health wise, with LB Monty Beisel (back) returning to practice this week. Offensively, it's a different story. The Patriots were able to get by without three receivers (David Givens, Troy Brown and Bethel Johnson) last week against New Orleans, but they figure to need more firepower against Kansas City. If RB Corey Dillon (calf) sits out again, Heath Evans and Patrick Pass will once again have to carry the load against a stingy Chiefs run defense. Having Logan Mankins back at practice is a good sign because the Patriots can't afford to lose another starter on the line.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Patriots ILBs Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi vs. Chiefs RB Larry Johnson - Johnson is coming off a franchise-record 211-yard game against the Texans. The Patriots' run defense has improved dramatically over the past two games, but Johnson will be a difficult matchup. Vrabel has registered double-digit tackles in four of five games since moving inside.
--Patriots special teams vs. Chiefs KR/PR Dante Hall - Hall is having a down year on punt returns, averaging 6.0 yards, almost half of his career average entering this season (11.5). However, he does have a 52-yard return. On kickoffs he ranks 15th in the league (24.0 yards) with a 96-yard touchdown. The Patriots' coverage units have been rock solid lately. They can't afford a slipup in a game in which points could be flying fast and furiously.
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.
INJURY IMPACT: 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, as is backup LB Kris Griffin with a hamstring.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
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.
--QB Tom Brady remains on pace to set a franchise record for passer rating. Brady is at 96.2, good for fourth place in the NFL behind Carson Palmer (105.6), Peyton Manning (104.6) and Drew Brees (100.0). Tony Eason holds the Patriots record with a 93.4 mark in 1984.
--RB Corey Dillon, who hasn't had a carry the last two games, has slipped to 31st in the league in rushing. Hampered by ankle and calf injuries, he remains stuck at 441 yards.
--K Adam Vinatieri is tied for 21st in the league in scoring with 63 points. He led the NFL with a career-high 141 points in 2004.
--P Josh Miller is ranked second in the NFL in gross average (46.5 yards) and fourth in net average (39.4 yards).
--CB Artrell Hawkins saw plenty of action in his first appearance with the team last week. Hawkins, who signed five days before the game, started out as the nickel back but moved up the depth chart in the fourth quarter when starter Asante Samuel was injured. Hawkins also played on multiple special teams units.
--LB Don Davis leads the team with 17 special teams tackles.
--TE Christian Fauria narrowly missed catching his first TD pass of the season last week as Brady overthrew him in the end zone in the first quarter of last week's win over New Orleans.
--CB Patrick Surtain took some snaps in the team portion of Thursday's workout and was looking more like a candidate to play against New England than he was after the Houston game, when he was on crutches with a sprained ankle. Surtain did not practice Wednesday. How he does Friday could determine his playing status.
--CB Alphonso Hodge, the second of Kansas City's two fifth-round draft picks last spring, has been signed off the practice squad to the 53-man active roster. Hodge, who started 35 of the 46 games he played at the University of Miami, finished his collegiate career without an interception. He's frequently around the ball, but has trouble catching it.
--DE Khari Long, a sixth-round draft pick last spring who played on special teams in one of the 10 games for which he was on the Chiefs active roster, was released and re-signed to the practice squad.
--T Willie Roaf, who missed the last three games and six of 10 in total with a hamstring injury, took nearly a full turn of practice reps Thursday and appears ready to return to action Sunday against New England.
--RB/FB Ronnie Cruz missed a second day of practice Thursday and appears very doubtful to play Sunday against New England. Cruz's absence would leave the Chiefs with only three healthy running backs - RB Larry Johnson, FB Tony Richardson and backup RB Dee Brown - for the Patriots. The Chiefs could use TE Kris Wilson as a backup fullback if needed.