It's been 215 days since we've had meaningful football but that changes on Thursday night when the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots host the Chiefs. Thinking about New England conjures images of a stone-faced Bill Belichick, Tom Brady calmly leading another touchdown drive and ultimately, all those Lombardi trophies. Kansas City, on the other hand, is a steady-as-she-goes outfit built more for comfort than speed.
There's nothing wrong with that, just like there's nothing wrong with those worn-in slippers or those flannel pajama pants you'll wear all day on a lazy Sunday. But is this the year the Chiefs become more than a solid team with a knack for getting to the postseason?
Truthfully, we don't need to manufacture storylines; this is a sport where demand consistently outstrips supply, especially after four weeks of mind-numbing preseason facsimile football.
So welcome back, NFL, we missed you.
TV, streaming info
- Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET Thursday
- TV: NBC
- Streaming: fuboTV (Try for free)
The last time we met ...
It has been 20 months since the Chiefs and Patriots faced off. It was during the 2015 AFC divisional playoffs, which New England would win 27-20. The victory put the Pats in the AFC title game for the 10th time in 15 years, and for a fifth year in a row. (They would lose to the Broncos, but more than made up for it last season when they won their fifth Super Bowl in the Belichick-Brady era.)
Despite the final score, the game was never in doubt; the Pats led 21-6 midway through the third quarter and were up 27-13 until the Chiefs scored a touchdown with just over a minute to go. Kansas City has been to the playoffs three times in Reid's four seasons, but the team is just 1-3. And this loss means the Chiefs haven't won in New England since 1990, back when Steve DeBerg was under center and Christian Okoye was in the backfield.
Meanwhile, the Pats were the Pats; Tom Brady completed 28 of 42 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns -- both to tight end Rob Gronkowski. In fact, Gronk and Julian Edelman combined for 17 catches for 183 yards, including four of Brady's five third-down conversions. Edelman's season is already over -- he suffered a torn ACL in the preseason -- but Gronk is healthy after missing eight games last season. Which means we -- and the Chiefs -- can expect a lot more of this:
Tom Brady PERFECT pump fake + Eric Berry bites =#GronkSpike. Again. #DoYourJob #KCvsNE https://t.co/9V32aYCTwG— NFL (@NFL) January 16, 2016
This time, however, the Chiefs' defense will aim to make life slightly more uncomfortable for Brady, who seems impervious to pressure unless it's right in his face.
"He was throwing the ball very quickly,'' Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said recently. "He gets rid of the ball probably as fast any anybody in our league. Like we tell our players, if we brought 20 guys or none, he's going to throw the ball that fast. In that game, that was effective for him.''
And don't forget the 2014 season, when the Chiefs whipped the Patriots, 41-14, in a Week 4 matchup that left Belichick actually fielding questions about Brady's job status. Brady was harassed all night -- including two sacks -- and he completed just 14 of 23 passes for 159 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
That evening remains fresh in Brady's mind.
"When you get behind, they can really make you pay," Brady said this week. ... "They play really well when they're playing from ahead because that really plays to some of their great strengths, which is rushing the quarterback and then making plays on the ball in the secondary."
The @Chiefs and @Patriots have been two of the winningest teams in the NFL since 2013.— SNF on NBC (@SNFonNBC) September 5, 2017
Who will win Thursday on #NFLKickoff? pic.twitter.com/k9slbxJXpJ
Keep an eye on these guys
Alex Smith: Smith is the engine that runs Reid's offense. Yes, he's a really boring engine, one that gets great gas mileage but takes about 15 seconds to get up to 60 mph. But it fits what the Chiefs want to do. He completed 67 percent of his passes last season for 3,502 yards, 15 touchdowns, eight interceptions and a 91.2 passer rating. Smith also ranked 11th in value per play among all quarterbacks, according to Football Outsiders' metrics. Smith attempted 50 passes the last time these two teams met and that type of imbalance isn't going to work on Thursday. Kansas City will need to run the ball occasionally, and tight end Travis Kelce will need to be a reliable outlet for Smith.
Justin Houston: Houston had 22 sacks in 2014, but that number fell to 7.5 in 11 games in 2015 and he registered just four in five appearances last season. The Chiefs will also be without Tamba Hali, which puts added pressure on the rest of the linebackers corps, including Dee Ford, Derrick Johnson and Ramik Wilson. Perhaps Houston's strategy for slowing down Brady is best because of its simplicity: "Hit him." Of course, Brady's quick release is the problem, which isn't lost on Houston.
"My main thing is the defense, don't lose confidence in what you got going on because he's going to make plays -- it's Tom Brady," Houston said. "Just got to stay together through four quarters."
Chiefs cornerbacks: Good news: Marcus Peters is one of the league's best cornerbacks. Bad news: The Chiefs only have one Marcus Peters. Starter Steven Nelson is out with an injury for at least half the season, and he could be replaced by 2014 third-rounder Phillip Gaines, who started five games last season and has one career interception. Another option is Terrance Mitchell, who was signed last season after he was cut by three other teams. Whoever lines up opposite Peters, expect Brady and the Patriots to go after them. Silver lining: Eric Berry and Ron Parker are as good a safety tandem as you'll find in the AFC.
Brandin Cooks: The Patriots, fresh off their latest Super Bowl victory, spend the offseason getting better. A lot better. That included acquiring Cooks, a talented playmaker who could be a younger, faster more explosive version of Edelman. Put another way: In addition to Cooks and the always dangerous Gronkowski, defenses will also need to game plan for running backs Dion Lewis, James White and Rex Burkhead. And we haven't even mentioned Chris Hogan and recently acquired Phillip Dorsett, who has untapped Cooks-level abilities. So yeah.
Stephon Gilmore: It's easy to overlook this defense because you're so distracted by that offense. But one of the Pats' first free-agency moves was to sign Gilmore, the former Bills first-round pick. A season ago, New England's defense ranked 16th overall but was 22nd against the pass. Gilmore was replacement-level in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus' grades, but the proverbial change of scenery -- to New England, no less -- should do wonders for Gilmore's game. It won't hurt that he'll join a secondary that also includes Malcolm Butler, Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung.
We have Roger
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell didn't show his face at Gillette Stadium for 2 1/2 years, which coincides with all the Deflategate silliness, but he'll be in attendance on Thursday. After attending the Falcons' divisional playoff game last January, most fans were convinced that Goodell would show up for the AFC title game in New England the following week. Nope. Instead, Goodell returned to Atlanta, where he attended a Falcons game for the second straight week.
In February, Gronkowski said that Goodell was so hated in New England that he wouldn't "even be able to land at the airport."
"He couldn't even get to the stadium in Foxborough if he landed in Boston," Gronk added.
Maybe not. Goodell made a surprise visit to Gillette a few weeks ago for the Patriots' preseason opener against the Jags.
Great night for a game. @nflcommish will be back up for Kickoff events & attend @chiefs vs @Patriots on 9/7 pic.twitter.com/mKxMI90k5T— Brian McCarthy (@NFLprguy) August 11, 2017
Then again, that was the preseason. Tens of thousands fans could be waving towels featuring a clown-nosed Roger Goodell, courtesy of Barstool Sports.
LETS GOOOOOOOO!!!!! #OperationClownFace pic.twitter.com/PjZ7dNgHbw— Dave Portnoy (@stoolpresidente) August 30, 2017
Not surprisingly, Belichick is unconcerned.
"Yeah, I'm not really too concerned about all the exterior things with the game. Just trying to get ready for the Chiefs," the coach told WPRI's Mark Dondero.
Looking for sleepers? CBSSports.com's Fantasy expert Dave Richard is here for you:
Chris Hogan, WR, Patriots: With Chiefs cornerback Steven Nelson on the shelf, the Patriots will probably go after cornerbacks Phillip Gaines and Terrance Mitchell. Stud corner Marcus Peters tends to stick to one side of the field (the right of the quarterback), so expect to see plenty of Hogan in the slot and to Tom Brady's left as the Patriots mix and match. Brandin Cooks might pop off for a huge game, but Hogan should see enough work to be a good No. 3 option.
James White, RB, Patriots: Whether it's by design or by game flow, expect the Patriots' run game to grind down the Chiefs defensive line with a power run attack. That should fit Mike Gillislee like a glove, but James White, hero of Super Bowl LI, could get the first nod and is a mortal lock to work in passing situations too. Expect over 100 total yards between the two of them, but Gillislee should be penciled in for a short-yardage score.
Who ya got?
All eight CBSSports.com experts have the Patriots beating the Chiefs in New England, and only one expert has Kansas City covering -9.
Pete Prisco, who has the Patriots winning, 27-13:
"The Patriots should have an explosive offense again, even without Julian Edelman. The Chiefs have a good defense, but they won't be able to slow down Tom Brady and they sure can't keep up. Patriots big."
They said it
Reid on Belichick: "We've been doing this a long time, so you get to know each other over the years and you respect each other's work. Nobody does it better than him. We've talked and raised kids at the same time, done all those things at the same time, and come up through it that way. We've just gotten to know each other over the years and I appreciate his friendship and I appreciate what he's done for the National Football League too."
Belichick on the Chiefs' defense: "The two most important things about the defense are the two most important things about defense in football, period, and that's points and turnovers. They do a great job in those two areas. They don't give up a lot of points, and they turn the ball over. What else is there? That's what defensive football is, those two things ... that's a problem for us and a problem for any offense. They're a very opportunistic secondary. Those guys have great ball skills, led by Peters. Of course, Berry, Parker ... they all play the ball well, attack the ball well. In their coverage schemes, they have a lot of free players. They have a guy reading the quarterback and everybody else playing man to man, kind of rovers back there that you have to be careful of.''