The last time Scott Pioli, Romeo Crennel and Bill Belichick were at Gillette Stadium together for a game it was a January 2005 victory over the Colts in the divisional playoff that put the Patriots a step closer to consecutive Super Bowl wins. Since then Crennel had a stint as the head coach in Cleveland before landing with Pioli in Kansas City, where Belichick's former No. 2 is trying to rebuild the Chiefs. That familiarity with what Belichick, Tom Brady and the Patriots do is just one of the interesting factors in Monday night's game in Foxborough. With a little extra time to prepare for another prime time battle, crack open this Chiefs Friday Six-Pack to put you in the proper state of mind as you wait for the last game of the NFL's weekend slate.
1. Don't Play Like a Jet! - With Matt Cassel - he of Brady-backup-to-big-money-stardom fame - injured, Kansas City will see Tyler Palko make his first NFL start. The Jets took on an AFC West opponent with a left-handed, backup quarterback under center on Thursday night and laid a total egg. The Patriots can't do the same against the unknown Palko. Though many assume that facing a Bill Belichick defense might be a recipe for disaster in a first-career start, unknown quarterbacks with little film to go on sometimes give the Patriots problems. It's harder to scheme against an unknown. Tim Tebow did almost nothing for Denver and yet the Jets allowed him to beat them. The Patriots can't do what the Jets did and fail to show up. Darrelle Revis talked about simply not wanting to get bored against Tebow and Denver. He may have been bored, but he was also on the losing end of the game. If the Patriots don't take the Chiefs seriously, Kansas City has some playmakers on both sides (Dwayne Bowe anyone?) who could make the game interesting. New England isn't good enough to take any team too lightly.
3. Balance it out - Kansas City has the NFL's 26th ranked rush defense and allows 4.2 yards a carry on the ground. The Patriots have seemingly tried to get the ground game going in each of the last two weeks, but it hasn't happened. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been in a bit of a slump - maybe due to his toe injury -- not only failing to get over 2 yards a carry in two of the last three games but also failing to reach the end zone in each of the last four weeks. Twenty-eight carries as a team against the Jets was good. Sixty yards was not. I don't want to sound like a broken record, but getting the running game going to balance out the offense will only be better for the passing game and the team as a whole in the long run. Get Benny going. Give Stevan Ridley more attempts to get back into his Oakland/preseason form. Logan Mankins talked about the team's ability to get 28 carries against New York and was happy with that number. The group would be even happier to get that chance again this week and put up even more yards.
4. No turnovers - In this matchup, the Patriot have the better turnover ratio at plus-3. Kansas City, which like New England barely turned the ball over at all a year ago, is minus-1 on the season with 16 giveaways. Turnovers are generally the easiest way for a big underdog (New England is a 15-point favorite) to pull the upset. Brady hasn't been as secure with the ball in 2011, with his 10 interceptions, including three multi-pick performances. Brandon Flowers is a very good young cornerback for the Chiefs, with four interceptions on the season including one touchdown. Brandon Carr also has a pair of picks. But both players are limited with injuries. If they can play, they can make plays. Brady needs to ensure that doesn't happen. It's one of the few ways the Chiefs have a chance to win.
5. An up Hillis Battle? - Jackie Battle is a bigger back who has run the ball pretty well for the Chiefs in recent weeks. He has 403 yards on 87 carries for a 4.6-yard average. Kansas City is basically a 50/50 team, having run the ball 269 times over the first nine games while Cassel attempted 269 throws. (Palko's seven throws to date screw up the actual perfect balance!) Belichick compared Battle to Peyton Hillis. Patriots fans remember that Hillis helped the Browns upset New England last season with 184 yards and two touchdowns. Not saying that Battle - a formerly unknown fourth-year player - is Hillis, but if he can run the same way with any similar type of success it will be huge for Kansas City. The Patriots run defense has been solid most of the year. That should continue against K.C. and make the Chiefs one dimensional. That should be bad news for Palko. But it all starts with stopping Battle. Vince Wilfork and Co. have to win this battle. (See what I did there?)
6. Familiar unfamiliar foe - The Patriots don't play the Chiefs much and Belichick said the team was lucky to have the extra day this week to prepare for the unfamiliar foe. That's even more important with the change at quarterback. On the other hand Pioli and Crennel are quite familiar with the Patriots, their coaching and their quarterback. That doesn't mean the Chiefs have a major advantage, but it should help them on some level. We've seen Eric Mangini beat the Patriots with both the Jets and Browns. Josh McDaniels pulled the upset for Denver. Maybe the familiarity was a key to those victories for the former Belichick understudies. Crennel didn't beat New England with the Browns, but now with Pioli maybe it's the veteran coach's turn to add his name to the list of former assistants to come back and beat Belichick. I don't think Crennel really has the overall talent to get the job done, but you never know.
Vegas thinks the Patriots are more than a two-touchdown favorite in this matchup. That's hard to argue with. In recent weeks the Chiefs lost to the Broncos and Dolphins. They also lost their starting quarterback. That's in addition to all the impressive talent (Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry, etc.) they lost earlier this season to injury. In fact the only two factors that I think give Kansas City hope are the Crennel/Pioli angle and the unknown of a first-time starter against a makeshift Patriots secondary that remains the worst pass defense in the NFL. Regardless of all that, I just can't see the Patriots losing this one or even letting it be close. You can't take a step back after last Sunday night's huge win in New York. I expect Brady to throw the ball well and for the Patriots to put up more than 100 yards on the ground. I think New England's secondary may have its issues at times, as always, but as long as they keep Battle in check up front I think Palko could be in for a long day. The Patriots are the more talented team overall in this one. Plus, I don't care for Todd Haley and his beard. He looks like a bum and makes Belichick look like the world's best dressed man on the sidelines. Put it all together and I think you come away with a 34-13 win for the Patriots as they roll through the first stop in the NFL's easiest late-season schedule.