Patriots players were off on Tuesday, avoiding travel into the stadium in the midst of the first snow storm of the winter season. When they arrive back in the building on Wednesday they'll have their work cut out for them preparing for the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs are 8-4 and will be aiming to gain a game on the Patriots and get within striking distance of a playoff bye. Despite their unexpected four losses, Kansas City is still one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL and thanks to the Ravens, they're largely flying under the radar after taking the league by storm last year like Baltimore is doing now.
There's still no question that Patrick Mahomes headlines one of the fastest and most explosive teams in the NFL.
"He's obviously a great player, has a lot of skill," head coach Bill Belichick told reporters on Tuesday. "Terrific arm and very athletic kid.
"He spreads the ball around, he gets it to everybody, they have a lot of explosive plays, they have a lot of explosive players. But, his job really is to get to get the ball to the explosive players so that they can do something with it, and he does a very good job of that. So, he's got excellent vision, accuracy, and when the defense doesn't defend the play well or properly, then he's usually able to take advantage of it."
Mahomes is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Chiefs offense and the problems they pose. The speed of Tyreek Hill and rookie Mecole Hardman, the size and contested catch ability of Sammy Watkins and Travis Kelce and the dual-threat complementary running of Damien Williams and LeSean McCoy all make Kansas City one of the toughest teams to stop.
"They have very explosive players, so this team, what they've built off of is explosive skill players," outside linebackers coach Demarcus Covington told reporters. "It's a dynamic team who can score on any given down, so that's definitely one of our points for this week is knowing their personnel, which is explosive skill players."
Andy Reid's offensive playbook is as creative and well-designed as any and it maximizes the effectiveness of all their weapons.
"They'll run complementary plays, complementary formations and personnel groups that even if it is the same play, it'll look differently, or it'll look like it's the same play, but it'll have a misdirection or a counter element to it that if you're over-playing one thing, then you can't stop the other one," said Belichick. "If you're stopping one thing, you're probably a little light on something else, and it's hard to stop everything. It's hard to stop the different elements that they have."
On the other side of the ball, the remade Chiefs defense was seen as a weakness earlier this season. While they still have had their struggles against the run, where they're ranked 30th in DVOA, their pass defense, especially on third down, is among the best in the league.
"The Chiefs defense, the first thing I'd say is this is a new scheme for us," said Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. "It's a one-gap scheme where they try to disrupt you with some penetration and they pressure on all three downs, which is a challenge. They'll try to challenge your protections and force the ball out maybe before you want it to come out with their blitz packages. Very creative in that regard."
For a Patriots team that has struggled to run the ball for much of the season this will be the game they need Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead to get on track like they were in last year's AFC Championship, where their running led the way to the conference title. Failure by the running game on early downs will only make things harder on third down, when the Chiefs can unleash their pressure package.
"You've got to do a good job with their front and try to hang in there and avoid negative plays," said McDaniels. "You've got to be able to handle the pressures. I think they do a really good job of disguising."
If the Patriots are to go toe-to-toe with the Chiefs, the running backs will be a huge key.
|Offensive Points||26.8 (6th)||29.0 (3rd)|
|Offensive Third Down||38.8 percent (16th)||46.8 percent (3rd)|
|Offensive Rushing DVOA||14th||6th|
|Offensive Passing DVOA||16th||30th|
|Offensive Red Zone||50 percent (24th)||53.9 percent (19th)|
|Turnover Ratio||+18 (1st)||+8 (t-6th)|
|Defensive Points||12.1 (1st)||22.1 (16th)|
|Defensive Third Down||21.7 (1st)||36.9 percent (14th)|
|Defensive Passing DVOA||2nd||6th|
|Defensive Rushing DVOA||7th||30th|
|Defensive Red Zone||50.0 (8th)||53.2 percent (12th)|
|Special Teams DVOA||13th||4th|
There's been plenty of complaining about the lack of weaponry surrounding Tom Brady, but since 2013 the Patriots have added 30 veteran free agent receivers, 6 draft pick receivers and seven rookie free agent receivers.
Of the vets, seven were former 1st-round picks and two were second rounders. And those don't include Eric Decker or Antonio Brown who were mid-round picks that had NFL success prior to their stints with the Patriots.
No, not many of those additions worked out and even those that did had often had brief windows of success, but you can't fault the Patriots for not trying. They've consistently brought in talented receivers, even some with great risk.
Here's a list of notable players they've tried throwing at the wall since 2013:
|Michael Jenkins||1st Round Pick|
|Michael Floyd||1st Round Pick|
|Kenny Britt||1st Round Pick|
|Brandin Cooks||1st Round Pick|
|Phillip Dorsett||1st Round Pick|
|Cordarrelle Patterson||1st Round Pick|
|Demaryius Thomas||1st Round Pick|
|Danny Amendola||57 receptions, 6 TDs in 13 playoff games|
|Jordan Matthews||2nd Round Pick|
|Josh Gordon||2nd Round Pick|
|Eric Decker||3x 1,000-yard receiver|
|Antonio Brown||7x 1,000-yard receiver|
|Aaron Dobson||2nd Round Pick|
|N'Keal Harry||1st Round Pick|
|Brandon LaFell||953 receiving yards, 7 TDs in 2014|
|Chris Hogan||107 catches, 12 TDs from 2016-2018|