Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs took the NFL by storm last year, but couldn't solve the Patriots in two games, the latter of which resulted in Kansas City losing the AFC Championship at home, a bitterly disappointing loss that will be on their minds when they travel to Foxboro this weekend.
The 2019 Chiefs have had a different story this season and have faced some adversity. From injuries to key players like Mahomes and Tyreek Hill, to already losing four games after having lost four all of last season, the Chiefs are somehow out of the spotlight, sitting at 8-4 and currently in the fourth seed in the AFC.
But the Chiefs are every bit as dangerous as they were last year and it's an ideal spot for a team that still has Super Bowl aspirations.
"Offensively, this is about as tough a team to prepare for as there is," Bill Belichick told reporters on Wednesday. "They have a lot of good players, but they're very well-coached. They have an excellent scheme, and Andy really knows how to attack defenses and create problems, so they do a really good job of that."
After an offseason spent with the Chiefs and the 31 points they scored in the second half of both matchups in mind, the Patriots defense has hit a new level in 2019. They feature athleticism in the front seven and have as deep and experienced a secondary as the team has ever seen. But with a Patriots offense that hasn't cracked 30 points in five games, their margin for error against Mahomes is razor thin and giving up 31 points total, much less in a mere half, won't be a route to victory for the New England this time.
It's hard to know where to start with Kansas City's offense. There's the deadly speed and explosiveness of Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman. There's tight end Travis Kelce who can do it all as Patriots coach Bill Belichick described him basically as a receiver.
"[Kelce's] one of the best receivers in the league," said Belichick. "He's their leading receiver. You can put him up against any receiver in the league and statistically he'll match up with anybody you want to put him against, basically, over the last five years. So, you can call him whatever you want to call him. OK, so you have four receivers out there and a back, basically, on a lot of plays – not on all the plays, but on a lot of plays. So, they're hard to match up against. They utilize two tight ends, they utilize the fourth receiver, they utilize multiple backs. And whoever they put out there, it usually causes a problem."
Captain Devin McCourty and his fellow safeties will draw the unlucky hand of often covering Kelce.
"Because of his ability, he lines up at what you would call X, at slot or at Z, then he's motioning or he's staying there," said McCourty. "I think the biggest thing is just having the awareness to be able to cover him, the hardest thing is covering him. The guy does a great job of getting open, catching the ball in tough situations. A bigger guy but you watch him, he has good quickness, runs good routes and doesn't really run routes like a prototypical tight end."
Then there's receiver Sammy Watkins who had 114 receiving yards in last year's AFC Championship and is currently the Chiefs second-leading receiver behind Kelce, while Demarcus Robinson has already set his career highs in his fourth season playing an offensive role.
"You turn on the film, it's almost like they don't win the same way each week," said McCourty. "They have so much talent, I think you see that all throughout the season. You turn on the game, Robinson will be the leading receiver, then Sammy Watkins will be the leading receiver, or it's Tyreek Hill or it's Hardman or it's Kelce. Or LeSean WIlliams or Damien Williams has a huge game running, and then the threat of Mahomes is always there.
The threat of Mahomes is indeed a big problem. He can find any of those weapons at any part of the field or make plays with his feet.
"He's got a great arm, can throw it all over the field," observed Belichick. "He can run, he's athletic, so those extended plays are definitely a problem."
How to best sum up what is most challenging about the Chiefs offense?
"Speed," said McCourty. "It's hard to cover but it's that simple. Not many teams, you look at their roster, there's 4.2-something, there's three guys 4.3...there's just so many guys that are fast and you talk about getting vertical -- you can't just stand over one guy. They have multiple guys that can go vertical, you have to play well at every position when you're in coverage."
Practice & Injury Report
Ted Karras and Byron Cowart were the only two players missing from the practice field as the Patriots started their on-field preparations for the Chiefs in full pads. Karras is expected to miss a couple weeks with a reported MCL strain.
After releasing Kai Forbath, the team remains without a kicker.
It appears the injury bug has passed for everyone but Marcus Cannon, while Tom Brady continues to deal with an elbow issue and has now added a toe injury, though neither restricted his practice participation.
DID NOT PARTICIPATE
DL Byron Cowart, Head
OL Ted Karras, Knee
LB Ja'Whaun Bentley, Knee
OT Marcus Cannon, Illness
S Patrick Chung, Heel
WR Julian Edelman, Shoulder
CB Jason McCourty, Groin
WR Mohamed Sanu, Ankle
DE John Simon, Elbow
QB Tom Brady, Toe / Elbow
Locker Room Sound Bites
Rex Burkhead on facing the Chiefs revamped defense:
"They're very physical up front. We know we're going to have to establish physicality upfront right away. They're a great team, they fly to the ball so we're going to have to be ready."