A reeling Chiefs team, coming off two-straight losses comes to Gillette Stadium this Sunday to face the 3-10 Patriots, who broke a five-game losing streak last Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Chiefs have seen their playoff seed slowly falling down the AFC rankings and need to turn things around if they're to make it back to the playoffs for a chance to defend their championship title. At this point it at least seems certain that Patrick Mahomes will be facing the first road playoff games of his career unless KC really gets in gear over the final four games.
What do the Patriots have to do to slow down Mahomes, Travis Kelce and friends, while going up against one of the better defenses in the NFL? The writers from Patriots Unfiltered offer their takes on the game in this week's Unfiltered Roundtable!
How can the Patriots replicate more of what they did in the first half against the Steelers and less of what they did in the second half?
It comes down to Bill O'Brien trusting that Zappe and the O-line can handle whatever the opposing defense is throwing at them. In other words, stay on the offensive when on offense. -Fred Kirsch
Bill O'Brien needs to show the same kind of aggressiveness with his play-calling and allow Bailey Zappe to throw it downfield once in a while. That will open up other things underneath and allow the Patriots to move the ball. -Paul Perillo
My answer here is two-fold: one, they need to protect the quarterback the way they did in the first 23 minutes. That allowed Zappe to read out coverages, make throws downfield, and manipulate the defense with ball fakes and eye manipulation. That brings me to item number two: be aggressive early. In the first 23 minutes vs. Pittsburgh, the Pats had a 68% pass rate. That number dropped to 43.3% in the final 37 minutes. Be aggressive early, stay aggressive, and let Zappe sling it! -Evan Lazar
Establish the run game through Zeke yet again and protect Bailey. He executed well under pressure in those first two quarters last week and hopefully he'll have a few more options downfield this week in terms of his receivers. -Alex Francisco
I'm with the group here, I think they have to be aggressive and not just out of the gate, but for a full sixty minutes. Like the Patriots, KC has just seven interceptions this year so maybe that's a target to go after them through the air. I know that's true for the Patriots defense as well though… -Mike Dussault
Ezekiel Elliott did it all last week against the Steelers, but should the team make more of an effort to involve Kevin Harris and/or JaMychal Hasty?
No reason to turn from Zeke unless there's a sense he's wearing down during the game. The bigger question is, will the offense need to rely on Zeke as much as it did against the Steelers. -FK
I think Elliott is the best option as both a runner and receiver and unless the Patriots have some long drives where he might need a break I would stick with the veteran.
With four games remaining, it's hard to imagine Elliott playing over 90% of the snaps the rest of the way. So, yes, I'd try to find some early-down carries for Kevin Harris. Harris is a capable between-the-tackles ball carrier. He'll get what's blocked, and finish runs with power, spelling Zeke with 3-5 attempts per game. It would be good to see if Harris can be an RB3 or RB4 next season. -EL
Zeke is playing for another contract, and we've seen him run hard all year. I think he deserves the touches but wouldn't mind seeing Harris or Hasty here and there just to see what you have in certain spots. -AF
I would like to see Harris get a chance. We're in the last four games and it would be nice to know if there's anything there to work with going forward into next season. Right now it seems like he remains a "break glass only in case of emergency" kind of guy, or at least that's how it seems the team views him. Just not sure Hasty is up to speed yet but he has to be taking up a roster spot for a reason, right? -MD
What could the return of DeVante Parker and Demario Douglas mean for the offense?
See the above question. Having more reliable weapons at Zappe's disposal could lead to a more diversified attack and lessen the reliance on Zeke. It could also give Bill O'Brien the tools to adjust to KC's defense and keep them honest. -FK
Obviously they didn't have many options in the passing game in Pittsburgh so having them both available gives Zappe more weapons. Douglas in particular could take advantage of some of the opening underneath I mentioned earlier. -PP
I'm not sure it'll mean much in terms of production. However, the Chiefs defense had issues handling motion at the snap against Buffalo, with the Bills opening passing windows for Josh Allen by pulling defenders away from other receivers gravitating toward the motion. That's where Pop could make an impact. Most importantly, I think we all want to see Douglas develop into a piece moving forward, so it'll be good to have him out there from a player development standpoint. -EL
Hopefully their return will help continue some momentum in the offense – especially if Bailey comes out a little more comfortable throwing the ball this week. -AF
Having Parker back would be nice to bring a presence on the outside, but he's been so up and down this year. Still, he could be due for a big game. Of course we all want Pop back in there to see his continued development. He's one of the offense's few bright spots this season and it would be nice to see him finish the year strong. -MD
The Chiefs have had some offensive issues this season, how can the Patriots defense attack and exploit those issues?
Even when the Chiefs weren't having issues, the Patriots defense has been successful keeping the game manageable against Mahomes. Complementary defense – controlled pressure and various looks in coverage – will makes things just as tough for Mahomes as it has been this season. Perhaps even more. -FK
I think the Patriots secondary will need to give Patrick Mahomes different looks so he doesn't get too comfortable with what he is seeing. The Chiefs problems have mostly been related to catching the ball, so it's hard to go into a game hoping for dropped passes. Look for the secondary to change coverages with some man and zone looks periodically and hope to force a mistake or two. -PP
To me, the issues for Kansas City's offense are that they've become predictable based on down and distance. First down is an RPO down, second down is a shot play down, and third down is Mahomes looking for Kelce. Due to that predictability, defenses are situationally playing a mix of coverages to take away those tendencies: man coverage on first down, split-safety zone on second down, and then third down becomes more strategic based on the situation. Overall, the Chiefs don't have much else that's consistent besides Kelce and Mahomes's magic. -EL
I think the Patriots defense poses a really solid threat to the spread, at the very least. I totally trust the pass rush and d-line to hold strong and put a lot of pressure on Patrick Mahomes, but it's up to the secondary to really step up this week. Stick with the coverage plan until the play is over, for sure, because everyone knows the quarterback can make something out of nothing. -AF
I think it's going to come down to stopping those third down buddy ball plays/Mahomes scrambles. Pats have been really good on first downs and have been among the league's best against the big play. But they'll need to live up to their 11th-overall third down ranking by not only disrupting Mahomes but finishing him off before he can escape and make his circus plays. -MD
Who do you think will be a key Patriots defender this week for their gameplan against Mahomes and Kelce specifically?
Two people come immediately to mind: Christian Barmore and Jonathan Jones. I'll go with Jones. He's the best cover corner on the roster right now and coverage will be key. -FK
The one key guy to me is Jonathan Jones. He's the best cover guy the Patriots have and I would involve him in the plan to guard Kelce. -PP
Mack Wilson and Josh Uche. Mahomes is still an elite extended play artist who buys time with his legs and pulls defenders toward him as he extends the play. Wilson and Uche need to close down his space as quickly as possible. Make him throw. Don't let him hold the ball. -EL
Jon Jones. He's put together two great performances in consecutive games, and I'd love to see it continue. His name has been on and off the injury report all season, but it seems like he's back to his normal self lately. -AF
Josh Uche. His athleticism on third down is a huge key to me, as he can pursue and finish Mahomes like I described above. -MD
Bonus Question: Using a Taylor Swift song title(s), what is your prediction for this game?
I'll admit, I had to go to Wikipedia for the list of titles. Remember back when the Patriots would play their best football after Thanksgiving? Let's do "Back to December" … the way it used to be. -FK
Pats can't fulfill their Wildest Dreams. -PP
The Chiefs are in trouble, trouble, trouble as a Super Bowl contender. However, they're still a better football team than the Patriots. I have the Chiefs winning 24-16, with the Pats hanging in there, but KC has too much talent. -EL
"Death By a Thousand Cuts" -AF
Patriots show why they are The Last Great American (Football) Dynasty, but fall just short. -MD