It appears to me that about 85 percent of the people in the know are picking the New England Patriots to beat the Chiefs on Saturday in an AFC divisional-round game in Foxborough, Mass.
I suspect, though, that about 85 percent of that 85 percent want to pick the Chiefs. In their hearts, they know Kansas City is going to New England to topple the defending-champion Patriots and perhaps send the New England franchise into a massive state of doubt and confusion.
The Patriots haven’t been the Patriots for a while now. They’ve lost 4 of 6 after a 10-0 start. Miami dusted off the Pats in the regular-season finale. Injuries have plagued New England. Injuries to key personnel.
The Chiefs have injuries of their own. How much will wide receiver Jeremy Maclin be able to give Saturday after suffering a high-ankle sprain in last week’s 30-0 rout of Houston? Are defensive whizzes Tamba Hali and Justin Houston anywhere close to full speed?
New England is susceptible. Beatable. And the Chiefs might just be the team to finish the Patriots off.
New England is 17-4 at home in playoff games. The Patriots have been in this spot many times during the Bill Bilichick/Tom Brady era and they almost always come through. This is a team that probably has a guy working full-time just to hang banners.
The Patriots win these games, almost always.
But the Chiefs carry an 11-game winning streak into Gillette Stadium. They’re confident, have overcome the loss of talented running back Jamaal Charles and have a defense capable of making Brady feel every second of his 38-plus years.
The Texans never had a chance last week. But Brian Hoyer is not Tom Brady, either, in case you hadn’t noticed.
Brady will start his 30th playoff game, passing Jerry Rice for the most. He has passed for 7,345 playoff yards, nearly 600 more than second-place Peyton Manning.
Brady has four Super Bowl rings and yearns for a fifth. When last seen in the postseason, he was passing for 307 yards per game and 10 touchdowns in leading New England to three wins and a Super Bowl XLIX win over Seattle.
But even one of the greatest quarterbacks in history needs weapons. And that’s where you start to wonder about the Pats.
Is tight end Rob Gronkowski ready to go after missing a couple of practices this week? Is wide receiver Julian Edelman capable of a big day after missing the previous six games? New England’s running game is in shambles and if Gronkowski and Edelman are diminished, to whom will Brady turn?
Since James White and Brandon Bolden are the top two running threats for New England, you’ll forgive the Chiefs if they don’t focus defensively on that dynamic duo and instead turn their attention to pass rush and pass coverage. Brady has a deep bag of tricks and a wondrous puppet master in Belichick. They’re the kind who relish being given up for dead.
Giving up on New England, of course, would be a mistake. The Patriots are too dangerous, especially when they’re wounded. Especially when they’ve had a couple of weeks to lick and treat those wounds.
There is some belief that all of the injury concerns coming out of Foxborough this week are nothing more than Belichick foxiness. Hocus-pocus to get the Chiefs to let down their guard just slightly.
Seems far-fetched, but if we’ve learned anything about the Patriots over the years, it’s to never know what to expect.
Kansas City has lost five straight in Foxborough. But the Chiefs have a better defense than New England. And a better running game. If Maclin is healthy, they’ll have the best wide receiver on the field Saturday and tight end Travis Kelce might not be as dangerous as a healthy Gronkowski, but it’s close.
New England’s edge is Brady. He’s machine-like in his precision and even though he’s not the most mobile quarterback, he can still almost always get the ball away before the pocket completely collapses.
The Chiefs will come hard for Brady and how often they can hurry him, touch him and knock him to the ground will impact the game more than any other factor.
If Brady is miserable, the Chiefs won’t be. If Gronk and Edelman aren’t 100 percent, the Patriots are in trouble.
It feels like Kansas City will win this game, doesn’t it? Especially if Maclin, Hali and Houston are a go come game time.
It’s just so hard to pick against the Patriots at home in the playoffs. Count me among the brave who is doing so.
Chiefs 21, Patriots 17.
I can’t believe I’m making this pick.