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Week 15 Preview: Returning to the Chiefs Way

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As the Kansas City Chiefs prepare to face the Patriots in New England on Sunday, I won’t wade into the fray about the Kadarius Toney penalty because the Chiefs are the masters of their destiny. How they play is dependent on themselves and themselves alone. They win if they are prepared and have the correct pieces in place. Right now, it’s onto New England.  

Regardless of excuses or circumstances, the answer remains the same. Players play, and coaches coach. Everyone is human, and with that comes imperfection. No one is beyond the human aspect. We can overcome shortcomings by preparation and sheer will to achieve our goals. Enough said. On to more fun things:

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Going into Foxborough used to mean a clash of the Titans. Not anymore. Bill Belichick and his Patriots are not near the juggernaut they were in the Tom Brady days. New England sits at 3-10 with no hope for the playoffs. This season may be the end of the Belichick era, even though the team seemed to wake up a bit in their last game against the Steelers, winning it 21-18.

As a result, the Patriots got after the Steelers with a couple of different components. After scoring 21 points in the first and second quarters, second-year quarterback and occasional starter Bailey Zappe played well, going 19-28 for 240 yards with three touchdowns and a pick. Although he was sacked twice and had decent pressure against him courtesy of Pittsburgh defensive tackle Cameron Heyward and linebackers T.J. Watt and Elandon Roberts, he could still get a QBR of 115.2 for this game.

The New England defense pressured Steelers QB Mitch Trubisky by getting after him all evening. Trubisky got one passing score and ran one in but failed on a two-point conversion attempt. He was sacked twice and hit six times. I expect the same effort against Patrick Mahomes and the offensive line. Offensive Line coach Andy Heck will need to prepare the line for anything with Belichick calling the defense. Although the Patriot’s defense isn’t studded with stars, their collective will could be a nightmare for the Chiefs all afternoon.

The Kansas City Chiefs stand at 7th in total offense and 11th at points. They rank 6th in passing and 17th in rushing. The New England Patriots are 8th in total defense and 14th in scoring defense. They are 25th against the pass and 22nd against the run. The Chiefs have a slight advantage here, and I look for Andy Reid and Matt Nagy to exploit as many of the Patriots’ weaknesses as possible. Watch for some explosive pass plays. Some of which we haven’t seen yet. I also expect a lot of screens and slot passes to open some running lanes. With Isaiah Pacheco not practicing this week, he will unlikely play Sunday. Hopefully, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jerrick McKinnon, and Deneric Prince are up to the task.

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New England sits at 28th in total offense and dead last in scoring at 32nd. The Patriots come in at 25th in passing and 22nd in rushing. The Chiefs are ranked 6th in total defense and 3rd in scoring defense. They are 6th against the pass and 20th against the run. The Chiefs have the advantage here. I’m sure Steve Spagnuolo will have the defense ready. He will likely alternate blitzes and stunts to contain the running game and hurry up Zappe into careless tosses. We may see something from the Chiefs we haven’t seen in a while: a positive turnover ratio. I look for Chris Jones and George Karlaftis to run amuck in the New England backfield all afternoon. Throw in a little L’Jarius Sneed, Trent McDuffie, Nick Bolton, Willy Gay, and Charles Omenihu.

This game could be a needed tune-up for the season’s last three games. I think we’ll see a renewed effort by the players to elevate what has been, up to now, an unremarkable effort. Granted, our expectations are high because of the superior effort and play in the last five seasons. Anything less than the Super Bowl feels like a letdown. A careful balance of optimism against the tone of reality should be enough to temper expectations, but it is bloody hard when you’re a fan of one of the greatest teams to grace the gridiron.

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However, after two losses in a row and the worst record of the Mahomes era at this point in the season, Kansas City needs to wake up, or they won’t last long into January. This goes for players, coaches, and game planning. I’m not sure Andy Reid has been coaching as closely as he has in past seasons. There is something of this season, and I believe it’s a combination of a lack of skill for certain players and rationalization for the current level of play.

To make a phenom like Mahomes look pedestrian is a crime against sports. We know he is All-World in skills and improvisation, and no other football player comes close. General Manager Brett Veach and Owner Clark Hunt also have some blame in this mix. Not getting a skilled, proven veteran or two to lead the expansive and very young receiver room has had a noticeable impact.

JuJu Smith-Schuster was that guy last year, and the Chiefs responded with a championship. The math is easy. The reality is the thinking that either the offense or the defense will suffer because of that decision. This is where Veach and Hunt are supposed to excel. The challenge of negotiating with sports agents comes down to how selfish the agent and the player are.

We’ve all heard Tyreek Hill say, “I wanted to stay with the Chiefs,” but the reality was he wanted to live in South Florida and get a huge payday. This is just one example. You can see it all over the league.

The Chiefs are a different breed. Mahomes and Travis Kelce both want to win championships. They have both been selfless when it comes to pay. They are willing to forego raises so that the team can bring in talented potential and veteran playmakers. I hope Chris Jones comes to that realization in the upcoming offseason.

This season’s outcome will depend on masterful game planning, relatively flawless execution, and some luck. I have been optimistic this season, but I’m not blind to the possibility that this iteration of the Kansas City Chiefs may be remembered as squandering a top 5 defense and a prime year of Patrick Mahomes.

Big decisions in the next few months will likely determine how potent this team remains. My hope is Chiefs Kingdom will be satisfied with whatever might happen. Diehards will stay close, come what may in the future, but beating the Patriots on Sunday is all that matters today.

My Prediction: Chiefs 28 – Patriots 7

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