Kansas City Chiefs (12-5 SU, 9-8 ATS) vs. New England Patriots (12-4 SU, 7-7-2 ATS)
AFC Divisional Playoff
Date/Time: Saturday, January 16, 2016 at 4:35PM EST
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts
by Scott, NFL Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: KC +5/NE -5
Over/Under Total: 43
On Saturday, the AFC divisional playoffs begin, with the Kansas City Chiefs meeting the New England Patriots at Foxborough. It’s an appetizing matchup between the defending Super Bowl Champion and second-seeded Pats and the hottest team in football in the Chiefs. Kansas City won their 11th straight game on Saturday with a dominant 30-0 road shutout over the Houston Texans. They look to be a tough challenge on a Patriots team that didn’t end the season in great shape.
After starting the season at 1-5, observers were within their rights to shovel dirt on the Chiefs. We now see that would have been a mistake. Even after losing their most valuable offensive player in Jamaal Charles, Kansas City was able to rally back from the brink of disaster. There are many reasons the Chiefs were able to come back from that start, but a lot of credit goes to Alex Smith, a quarterback whose full scope of skills cannot be ascertained by merely looking at stats. He’s really morphed into a solid NFL quarterback. He just wins and that should be the key standard when evaluating players at that position.
Smith has been aided a great deal by the play of Chancandrick West and bruising Spencer Ware, a pair of backs who really helped fill the void left by Charles. Tight end Travis Kelce was a key part of the offense again on Saturday. A knee injury that looked really bad took out Kansas City’s leading receiver in Jeremy Maclin, but an MRI revealed no tears and if he can play through a sprain, that would really be a big help to the KC effort this Saturday. Without Charles in there, this is an offense that lacks a lot of star-power, but don’t let that detract from their overall effectiveness. They’re not a great offense, but they are a good one.
The Kansas City defense is a big reason they are in this spot. As soon as this part of the team started coming around, the team took off. To score a shutout win over another team that had a big second half to make the playoffs was jaw-dropping. Sure, Houston did a lot to undermine their own efforts, but a lot of that had to do with the Chiefs’ defense. They were third this season in fewest points allowed, even with a 1-5 start. As we saw last Saturday in the wild card round, the Chiefs’ “D” can make plays, with all phases of this group patrolled by difference-makers. They apply a consistent pass rush and their secondary is in fine form.
With teams like the Chiefs, only so much can be gleaned by looking at what exists on paper. To absorb the full scope of their worth, one needs to really fathom the wherewithal that is required to run off an 11-game win streak after a 1-5 start that had some massively-heartbreaking losses mixed in there. And it’s hard to really describe how they do it. Even on Saturday, it was 30-0 at the end. It was sort of a blur, as it was hard to remember how they even scored 30 points. And that’s how they do it, they just steadfastly go about their business without much flair and you look up and realize they’re destroying the other team. Not many of their wins in this 11-game run have been particularly close.
But alas, the Chiefs run into the champion Patriots in what is a really difficult road game. KC should derive no solace from the fact that New England has been dealt crippling injuries or that they ended the season looking a bit ragged with two straight losses. This is a team with a lot of championship credentials on that sideline and this is the postseason, where they have been known to kick it up a notch or two. Still, after a 10-0 start, they’ve been looking a bit dicey in going 2-4 in their last 6. We’ve seen Belichick and Tom Brady come up with the right answers before with an offense that looked stripped bare of playmakers. But both the rushing and aerial corps have been decimated by injuries. The offense bares little resemblance to the group that got off to a 10-0 start.
At running back, the Patriots are now going with a guy most thought was retired in former All-Pro Steven Jackson. The time off may help Julian Edelman get back into action, as he has missed the last 7 games. Even Rob Gronkowski hasn’t been his normal self lately after returning from an injury. And on defense, they missed Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones and would love to have them back, with both listed as questionable. The Pats have always been able to somehow patch up injuries with superior planning or just by having key reserves step up. But one has to wonder if the Patriots have the horses they need on offense to get it done, not to mention an O-line that really needs to find answers before playing this opportunistic Chiefs’ defense.
As we have watched the Pats during the Brady-Belichick era, we’ve been conditioned to stop doubting them. The things that ravage other teams don’t always affect the Patriots the same way. To remain top contenders for so long is quite rare in today’s NFL and is a testament to their ability as a franchise to simply find ways to win. Would it be all that surprising to see Brady in good form in the playoffs? He still managed over 400 completions and 4770 yards with 36 touchdown throws, even with a depleted cast. This wouldn’t be the first time they overcame adversity to shine in the end.
Most of us are just going to naturally lean toward a New England team that has been a postseason constant over the past 15 years, contrasted to a Chiefs team that hasn’t made a postseason dent in nearly a quarter-century. Saturday’s win was their first since Joe Montana led them to the conference title game. It’s not easy to win 12 games in a row and the Chiefs might hit a wall in this spot. But something tells me there’s a special edge to this Kansas City team and I see them hanging in there well enough to notch the cover.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Kansas City Chiefs plus 5 points.
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