The season is here! The Kansas City Chiefs open the season against the Patriots on Thursday night. Before the curtains rise for the opening act, let’s dissect some of the big match-ups that could decide the game.
Obviously, the Patriots will keep a close eye on wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Hill is a multi-dimensional threat, and the Chiefs may very well give him the ball in the backfield along with lining him up outside.
Another big thing to watch is rookie running back Kareem Hunt. The Patriots are excellent with gap discipline up front, so Hunt will need to recognize the hole quickly and hit it.
While those are two to watch, they didn’t make the top three. Let’s take a look at those three right now.
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Chiefs Outside Linebackers vs. Patriots Offensive Tackles
This matchup right here could effectively decide the outcome. If the Chiefs do not get pressure on Tom Brady, they will get picked apart time and time again. With Tamba Hali on the shelf, the task falls on Justin Houston and Dee Ford. Houston is finally healthy after two seasons of issues, and he’s ready to remind fans how good he is. Dee Ford had a very good season in 2016, and he’s ready to be recognized as a top tier rusher.
Offensive tackles Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon have their hands full here. However, Solder has proved himself to be a great left tackle, and Cannon had a great season at right tackle. They are certainly prepared for this task.
As was stated before, this determines the game. Pressure Brady, and you throw the Pats off rhythm. If you don’t, start packing your bags.
Chiefs Linebackers vs. Patriots Running Backs
The Chiefs have a difficult task ahead in this matchup. Their linebacker core is lead by Derrick Johnson, who is getting up there in age. They traded for former Bills linebacker Reggie Ragland to add depth, but it is unclear how much he will play tonight. Rookie Ukeme Eligwe got plenty of reps in the preseason, but he may not see the field. We also get to see Ramik Wilson in a starting role.
They have to deal with the four headed monster the Patriots have at running back. The Patriots added Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead in the offseason to join James White and Dion Lewis. All these backs possess quickness coming out of the backfield. They will create favorable match-ups with all of these running backs, especially Super Bowl standout James White. White could see plenty of targets tonight, while Gillislee should see the majority of carries.
The Chiefs may want to get into their sub packages early to contend with these running backs.
Travis Kelce vs. Patriots Secondary
If you are a big football fan and care about the X’s and O’s, you know what the Patriots like to do. They will take away the one player on offense that they feel could hurt them most. Sometimes they fool us, like when they decided to stop the Texans run game instead of DeAndre Hopkins. But, it’s likely that this week’s target is Travis Kelce. Kelce established himself as the second best tight end in the game last season. He likely will be the number one target on offense this season. The Patriots will throw everyone at him that they can.
I expect four guys to spend the most time on him. It wouldn’t shock anyone to see both Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore at times during the game. Safety Patrick Chung often is used to cover the slot and tight ends. He likely sees more time on Kelce than the other two.
The most important name to watch here is Eric Rowe. Rowe was acquired from the Eagles last season, and his physical stature makes him a great player to put on big targets. Watch for Rowe to be very physical near the line with Travis Kelce.
Make sure to keep a close eye on these three tonight during the game.
Jake Schyvinck is the managing editor for cover32 Chiefs. You can follow him on Twitter here.