Storyline: The 2016 playoffs start this afternoon for the Patriots as they host Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs. The Patriots will get both Julien Edelman and Sebastian Vollmer back and that should help but the offense needs to be better moving forward if the Patriots are going to make another Super Bowl run. Here are my keys to this game.
Three Offensive Keys for the Patriots
1. Guards Needs to Hold Up Inside: Getting Sebastian Vollmer back will help the Patriots struggling offensive line but tackle hasn’t been the problem. It’s been the interior of the offensive line that has struggled. The guards need to play well in this game. Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe is a horse and he could be a factor in this game. That and Kansas City likes to bring inside pressure. The guards will be the focal point for the Patriots offensively. They need to play well.
2. Get Edelman Back in the Fold: Look for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to try to get Julien Edelman back in the fold early by calling some three step pass plays to get him and Tom Brady into a rhythm. The return of Edelman should give the Patriots passing game and their offense a big boast today and moving forward.
3. Get Gronk Matched Up: Assuming he’s healthy, the Patriots need to move Gronk around and try to generate match ups with him. They haven’t done a good job of that in recent weeks. It’s a must in a game like this.
Three Keys for the Patriots Defensively
1. Keep Smith in the Pocket: The Patriots cannot allow Smith to outflank them on designed running plays. Smith is good at running the zone read play and getting outside. The Patriots need to contain him and be physical with him.
2. Availability of Jones: Is Chandler Jones healthy? How much will he play? All questions that will be answered early on in this game. The Patriots need Jones if they have any aspirations of winning this game.
3. Banjo Kelce & Be Physical with Him: The Patriots know that tight end Travis Kelce will be the focal point of the Chiefs passing game with Jeremy Maclin banged up. Kelce lit the Patriots up in last season’s meeting. Look for the Patriots to double him inside against certain formations and be physical with him within the first five yards. They cannot allow Kelce to be a factor in this game.
Special Teams Key: The Wind will be a factor in this game, especially on the open end of the stadium. The kickers need to adjust to that and the possibility of kicking a wet ball.
Prediction: Patriots 28 Kansas City 17: I think this will be a tighter game than some people think. Kansas City is good in all three phases and they are well coached. Factor in the Patriots recent struggles offensively and you can see why this will be a close game. I’m taking the Pats but it’ll be a battle.