Just eight days ago the New England Patriots were on the way to letting their season get away from them. They’d lost two straight, were down to a 5-3 record and had a road game against a hot Jets team awaiting them last Sunday night. If any AFC East team was going to falter and put its playoff berth in jeopardy, it would have to be New England, wouldn’t it? Apparently not. The Pats won that game, watched the Jets lose again on Thursday in Denver and now the Patriots have a home date tonight with Kansas City where they have an opportunity to take a two-game lead in the division and move into a tie with Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Houston for the top record in the AFC overall.
Kansas City is genuinely reeling, having lost consecutive games to Miami and Denver, but at 4-5 the Chiefs are still in the race in the mild AFC West. At 4-5, if they win here they’d pull into a second-place tie with the Broncos and be only one game back Oakland. But the key storyline on the field is that Matt Cassell—the man who made his name in Foxboro when he ably filled in for Tom Brady in 2008 when Brady missed the year with a knee injury—is out tonight and can’t play in his homecoming. This works out well for New England in reasons beyond the obvious. The Patriots are nicked up in the secondary and their top corner, Devin McCourty is out. KC receivers Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston will have opportunities to get open, but can Tyler Palko get them the ball? Can the Chiefs offensive front keep defensive end Andre Carter away from the quarterback. Carter is a veteran signing that’s coming up big for Bill Belichick with 8.5 sacks entering tonight.
Finally we come down to the question that every game in Foxboro comes down to and that’s the chances of the Chiefs slowing down Tom Brady. We’d have to say they’re not very good. Tamba Hali is more than capable of getting some pressure from the outside, but Brady is too good at finding Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski, among an array of others underneath . The most Kansas City can hope for is that perhaps some Hali pressure forces uncharacteristic early mistakes from Brady—maybe a fumble on a sack, perhaps an INT, but anything to keep Palko from having to play from behind.
The Las Vegas oddsmakers have priced New England as a 16.5 point favorite and set the Over/Under at 46, so if that holds we’d be looking at a 31-14 type game. That sounds about right, with the caveat that I don’t think the Chiefs will execute well enough in the red zone to score touchdowns. It’s going to be a long night for Todd Haley’s team in Foxboro.