After five weeks of NFL action, just two undefeated teams remain. One will visit Gillette Stadium this Sunday night to test its mettle against the class of the AFC.
Here are five things you should know about the 5-0 Kansas City Chiefs ahead of their primetime matchup with the 3-2 New England Patriots:
1. Patrick Mahomes has looked like a superstar.
The Chiefs’ phenom quarterback has been the NFL’s brightest rising star this season. Mahomes leads the league with 14 touchdown passes — 13 of which came in the first three games — and has been its most prolific deep-ball thrower, leading all QBs with 14 completions that traveled 20-plus yards in the air, according to Pro Football Focus.
“If the ball’s on their 20-yard line, you’ve still got to defend to the goal line against him,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of the rocket-armed Texas Tech product. “He can rip it.”
Mahomes’ production has tapered off a bit over the past two weeks, though. In Week 4, he managed just one touchdown pass against the Denver Broncos in a game Kansas City trailed late in the fourth quarter. Then, on Sunday, he was held without a touchdown pass and threw the first two interceptions of his young NFL career in a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
2. Mahomes has weapons galore.
The Chiefs are averaging an NFL-best 35 points per game this season. Mahomes has played a key role in that success, of course, but his team also boasts one of the league’s most dangerous collections of skill players.
There’s last year’s NFL rushing champ, Kareem Hunt, who ranks fourth in rushing yards this season after totaling 208 yards on 41 carries against the Broncos and Jaguars. And wide receiver Tyreek Hill, whose nine receptions of 20-plus yards are tied for second-most in the league behind DeAndre Hopkins. And Travis Kelce, whom some would argue has surpassed Rob Gronkowski as the NFL’s best tight end.
The Patriots had difficulty covering tight ends during last week’s 38-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts, allowing Eric Ebron and Erik Swoope to catch 12 passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns.
Hill (425 yards) and Kelce (409) both rank among the top 20 in receiving yards this season, and they have combined for more 20-plus yard catches (16) than the Patriots’ entire roster (12).
Sammy Watkins, a 2014 first-round pick, also is off to a nice start for his new club, catching 20 passes on 29 targets for 254 yards and a touchdown thus far. Watkins missed the Broncos game with a hamstring injury but returned to catch six passes on seven targets for 78 yards against the Jags.
3. The Chiefs’ defense showed signs of life Sunday.
The stats haven’t been pretty this season for Kansas City’s D, which ranks dead last in the NFL in yards allowed per game, 31st in passing yards allowed per game, 31st in yards allowed per carry, 20th in points allowed per game and 31st in defensive DVOA (entering Week 5).
But those numbers don’t paint an accurate picture of the defense that wrecked Blake Bortles’ day on Sunday. The Jaguars quarterback threw for 464 yards against the Chiefs, but he also threw four interceptions — including a pick-six — lost a fumble and was sacked five times.
In terms of players to watch, New England’s offensive line will have its hands full with defensive end Dee Ford. Ford has four sacks, is tied for the NFL lead with 12 quarterback hits and ranks second in total pressures behind Geno Atkins with 30, per PFF.
4. Injuries still are taking their toll.
The Chiefs are dealing with notable injuries on both sides of the ball. Starting right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif broke his fibula against the Jags, sidelining him for the foreseeable future. Chiefs coach Andy Reid said former Patriot Jordan Devey (remember him?) likely will start in Duvernay-Tardif’s place.
On defense, Linebacker Justin Houston, who ranks third among Chiefs defenders with three sacks, is recovering from a hamstring injury that could keep him out Sunday night, according to a report from NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport. The Chiefs also still are without All-Pro safety Eric Berry, who has not played since rupturing his Achilles in last year’s 42-27 Week 1 win over the Patriots. Speaking of …
5. What’s changed this year?
The last time the Chiefs visited Foxboro, they handed the Patriots one of their worst losses of the Belichick/Tom Brady era, with Hunt and Hill combined for 384 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns.
That was with Alex Smith under center. Asked what has changed with Mahomes now at the controls, Belichick said the Chiefs place a much greater emphasis on run-pass options, estimating they run roughly 10 RPOs per game.
It’s easy to forget the 2017 Chiefs also started 5-0 before wilting down the stretch and losing at home in the first round of the playoffs. This will be an important measuring-stick game for Reid’s squad.
For more grades, advanced statistics and more at Pro Football Focus, go to ProFootballFocus.com.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images
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