Previewing Sunday’s New England Patriots-Kansas City Chiefs matchup at Gillette Stadium:
Time: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
Location: Gillette Stadium
The Patriots fell to Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans 28-22 on “Sunday Night Football,” dropping their record to 10-2 and allowing the Baltimore Ravens to leapfrog them in the AFC standings. New England still would receive a first-round bye if these standings hold, but Baltimore would earn home-field advantage.
After losing four of their previous seven games, the Chiefs came out of their bye week with a vengeance, throttling the Oakland Raiders 40-9 despite quarterback Patrick Mahomes completing just 15 of 29 passes for 175 yards and one touchdown. Kansas City sits at 8-4, good for first place in the AFC West and the No. 4 seed in the AFC.
The Patriots entered the weekend as three-point home favorites. Both meetings between these two teams last season were high-scoring thrillers, with New England prevailing 43-40 in Week 6 and 37-31 in overtime in the AFC Championship Game.
Is this Patriots team, with its excellent defense and scuffling offense, built to win a shootout like that? Not based on what we’ve seen so far this season. We’ll see if New England’s offense can finally get going this week against a Chiefs D that’s improved on the back end but still struggles mightily against the run.
Both teams are 7-5 against the spread this season. The Patriots have not lost at home since Week 4 of the 2017 season.
Patriots center Ted Karras (ankle) and Byron Cowart (head) did not practice this week and were ruled out for Sunday. Veteran backup James Ferentz is expected to start at center for the first time in his career in Karras’ absence.
The 30-year-old Ferentz made his first career start at any position earlier this season when he filled in for right guard Shaq Mason in a Week 6 win over the Cleveland Browns.
Six Patriots players are listed as questionable, including cornerback Jason McCourty, who missed the last two games with a groin injury:
LB Ja’Whaun Bentley, Knee
OT Marcus Cannon, Illness
S Patrick Chung, Heel
WR Julian Edelman, Shoulder
CB Jason McCourty, Groin
WR Mohamed Sanu, Ankle
Quarterback Tom Brady was removed from the injury report Friday after being limited with elbow and toe ailments earlier in the week.
The Chiefs have ruled out running back Damien Williams (rib) and cornerbacks Morris Claiborne (shoulder) and Rashad Fenton (hamstring). They also placed running back Darrel Williams on injured reserve this week.
The Williamses have a combined 124 carries for 450 yards and six touchdowns this season, plus another 38 catches for 323 yards and two scores. Damien Williams scored three touchdowns (one rushing, two receiving) against the Patriots in last year’s AFC title game.
Expect former Buffalo Bills star LeSean McCoy to handle the lion’s share of carries for Kansas City, which also re-signed veteran back Spencer Ware on Tuesday.
Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark (shoulder/illness) is listed as questionable.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
???????, Patriots kicker
That’s right — we still do not know with certainty who will be kicking field goals in this game for New England. The Patriots practiced without a kicker all week after waiving Kai Forbath on Monday and still had yet to officially sign one when the latest NFL transaction wire was released Friday afternoon. They attempted to claim Chase McLaughlin off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers but lost out to the Indianapolis Colts, who had a higher waiver position.
The Patriots reported intend to re-sign Nick Folk, who was cut after having his appendix removed last week. If Folk hits a late setback, Forbath is the fallback plan. Both kickers’ helmets and shoulder pads were spotted in the locker room Thursday and Friday.
The deadline for the player to sign either player and have him active Sunday is 4 p.m. ET on Saturday. An unlikely third option would be to have punter/kickoff man Jake Bailey handle field goals and extra points, as well, though that would require the team to introduce a new holder.
Travis Kelce, Chiefs tight end
How talented is Kelce as a pass-catcher? Bill Belichick said this week he’s “one of the best receivers in the league,” regardless of position. The Patriots treated Kelce like a receiver in these teams’ most recent meeting, covering him with cornerbacks J.C. Jackson and Stephon Gilmore rather than safeties. Don’t be surprised if Gilmore, who took over after Jackson allowed a touchdown and had some penalty issues and proceed to shut Kelce down for the entire fourth quarter, frequently shadows the All-Pro. Gilmore has said he enjoys covering stud tight ends like Kelce and Zach Ertz because they’re not nearly as quick as the wideouts he typically tracks.
James White, Patriots running back
White was more productive and involved than he’d been all season against the Texans, finishing with 177 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns on 22 touches while playing 67 of New England’s 86 offensive snaps. A significant portion of that production came after Houston had taken a 21-3 lead, but the Patriots would be wise to continue utilizing White as their top backfield option. New England should be able to run on Kansas City’s defense, which currently ranks 30th in rushing yards allowed, yards allowed per carry and run defense DVOA.
Tyrann Mathieu, Chiefs safety
The Chiefs have not defended the run well at all this season, but they’ve been much better against the pass, thanks in large part to the arrival of Mathieu and rookie safety Juan Thornhill. Kansas City ranks sixth in pass defense DVOA, and that back-end duo has combined for five interceptions and six additional pass breakups through 12 games, with Thornhill returning one of his picks for a touchdown during last week’s rout of the Raiders.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images