An NFL scout I know recently described the 2019 New England defense as similar to the 1985 Chicago defense in its effectiveness. While some of the stats the Patriots put up earlier in the season may have been comparable to the “Super Bowl Shuffle” Bears of yore, I must disagree wholeheartedly with the comparison.
Chicago’s dominant “46” unit played entire games without the opponent crossing the 50-yard line, at least until the score was out of hand and Mike Ditka chose to play the 2nd string. This year’s Pats defense is the biggest reason why the defending Super Bowl champions are 10-2 to this point, but fails the eye test when set in relief of the Steel Curtain or the Purple People Eaters or the New York Sack Exchange. Yes, offense is more lively in this era of NFL football, and defenses should get more credit for shutting-down modern QB-WR combinations. But forget any historical comparisons – the 2019 Pats don’t even have the best D in the league at present. San Francisco’s defense will probably finish the season having fared better in numerous categories.
The bigger issue is that the Brady Bunch no longer has a dominant passing game to fall back on whenever the defense or special teams lets the team down. New England hasn’t scored more than 2 meaningful touchdowns in a game since October, as Tom Brady finally begins to show his age from inside the pocket. Nick Folk kicked a pair of field goals to put the Pats over in a recent 13-9 win over slumping Dallas, but the bough appeared to break last weekend when Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans whipped the AFC East leaders 28-22 in a scrum that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would suggest.
But with a cold Sunday afternoon expected in Foxboro (imagine that), Las Vegas isn’t sure that the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs will be able to feast on New England in Week 14 like the Texans did in Week 13.
Who: Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
When: Sunday, December 8th, 4:25 PM EST
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA
Lines: KC (+3) vs NE (-3) / O/U Total: (49)
Kansas City is also having another excellent season at 8-4, but there have been some episodes on the road to playoff contention. Patrick Mahomes is healthy now and once again playing at a potential MVP-level, but he was injured earlier in autumn, and the Chiefs have actually gotten out-played at the quarterback spot by non-Pro Bowl signal-callers. Mahomes was able to play vs Tennessee on November 10th and schooled Ryan Tannehill for much of the afternoon, but Andy Reid’s continually-flaky defense gave up a million rushing yards as the Titans won 35-32.
The Chiefs’ injury list is about as long as that of the Patriots, though any Bill Belichick organization will be as tricky and deceptive as an NHL club in springtime when it comes to reporting player ailments.
There’s been a slight amount of line-movement toward KC on the point spread, but the Over/Under is falling out of respect to both defenses taking the field in Foxboro. I’m more inclined to agree with the gambling public on the latter angle than the former. Kansas City is giving all indications of a team that’s starting to put it all together.
Flaky defense? Not last weekend. The Chiefs embarrassed the Raiders in a 40-9 drubbing as Derek Carr was intercepted by Juan Thornhill and “Honey Badger” Tyrann Mathieu. Reid’s scientific approach to out-scoring a rival was on full display as Raider tailback Joshua Jacobs ran for more than 6 yards per carry, but the visitors to Arrowhead Stadium had no reliable passing game on 3rd downs, and 3 different Kansas City rushers (including Mahomes) scored touchdowns for the victorious hosts. Perhaps fans are skeptical since it was the 2nd poor performance in a row for the Silver & Black, which lost by 31 to the pitiful New York Jets on November 24th after carrying all kinds of momentum through mid-season. But in the bigger picture, the Chiefs have shown a sky-high ceiling by becoming 1 of only 2 clubs to beat Baltimore so far in 2019-20.
The New England Patriots do have a history of rebounding from bad defeats. After the Ravens KO’d the Pats by 17 points earlier this year, New England dished-out another quality defensive performance in a 17-10 follow-up win over the Philadelphia Eagles, holding Carson Wentz to just 50% completions on 40 attempts.
Still, the Pats’ scoring punch (or jab, maybe) was nothing to write home about – Brady underwhelmed with a 217-yard, 0-touchdown day and Sony Michel led the Patriots’ trademark backfield-by-committee with just 33 rushing yards.
I’m feeling the Chiefs for a number of reasons. Last week’s ball-hawking performance was part of a trend – Philip Rivers was picked-off 4 times by Honey Badger and the KC secondary in the previous game. While the Patriots ought to be able to run-block the Chiefs (most defenses can) it won’t be an easy row to hoe with multiple injuries affecting the 2-deep along the hosts’ offensive line. Julian Edelman is as consistent a veteran WR as to be found anywhere, but his 100+ yard stat line from last weekend belies how badly the Texans controlled the contest. Perhaps an elite offense can still expose the Chiefs as a marshmallow in the front-7, but the Pats aren’t it, even at home.
Meanwhile it’s absurd to think a KC offense featuring Mahomes, LeSean McCoy, Travis Kelce, and about 500 different formations and tactics won’t find a way to score points over 60 minutes. The chilly setting near Boston won’t bother the Chiefs at all – Reid’s team is used to playing in brutal winter weather at Arrowhead.
Last but not least, PK Harrison Butker and a swift crew of returners have a good shot to out-pace New England’s special-teams unit while Brady can only glare from the sidelines.
Look for Kansas City to make plays all over the field and surprise with a statement-win. The pick is KC straight-up or (+3) against the spread.