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Divisional Round preview: Chiefs-Patriots

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The Backstory


Despite an uneven second half, the New England Patriots have arrived here in typical Patriots fashion. They won the division, secured a bye and now find themselves almost healthy enough to replicate their Week 1 lineup, save for a few key contributors on IR like LeGarrette Blount, Nate Solder, Dion Lewis and Dominique Easley.

Julian Edelman plans on being a full go, which will open up the offense in ways that Tom Brady has not enjoyed in months. Though his true value has always been open knowledge at Patriot Place, cursory observers of this offense are just finding out what Edelman really means to Tom Brady. This is as close as the quarterback comes to gushing these days.

"I just think the more dependable, consistent players are out there, the better the offense is going to be," Brady said of Edelman. "He's been one of them for as long as he's been here, and depending on what he can do, we'll try to find ways to integrate him. Whoever's out there we have to have confidence in. Like I said, there's no next week so you just got to do whatever you can do to be out on the field, help us win, play your role, do the job coach asks you to do and then try to figure out how to score some points."

New England's fast start afforded Belichick the opportunity to be cautious with some of their regular starters who incurred nagging injuries throughout the season, and even gave Belichick the chance to break in Steven Jackson, who could play a major role in cold weather games down the stretch.

As for Kansas City, their run has been nothing short of phenomenal. After starting the year 1-5, they have managed to rip off 11 wins in a row -- including a complete dressing down of the Texans on the road in the opening round of the playoffs.

The Chiefs have the most explosive defensive rookie in football -- cornerback Marcus Peters -- and a formidable defensive front. Alex Smith and the offense managed to recapture the mechanical rhythm they discovered under Andy Reid a year ago.

The last time these two teams faced each other, back in September of 2014, Smith and the offense hung 41 points on New England in a blowout that led some to question the validity of Tom Brady as a starter. The potential for revenge is there, and there is no question Brady has not forgotten this.

Under pressure


Is it fair to say no one, really? The Chiefs have defied expectations to an insane level this season and the Patriots are the Patriots. As long as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady can perform, they will be competitive and they will make it difficult in the playoffs. No one is losing their jobs here, and the Chiefs already managed to lift the weight of an epic playoff drought. But in the spirit of playing along, let's imagine that rookie Marcus Peters will draw Edelman on Saturday. It is safe to assume that he'll be under pressure because Edelman is still an unknown commodity? When he's healthy, Edelman is arguably one of the five hardest receivers to guard in football and can kill a good cornerback. He's also Brady's favorite target, and the key to opening up New England's offense.

Peters has been excellent, but the farther he takes the Chiefs' defense this season, the deeper he finds himself in unknown territory.

Matchup to watch


Chiefs OLB Justin Houston vs. Patriots T Marcus Cannon

Based on the information available, this should be a matchup we see and talk about quite frequently on Saturday. Any team that has beaten New England in the playoffs has successfully gotten to Tom Brady and disrupted his rhythm. It is not a secret, it's only difficult to achieve given how quickly Brady gets rid of the football.

Don't be surprised to see New England roll with some heavy sets early to gauge how Cannon is faring against one of the league's most dominant pass rushers. It will give Belichick a sense of how Houston is healing from a knee issue that forced him out for a portion of the regular season. Houston returned against the Texans but admittedly needed to "knock the rust off."

"I felt great," Houston said. "I had to knock some rust off. I didn't do as well as I wanted to do out there. I was kinda resting, I hadn't played in five games. I definitely will do better next game."

The Patriots have started more offensive line combinations than any team over the last 25 years this season and while cross training is a valid exercise, could Houston be good enough to make them pay for a lack of continuity?

Watch "Super Bowl I: The Lost Game" on NFL Network on Friday, Jan. 15 at 8 p.m. ET

Mind-blowing stats


Knile Davis' opening kickoff return for a touchdown against the Texans last weekend was the longest opening kick return in the history of NFL playoffs. ... Davis' score was the fastest touchdown in a playoff game since at least 1983. ... The Chiefs-Patriots matchups is the only game being played this weekend that is not a rematch from the regular season. ... This will be the first time Andy Reid is facing Bill Belichick in the playoffs since Super Bowl XXXIX, when the Patriots defeated the Eagles. ... This matchup will feature the fourth-most wins between two coaches (417) in a playoff game in NFL history. ... Over Kansas City's 11-game winning streak, a franchise record, the team has averaged 28 points per game and is giving up just 11.6. ... Kansas City is the only team in NFL history to start 1-5 and win a playoff game. The 1970 Bengals made the playoffs after 1-5 but were shut out by the Colts in the playoffs. ... The Patriots have had six first-round byes in a row, which is the longest streak since the inception of the first-round bye for two teams in each conference in 1990. ... Bill Belichick's postseason win percentage among coaches is the fourth highest in NFL history, with a minimum of 10 games. He trails Vince Lombardi, Tom Flores and Bill Walsh. ... Tom Brady's start on Saturday will tie him with Adam Vinatieri for the most postseason starts in NFL history (30).

Prediction


Is it crazy to think that most coaches would have zero chance against Bill Belichick on the road in January, but that Andy Reid and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton might? There are a ton of variables at stake here, including the liveliness in Jeremy Maclin's injured leg (and really, any time a skill position player is less than 90 percent on a push off leg, it's not going to yield the results you hoped for) and how well Justin Houston can bounce back after rejoining the lineup last weekend. Both were made active before kickoff. That being said, New England has a lot of unanswered questions too, and if Kansas City can find a way to design some effective pressures -- Sutton was on the Jets' staff that stunned New England at home back in 2010 -- why couldn't they continue to surprise the NFL?

Chiefs 31, Patriots 28

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