We talked with Rich over at SB Nation’s Patriots blog, Pats Pulpit, about tonight’s game. Here’s what they’re saying...
AP: I have no idea what to expect in this game. Do you?
Rich: Early season games are always difficult to predict as teams get into the swing of things, but I think the majority of Patriots fans are expecting a win. Teams that host the season opener usually win, the Patriots rarely lose at home, and New England looks stacked. Patriots fans are hoping for Tom Brady and the offense to pick up right where they left off in overtime against the Atlanta Falcons by moving the ball to Brandin Cooks and Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan and now Phillip Dorsett. If the Patriots offense builds an early lead, the team should be pretty confident about dictating the game. IF.
If the Chiefs have to pass the ball to keep up, the Patriots will play tight press coverage and make Alex Smith throw the ball deep to try and win. Maybe it’ll work out for Kansas City, but the Patriots will gladly take that risk.
AP: What concerns you about the Chiefs on offense?
Rich: Tyreek Hill is a home run hitter and that could cause some problems for the Patriots if he’s ever matched up with Malcolm Butler. Butler bites hard on double moves and an easy out-and-up by Hill against Butler without safety help could tilt the field or result in a score. Travis Kelce is a great tight end, too, and has to be respected. But outside of those two, the Patriots should feel confident in their depth being superior to the Chiefs depth.
Whichever cornerback of Butler or Stephon Gilmore has to cover Hill will have their hands full and will have help from All Pro safety Devin McCourty, but the other should be the heavy favorite in their match-up, while Eric Rowe is a great third cornerback to have. Patrick Chung will cover Kelce and held the tight end to 12 yards in six targets in the 2016 playoffs when in coverage.
AP: What concerns you about the Chiefs on defense?
Rich: There are studs at every level of the Chiefs defense: Chris Jones and Bennie Logan on the line, Dee Ford and Justin Houston off the edge, Marcus Peters and Eric Berry in the secondary. That makes it almost impossible to draw up a play to avoid a quality defender. If that defensive front can disrupt the Patriots pass blocking, then the Patriots won’t be able to build an early lead and that’s how the Chiefs can beat the Patriots - in a slugfest.
AP: Rank the top three weapons on the Patriots offense that the Chiefs need to stop (besides that Brady guy).
- TE Rob Gronkowski: No surprise here, right? Gronkowski is an incredible tight end that is a dominant blocker and a touchdown magnet. If he’s healthy - and all signs point towards him being 100 percent - then Brady will go to him early and often to set the tone against the Chiefs linebackers.
- WR Chris Hogan: While Brandin Cooks might get more attention and could become the top receiver by the end of the year, Hogan has a year of rapport with Brady and should step into the role vacated by Julian Edelman. Hogan is a big deep threat (led the league in yards per reception in 2016) and can generate yards after the catch with the best of them.
- RB James White: If the Chiefs pass rush ever gives the Patriots problems, look for Brady to find White on swing passes to try and slow down the edge defenders and prevent them from attacking the corners so much. White’s a dominant receiving back and solid blocker, even if he doesn’t offer too much as a runner.
AP: What's your score prediction? Why?
Rich: I think the Patriots will win 31-24, with the Chiefs scoring late to bring it closer. I think the Patriots will have enough tricks up their sleeves to score early and dictate how the game plays out in the early second half. I would expect the Chiefs to either have a big return by De’Anthony Thomas or a big score by Tyreek Hill, but it won’t be enough to keep the Chiefs in the game.