Chiefs at Patriots is an odd spot, as the elite offense of the Chiefs has to travel to Foxboro to take on the elite defense of the Patriots. The Chiefs are too good to be given a Vegas-implied team total much lower than the 23.0 at which they currently sit, and the 10-2 Patriots, as a franchise, are too good to not be favored at home. And yet, the Patriots — as has been well documented in this space — have been a disappointing offense this year, with their point-per-game production built much more on their defense forcing turnovers (and scoring themselves) than on any great offensive dominance. The Patriots rank 14th in yards per game and 17th in drive success rate, while ranking 10th in offensive DVOA.
As most teams have done this year against the Chiefs (who have faced the 12th lowest opponent pass play rate, in spite of regularly playing with a lead), we should expect the Patriots to try to control this game to some extent on the ground. Of course, this will be easier said than done, with the Patriots respectably ranking middle of the pack in rush offense DVOA and adjusted line yards, but averaging only 3.5 yards per carry on the year, and now set to be without backup-turned-starting center Ted Karras. Working in the Patriots’ favor, of course, is a matchup with a Chiefs defense that ranks 30th in DVOA against the run and is allowing a whopping 5.08 yards per carry to enemy backs. The Chiefs have allowed the following notable stat lines to running backs ::
99-0 (12) Jacobs
103-3 (16) Ingram
125-0 (26) Kerryon
132-0 (29) Mack
116-1 (26) Hyde
188-2 (23) Henry
104-0 (17) Jacobs
This backfield should start with Sony Michel, who has recent bounce-around carry counts of 19 // 21 // 4 // 10 // 20 // 10. The gameplan-specific Patriots hardly played Michel against the Eagles, Ravens, and Texans, but this sets up as a spot in which he should get an early crack at breaking through this matchup. Joining Michel in the backfield will be James White, who seems like a clear candidate to go over-owned this week after his monster game in primetime in Week 13 — and yet, his price remains in the range where it has been all season, when he has been one of the safer PPR pieces at his price. The Chiefs are also allowing the second most receiving yards to backs; and while it’s often dangerous to try to predict the Patriots backfield, this is a spot where it would make sense for White to be featured when the Pats take to the air — especially as the Pats continue to try to search for some sort of offensive identity that can carry them forward.
Part of the “offensive identity” crisis for the Pats is the fact that Julian Edelman has been their alpha receiver — not only the guy the Texans chose to focus their defense around last week, but a guy who, when slowed for chunks of that game, turned the Patriots into a faltering unit. The Chiefs have been excellent against wide receivers this year, allowing the fewest catches (9.3 per game) and the third fewest yards to the position, while ranking sixth in DVOA against the pass.
Behind Edelman, Tom Brady has a cast of castoffs (Mohamed Sanu // Phillip Dorsett) and not-ready-for-primetime pieces (Jakobi Meyers // N’Keal Harry), who are causing the offense to stutter — with so much of this attack built around a pass catcher’s ability to communicate with Brady pre-snap, and to read the defense the same way Brady is reading it. This passing attack has been discombobulated, and this sets up as a tough spot for them to get on track. Sanu is the likeliest target leader behind Edelman (last week, Sanu played only 19 snaps, but he should be back up to a full complement this week), with Dorsett and Jakobi up next and Harry (22 snaps last week; one target) bringing up the rear.
On the other side, there isn’t much left to say about the Chiefs that hasn’t been said already; but there isn’t much left to say about the Patriots defense, either, which has allowed only the following notable stat lines all season ::
109-0 (17) Gore
131-0 (20) Chubb
115-0 (15) Ingram
6-102-1 Golden Tate
The Chiefs offense exists in three tiers, with the first tier consisting of Tyreek Hill (recent healthy target counts of 10 // 5 // 9 // 9 // 19 // 8) and Travis Kelce (8 // 8 // 9 // 7 // 10 // 9). This is the tier the Patriots will focus most heavily on stopping, though both are weapons that can be near impossible to shut down at times. Given the pieces in the Patriots secondary and the minds on the sidelines, Hill is the piece who is likeliest to need a busted play to hit — though of course, it’s never a fool’s errand to bank on a busted play for Hill. Kelce, meanwhile, struggled in a big way in two contests with New England last year — going 5-61-0 in a game in which the Chiefs scored 40, and going 3-23-1 in a playoff game in which the Chiefs scored 31. In the first of those games, Hill picked up the slack with a 7-142-3 torching of the Pats. In the second of those games, the Patriots checked Hill as well, and Sammy Watkins went 4-114-0 to keep the offense moving.
Watkins anchors the second tier, with recent target counts of 8 // 10 // 9 // 3 // 3. He has not topped 64 yards since Week 1, but he is the “next man up” if Hill and Kelce get slowed. He’s loosely joined in this tier by Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson — each of whom needs plenty to go right in order to produce anything useful with everyone healthy, but either of whom has an outside shot at seeing things come together as they roughly split time on the field.
The third tier for the Chiefs is the backfield, where last week this team split work among LeSean McCoy (24 snaps), Darwin Thompson (23 snaps), and Darrel Williams (17 snaps). As we’ve explored throughout the season, the Patriots have been the toughest team to score on the ground against over the last half-decade; but with Darrel Williams on I.R. and Andy Reid hesitant to give McCoy a large workload, there is a chance we at least see this as a two-man split between McCoy and Darwin. Of course, if Damien Williams returns, that goes out of the window; and even if Damien misses, there is a chance for newly-signed Spencer Ware to step right into the Darrel “third wheel” role. You’re mostly hoping for busted plays for yardage, or for unpredictable touchdowns.
JM’s Interpretation ::
This game should be competitive enough for some solid production to emerge, and on an ugly slate, I wouldn’t mind grabbing some action here based primarily on that thought.
On the Patriots’ side, my focus would be on Edelman and the backfield. Edelman is thinner on paper in this matchup, but he’s highly likely to be featured once again, with double-digit targets in seven consecutive games. White is a solid floor play on PPR sites, with clear paths to upside. Michel is a pure yardage-and-touchdown back, but this is a solid spot for yardage and touchdowns to emerge.
On the Chiefs side, Kelce and Hill are both low-floor plays against the Patriots, but upside is very much in place. Behind these guys, Watkins and (to a lesser extent) Hardman are interesting for the low-floor-with-ceiling setup they offer, while the backfield is a “hope to guess right on a big play or a touchdown” spot.
It’s tough to individually target much more than this — but stacks are in play on this ugly slate for the scoring potential this game carries.