CHIEFS // PATRIOTS OVERVIEW
The scorching hot, 5-0 Chiefs will travel to New England for a marquee Sunday Night Football matchup this week, in a possible preview of this year’s AFC title game. While it’s too early for these coaches to think that way, this is a huge game for each team. Vegas has given the nod to the home team, installing the Patriots as 3.5 point favorites, and this game has already been bet up from a massive Over/Under of 58.0 to an almost unheard of 59.5 mark mid-week. Incredibly, there is still room for this number to grow before Sunday.
Each of these teams ranks top eight in situation neutral pace of play, and each team ranks bottom 10 in opponent plays allowed per game. The Chiefs rank second in drive success rate on offense, and they will have an interesting test against a Patriots defense that ranks 12th in drive success rate on defense, and that ranks seventh in points allowed per drive. The Chiefs’ defense ranks 27th in points allowed per drive, while the Pats rank seventh in the NFL in this category, even after their slow start to the year. Each team also has multiple pieces with which they can attack — which should set this up as a fun slate for Showdown players.
CHIEFS PASS OFFENSE
In one of the man-heaviest coverage schemes in the NFL, the Patriots have been essentially average in all of aDOT, catch rate, and YAC per reception allowed — playing sticky coverage, but getting burned by a pass rush that ranks 30th in adjusted sack rate. This issue is unlikely to disappear this week for New England against a Chiefs offensive line that ranks third in adjusted sack rate.
The emphasis for the Patriots will likely be on taking away the chunk plays, and you can bet they will give safety help on Tyreek Hill as often as possible — which should limit the opportunities Hill has for breaking the slate wide open. New England ranks fourth in the NFL in deep passing defense, according to Football Outsiders’ metrics, and only four teams have allowed fewer pass plays per game of 20+ yards. The Patriots have allowed only one pass play all year of 40+ yards — trailing only the Ravens and Colts in this category.
With Hill held to 90 or fewer yards in four straight weeks, Travis Kelce has beasted, posting lines across the last four games of 7-109-2 // 8-114-0 // 7-78-1 // 5-100-0. Last year when these teams met, the Patriots took Kelce out of the game to the tune of a 5-40-0 line, but Hill popped off for 7-133-1. This is obviously built around guesswork, but it was reasonable in a Week 1 game last year for the Patriots to assume a Chiefs team quarterbacked by Alex Smith could be crippled by taking away Kelce. With Mahomes under center this year, it would make sense for Hill to be the man who scares the Patriots more, and for Kelce to become the number two priority.
While it is likely that one of Hill/Kelce hits for a big game while the Patriots do everything they can to force the other into a disappointing game, neither outcome will change the role Sammy Watkins has as the number three man in this passing attack. Watkins has quietly seen target counts in his non-injured games of five, seven, eight, and eight, making him a legitimate floor/ceiling threat in this spot. Watkins is running primarily possession-type routes, with an uncharacteristic aDOT of only 7.5, but he is still mixing in a few downfield routes, and he may see a few extra looks this week against a Patriots team that always tries to isolate at least one top weapon that they can scheme out of the game.
Behind these guys, Chris Conley has seen 11 total targets in the four games in which Kelce / Hill / Watkins were healthy, but these limited looks have included three red zone targets and two red zone touchdowns, as Conley can become valuable on a short field with opponents focused on the four superstar weapons on this team. He carries a non-zero floor and a respectable shot at a strong game — making him an interesting piece to consider if multi-entering the Showdown slate.
CHIEFS RUN OFFENSE
The Patriots’ run defense ranks 23rd in adjusted line yards and 21st in yards allowed per carry — though as was the case last season, when the Patriots allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns in the league to running backs, this team tightens up against the run near the goal line, having allowed only one running back rushing touchdown all year.
On the flip side of this, Kareem Hunt has been a featured piece for this offense near the goal line, as he has six carries inside the five — trailing only Todd Gurley and Carlos Hyde for the league lead. Hunt has turned these short-area looks into four touchdowns.
In all, Kansas City ranks third in red zone touchdown offense, while the Patriots rank a middling 14th in red zone touchdown defense. The points should pile up one way or another for Kansas City, and while Hunt is the less likely means of scoring, he’ll still have his chances. Hunt is averaging only one reception per game, but he has carry counts on the year of 16, 18, 18, 19, and 22.
PATRIOTS PASS OFFENSE
The Chiefs have started to pick things up in the pass rush department, moving up to 11th in adjusted sack rate, but the Patriots rank first in adjusted sack rate on offense, and Justin Houston is going to miss this game — limiting the impact this pass rush has the ability to have.
The Chiefs have allowed the second most passing yards per game on the year, but this has been due more to volume than to poor play, as they rank middle of the pack in yards allowed per pass attempt, and they are allowing a below-average catch rate. They have faced the most pass attempts in the NFL. View this as a slightly above-average matchup for Tom Brady — which creates more than enough opportunity for him to post one of the top quarterback scores on the weekend.
If we wait until the run breakdown to take a look at James White, Brady has not yet produced a single game of double-digit targets for the guys we will look at here. Chris Hogan has yet to top five targets in a game; Phillip Dorsett has three games this year of seven targets, but he has lost snaps directly to Josh Gordon the last couple weeks. Gordon has snap counts so far with the Patriots of only 18 and 18, and while that number will probably climb a bit higher this week, it seems unlikely that the Patriots are ready to make him a full-time player. All of these guys can be bet on in large-field Showdown contests for the upside that all players carry in this game, but none of them would stand out if this game were on the main slate.
Julian Edelman returned to the field last week for his first game since the Super Bowl in February 2017, and he immediately stepped into nine targets — the most any Patriots wide receiver has seen on the year. Unsurprisingly, this led to only 57 yards on his seven receptions, but he carries solid floor, and he can occasionally top 100 yards and/or score a touchdown, giving him moderate upside to pair with this floor.
Rob Gronkowski is the guy on this team who has the clearest upside, though he has disappointed to date with target counts of eight, four, five, seven, and seven. When these teams met last year, the Chiefs held Gronk to a 2-33-0 line on six targets, but they have gotten absolutely wrecked by tight ends this year, allowing the third most catches and the most yards to the position. From a pure “projection” standpoint, Gronk has the highest floor and ceiling among Patriots pass catchers, but this is the sort of game in which it makes sense to roll with a multi-entry approach in the Showdown. (I cannot imagine trying to build an “optimal team” with so many players in this game who “could go off,” and so few who can be locked in for truly guaranteed points.)
PATRIOTS RUN OFFENSE
The biggest threat to the Patriots’ passing attack is their two-man backfield that has dominated opponents the last couple weeks, which currently has the Patriots ranking 20th in pass play rate. The Patriots should look to establish the run early and often in this one against a Chiefs team that ranks dead last in adjusted line yards, and that incredibly ranks dead last in the NFL in yards allowed per carry, in spite of allowing a long run on the year of only 26 yards. This team is just getting consistently pushed around up front, and in a game against Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, and company, it is not as if KC can simply dedicate extra men to stopping the run. Sony Michel has looked great the last couple weeks, with 125 and 98 rushing yards on the ground. His floor is a bit scary, with only three receptions through four games — making him a near-total “yardage and touchdown” play. But there is no reason to expect the yardage to dry up this week, and he should have a few chances for scores.
The passing work, of course, goes to James White, who surprisingly saw 14 targets last week even with Edelman returning. White now has target counts on the year of nine, eight, three, 10, and 14, and he has mixed in four to eight carries in all but one game as well. With only two running backs in the rotation for New England, White’s touches are locked in at this point, and he sees plenty of time on the field in the red zone, as New England likes his versatility down there. White has posted a genuine roster-worthy stat line in all five games this year, and he has done this alongside roster-worthy stat lines from Michel the last two weeks.
Outside of Patrick Mahomes, no one in this game would be a clear “add” to the top of my list on the main slate, as there are just so many different ways each team can score, and there are so many paths to high-priced duds if usage flows the wrong way. In terms of “pure upside,” however — just plain taking floor out of consideration — Hill, Kelce, and Gronk all have the ability to post the highest score of the weekend in this spot, while White and Michel are not far behind them. Julian Edelman is a safe play with upside, while Hunt and Watkins are “decent plays” with upside. Chris Conley, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Josh Gordon, and even Cordarrelle Patterson should all be considered as “mix and match, hunt for upside” pieces in a multi-entry strategy on the Showdown. Tom Brady is behind Mahomes, as the Patriots can soak up touchdowns on the ground more easily than the Chiefs can — but it obviously won’t be a surprise if Tommy posts the top score on this slate. Both kickers are obviously in play. Realistically, you are likely to see some sharp players mix and match a small amount of exposure to these defenses on the Showdown as well. Obviously, the likeliest scenario is that each of these defenses get trucked, but if one of them lucks into a multi-touchdown game, they’ll become a difference making play at near-invisible ownership. A Patterson/Patriots DST stack has probably a one in 100 shot at hitting, but if Patterson gets a receiving touchdown and a return touchdown, and the Patriots’ DST adds a defensive touchdown to that return touchdown, you’ll collect all the points at zero ownership. If I were multi-entering, I would try this on at least one or two rosters.