Wow, it feels real good to be making one of these up again. Real good.
After more than six months of waiting, the Patriots will finally take the field again, when they defend their home turf, taking on the Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday at 1:00 PM.
On paper, and in Vegas, the Patriots are heavily favored. However, there are a few glaring weaknesses that could be big problems.
The whole Brady injury mystery has got to have fans worried. Brady will likely be playing injured to some extent, and fans have to wonder whether that will affect his play against a solid Chief’s secondary.
Then there’s the offensive line issue. With Stephen Neal out, Light just coming back, and Kazcur struggling as usual, Patriots fans have to be worried. If the Chiefs are able to put together a steady pass rush, the Patriots could be in trouble. Combined with Brady’s injury, this could be a recipe for disaster, especially if the running game can’t get going.
Defensively, the Patriots are a little mixed up. The Patriots are weak at linebacker depth on the inside, and are having problems putting together a stable secondary. Lucky for the Patriots, first year starter Brodie Croyle likely won’t be shredding apart the Pats’ defense.
The Patriots really have to be worried about the Chief’s running game. Larry Johnson will carry the load, but talented second year back Kolby Smith and rookie Jamaal Charles will get their share of carries as well. Jerod Mayo struggled a bit in the preseason against run coverage (although I’m willing to give him a break on that) and with Tedy Bruschi’s stamina decreasing as he ages, the Chiefs could have the Potential to wear the Patriots down up the middle.
But emotion may just ride this game for the Patriots. The guys want to get back out there. They are hungry to win. If emotion carries this game all the way, I can’t envision a scenario where the Patriots don’t emerge the winner in this contest.
Keys to the Game
1. Get the Running Game Going – Take the pressure of Tom Brady, keep the defense rested. If Laurence Maroney and Lamont Jordan can get things going, Tom Brady will have a much easier time getting rid of the ball as well as risking further injury. But of course a big key to the running game is having the offensive line stay productive. If the line can’t get the initial push against an intimidating Chiefs’ front four, the Patriots could be in for a long day, in all facets of the game.
2. Take a Quick, Decisive Lead – If the Patriots can get out to a two touchdown lead early, it will force Brodie Croyle to throw the ball, and at this point, that’s what the Patriots want (despite the shaky secondary). At this point, I’d rather see Croyle airing it out, than Johnson and Smith running it up the throat of the Patriots defense.
3. Give Brady Time – This sort of goes along with the first key, but at this point, more than anything, Tom Brady needs time in the pocket. We need to keep Brady on his feet at all times. The keys: Matt Light, Billy Yates, Nick Kazcur. Light and Kazcur will have their hands full with Turk McBride and Tamba Hali, while Yates will be handling Tank Tyler or the powerful Glenn Dorsey. We know Koppen and Mankins will be ready, but the other three are question marks at this point.
Players to Watch – Chiefs
1. Kolby Smith, RB, #21 – The talented second year back really showed off his potential while Larry Johnson was hurt last year. If the Patriots aren’t careful, he could really open some eyes.
2. Derrick Johnson, OLB, #56 – The explosive outside linebacker is quickly becoming a team leader and will be difficult to deal with.
3. Brodie Croyle, QB, #12 – Nobody knows how the first year starter will perform, but he has got potential, and the Chiefs are certainly riding on his back this season.
4. Patrick Surtain, CB, #23 – He’s aging, but he certainly still has talent. There’s no denying that he will be a factor in this game.
5. Branden Albert, LT, #76 – As a rookie, Branden Albert will be stepping in as starting left tackle for the Chiefs. First question that comes to mind is; how well can he handle a healthy Richard Seymour?
Players to Watch – Patriots
1. Lamont Jordan, RB, #32 – Jordan will be taking over Kevin Faulk’s 3rd down duties for week one. He will also likely share some of the load with Maroney. What kind of impact can he make in his Patriots debut?
2. Terrence Wheatley, CB, #22 – The rookie 2nd round pick has been forced into the starters role following the surprising release of veteran cornerback Fernando Bryant.
3. Tom Brady, QB, #12 – Everyone will be watching Tom Brady come Sunday. Will the injury affect his play? How will taking the preseason off affect his performance? Will he be back to 2007 form?
4. Jabar Gaffney, WR, #10 – Now a full-time starter with no competition, Gaffney might be primed for a breakout season of sorts. We’ll see if it starts week one against KC.
5. Billy Yates, RG, #74 – Once a practice squad player, Billy Yates is now penciled in as starter at Stephen Neal’s right guard spot. We’ll see if he can come through with some good play, the Patriots will really be counting on him.
Greg’s Prediction: Patriots 34 – Chiefs 10
Yes, I predicted the blowout. But I just think there’s going to be too much emotion for the Patriots to lose this game, or even come close to losing it. However, I did list a lot of things I’m worried about, so we’ll just have to wait and see if those factors come into play.