A couple of coaching heavyweights will square off in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on Saturday afternoon when Andy Reid brings his streaking Kansas City Chiefs into Gillette Stadium to play Bill Belichick's defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
The Chiefs have won 11 games in a row, but they are not going to be at full strength because dangerous wide receiver Jeremy Maclin suffered a high ankle sprain in Kansas City's 30-0 victory against the Houston Texans in the Wild Card Round and is questionable for Saturday's game.
The Chiefs have used a conservative offense throughout the season, and Maclin has supplied most of the pizazz. If he can't go—or if he is not at his best—Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will be able to focus most of their game plan on tight end Travis Kelce.
The Patriots have limitations on offense as well. Tight end Rob Gronkowski has been limited in practice as a result of knee and back injuries. Gronkowski is the most dangerous tight end in football when he is healthy, but when he is limited, the Patriots lose much of their firepower. Gronkowski is questionable for Saturday's contest.
On the positive side, New England hopes wide receiver Julian Edelman (foot) and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (ankle) will play. Edelman excels at getting open quickly, and he is also dangerous after the catch. Volllmer gives the offensive line an upgrade, which should benefit Tom Brady.
When the Chiefs were slumping early in the season and got off to a 1-5 start, they had big problems on the defensive side. However, that unit has improved dramatically as rookie cornerback Marcus Peters has established himself. Peters had eight interceptions and 34 passes defensed in the regular season, and he has demonstrated that he is capable of turning any game around with his big plays.
The Chiefs ranked seventh in yards allowed in the regular season, which was a dramatic improvement over where they were in mid-October. The team's pass defense has withstood several challenges over the last 11 games, but the one they are set to face Saturday may be more severe than any of the others.
Strong safety Ron Parker deserves credit for much of the turnaround. He is second on the team in tackles with 78, and he also has three interceptions, 15 passes defensed and five sacks. His versatility could make it difficult for Brady to get into a rhythm.
|Game||Date, Time (ET)||TV||Live Stream||Point Spread||Over/Under||Prediction|
|Kansas City at New England||Jan. 16, 4:35 p.m.||CBS||CBS Sports||New England (-4.5)||42.5||NE, Under|
|Green Bay at Arizona||Jan. 16, 8:15 p.m.||NBC||NBC Sports Live Extra||Arizona (-7)||49||*Arizona, Over|
*Will win game but not cover point spread; Odds Shark
Many fans look at Alex Smith as a classic game manager at quarterback, ignoring his athleticism and intelligence. He is fast enough to break containment and make key plays with his legs, and his ability to diagnose what the defense is doing is on par with the elite quarterbacks in the game.
Look for the Chiefs to keep it tight for three quarters, but New England is too good and too resourceful to be denied. The Pats will take control in the fourth quarter, and Kansas City's magical run will come to a harsh conclusion.
Most do not expect the Green Bay Packers to stay with the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday night. The Cardinals are seven-point favorites, and 53 percent of the money bettors have wagered is on Arizona, according to Odds Shark.
After the team registered a 38-8 home triumph over the Packers in Week 16, it's no surprise to see the oddsmakers favoring the Cardinals by seven points. Perhaps they should favor Arizona by more.
However, Green Bay can make a case. The Packers offense was quiet throughout the majority of the second half of the season, and it was shocking to see Aaron Rodgers quarterbacking the 25th-ranked passing game in the league this year.
But when it looked as though the season was about to go down the drain in Washington in the Wild Card Round, the sleeping Green Bay offense woke up.
The Packers fell behind 11-0 in the second quarter but then hit the gas pedal. They found their groove and left Washington with a 35-18 victory.
Did the Packers find their offensive groove, or was Washington just a bad team that couldn't play effective defense?
The answer to that question will come Saturday night, and it would be wrong to say that Rodgers has no chance to get his offense going against the Cardinals. After all, the two-time MVP has been among the best quarterbacks in the NFL for years.
If the Cardinals do not take the Packers seriously, it would be a huge mistake.
That's not likely to happen with Bruce Arians as their head coach, though. He excels in all aspects of preparing his team to play, and he won't allow Arizona to overlook Saturday's matchup. He amplified that point on a SiriusXM broadcast:
SiriusXM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) January 13, 2016
That will make the difference. The Packers will give a stronger account of themselves Saturday and keep it close, but the Cardinals will finish the job and advance to the NFC Championship Game.