Previewing New England Patriots' Week 1 Matchup with Kansas City Chiefs
We're finally here, football fans. The first game of the 2017 NFL season is finally upon us. Since the New England Patriots played in and won the the final game of the 2016 season—you know, Super Bowl LI—they get the honor of hosting the first game of 2017.
After months of offseason business and a flurry of roster activity, we'll finally get to see the new-look Patriots in action.
How will newcomers such as Mike Gillislee, Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore impact the team? How much will the loss of wideout Julian Edelman hamper the offense? We'll start getting real answers to these questions on Thursday night.
New England's first test is the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that came within a few plays of facing the Patriots in the AFC title game last year. For fans, this is a near-ideal way to kick off the new season.
We're here to break down the season's first contest, examine injuries and fantasy situations and, of course, make a prediction. Here's everything you need to know about New England's Week 1 matchup.
What: Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA
When: Thursday, September 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET
National TV: NBC
Latest News and Rumors
Before we dig into the game itself, let's check out some of the latest news and rumors surrounding New England's Week 1 matchup with the Chiefs.
Solder off Injury Report
One of the biggest developments for New England heading into the game is the fact Nate Solder is no longer listed on the team's injury report (we'll look at that later). The starting left tackle had been sidelined during the preseason, and there was speculation he could miss the season opener.
The Patriots will need Solder to stay healthy throughout this game, as backup tackle Cameron Fleming is dealing with an injury and may not be a full-go.
Patriots add Dorsett
With Julian Edelman out, the Patriots decided to add some veteran receiver help for the offense. They traded away third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett in order to acquire Phillip Dorsett from the Indianapolis Colts.
The wideout is an explosive receiver who averaged 16.0 yards per reception last season. He also provides value as a returner.
While Dorsett has only been with the Patriots for days, we could see him on the field sooner rather than later. The 24-year-old doesn't seem to be struggling with the playbook.
"I wouldn't say [it's been] overwhelming. I think I'm a pretty smart guy," he said, per Ryan Hannable of WEEI.com.
Who Will Return Punts for New England?
Dorsett's return potential is important for the Patriots because they have a serious question mark at the returner position—and it's why we may see him make an early debut.
Edelman, a quality returner, is off the table. So is cornerback Cyrus Jones, who suffered a torn ACL and meniscus against the New York Giants in the preseason finale. A healthy Dion Lewis gives the Patriots their answer at kick returner, but he doesn't generally return punts.
Could the Patriots give Lewis a shot at returning punts on Thursday? It's a move that could pay off, especially if the team believes a full backfield will alter his offensive impact. The likely alternative is wideout Danny Amendola, who is a solid returner in his own right.
There is risk involved here for New England, of course. Subjecting either Lewis or Amendola to an increased injury risk on special teams could have devastating consequences.
The Patriots would probably feel a lot better if they had a relatively expendable player such as Jones to utilize in the role.
The big injury for New England is obviously Edelman. He's out for the season, as is Jones. It's also worth noting the Patriots recently placed linebacker Shea McClellin on injured reserve.
As for the Week 1 injury report, here's what it looked like as of Wednesday, via the Patriots' official website:
Out: No players listed
Doubtful: DT Vincent Valentine (knee)
Questionable: DL Adam Butler (knee), DB Nate Ebner (shoulder), OT Cameron Fleming (ankle), LB Harvey Langi (concussion), WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee), WR Matthew Slater (hamstring)
Out: No players listed
Doubtful: G Parker Ehinger (knee), LB Reggie Ragland (knee)
Questionable: S Ron Parker (ankle)
Matchups to Watch
NFL fans know all too well that while football is a team sport, individual matchups can have a huge impact on the outcome.
Let's examine the biggest individual matchups for the Patriots in Week 1.
Tom Brady vs. Chiefs Pass Rush
The Chiefs have a clear plan to counter quarterback Tom Brady on Thursday night.
"Hit him," linebacker Justin Houston said, per Marc Sessler of NFL.com. "Because the ball comes out so fast, he's a smart guy. My main thing is the defense, don't lose confidence in what you got going on because he's going to make plays—it's Tom Brady."
With a healthy Houston on one side and Dee Ford on the other, the Chiefs have the firepower to hit, sack and batter Brady. If the Kansas City defense can rattle him, the team may be able to force Brady into making mistakes.
Obviously, the New England offensive line plays a role in this matchup too. However, it'll be up to Brady to recognize blitzes, get the ball out quickly, avoid hits and, most importantly, keep his composure.
The 40-year-old has the ability to do all of those things on a consistent basis, so the challenge for the Chiefs will be easier said than done.
Patriots Defensive Front vs. Hunt, West
The Patriots defense is going to want to force Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith into making mistakes as well. The problem is that if Kansas City is able to lean on the ground game—a common goal for this team—there won't be many opportunities to do so.
In addition, controlling the game via the run could keep this game close, keep Brady off the field and give the Chiefs a better chance of victory.
This is why stopping the run has to be a priority for the Patriots. With Spencer Ware on injured reserve, the Chiefs will rely on the rushing tandem of Charcandrick West and rookie Kareem Hunt. These are two talented backs, and they create a potential problem for the Patriots.
New England has to be able to shut this duo down without bringing extra defenders into the box. With Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill at his disposal, Smith can threaten deep downfield. Creeping up could prove costly. The Patriots need to be able to win this matchup with their base defense.
New England: Dwayne Allen
The Patriots have one star tight end in Rob Gronkowski. Everyone knows that. How good could the New England offense look with another top-tier receiving tight end playing opposite him? It could be deadly. Just check out the few games where a healthy Gronk played opposite Martellus Bennett last season for proof.
This is why newcomer Dwayne Allen can be a huge X-factor for the Patriots. He has the athletic ability and the quickness to be a dangerous downfield threat. However, he's also been up and down through the preseason and has struggled to adapt to the offense.
"It's extremely hard," Allen explained, per Rich Thompson of the Boston Herald. "I'm not going to sugarcoat it.
If Allen is fully up to speed and performs well, he can help the Patriots create mismatches on offense and help to overcome the loss of Edelman. If he struggles, though, the Chiefs are going to have an easier time slowing New England's offensive assault.
Kansas City: Tyreek Hill
Hill is essentially the embodiment of an NFL X-factor. As previously mentioned, he has the speed and the explosive ability needed to threaten downfield as a receiver. He can also be utilized in the running game and as a return specialist.
There are just so many ways in which Hill can impact this game.
"I'm sure they have a lot of different ways to use him and he's a very versatile player," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Hill, per Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star. "He can run, he can catch … I'm sure they use him a decoy. He's a very explosive player."
The Chiefs made it clear during the offseason that Hill won't have as big a role on special teams—he may not return kickoffs at all. However, if the team thinks he can provide a spark against the Patriots, no one should be shocked to see him getting plenty of special teams work on Thursday.
Must Start: Tom Brady, QB, Patriots
Does Kansas City have some legitimate playmakers on its defense? Of course, it does. However, this isn't a reason to turn away from Brady in fantasy.
Here's the thing about the Chiefs defense that is often overlooked: It can make plays, but it also gives away tons of cheap yardage. Kansas City actually ranked 24th in the NFL last season, allowing an average of 368.5 yards per game.
Plus, this is Brady at home under the bright light. He'll be as pumped as anyone to get the year underway. Expect plenty of passing yards with a couple of scores thrown in for good measure.
Some quarterbacks may have better matchups for Week 1, but Brady's a must-start if you own him in your league.
Sleeper Start: Rex Burkhead, RB, Patriots
The Patriots will be utilizing a committee to replace 2016 starter LeGarrette Blount at running back. While Mike Gillislee—acquired from the Buffalo Bills as a restricted free agent—is largely expected to lead that committee in the rushing department, fellow offseason acquisition Rex Burkhead shouldn't be overlooked.
We saw Burkhead run extremely hard between the tackles during the preseason. We also saw what he brings to the passing game. In his preseason debut for the Patriots, he hauled in three passes for 50 yards and a touchdown on the game's opening drive.
With the Chiefs relying on pressure to counter Brady, we should see plenty of quick throws to Patriots running backs in this game. This adds to Burkhead's fantasy value, especially in PPR formats. This value only increases further if New England is forced to use Dion Lewis more on special teams and less on offense.
Avoid: Alex Smith, QB, Chiefs
Chiefs signal-caller Alex Smith isn't a bad quarterback. He's accurate, poised, athletic, and he shouldn't lose his starting job to rookie Patrick Mahomes anytime soon.
However, this simply isn't a good matchup for him. This is a Patriots defense that allowed an NFL-low 15.6 points per game in 2016. With new additions such as Stephon Gilmore and Lawrence Guy on board, it may be even better this season.
Smith may be able to generate some garbage-time numbers if the Patriots jump out early. However, the Chiefs don't want to get into a shootout with Brady and the Patriots if they can avoid it. Plus, Smith doesn't have a ton of explosive targets besides Kelce and Hill. Expect Belichick to do his best to take away at least one of those guys.
If you're in a position to platoon quarterbacks this season or are looking for value options for DFS, you could do worse than Smith in most weeks. This week, however, look elsewhere.
The Chiefs are clear underdogs in this game. In fact, our friends at OddsShark.com have the Patriots as seven-point favorites. There are a couple of reasons for this.
The first is that the Patriots have the home-field advantage, and it's likely to be a big one. With the unfurling of a new banner on tap, Gillette Stadium is going to be rocking. New England is difficult enough to defeat on its home turf as it is, and the atmosphere on Thursday will make doing so even harder.
The Patriots have more weapons than the Chiefs too. If this game turns into a shootout, New England has the decided advantage. Defensively, both teams are good, but the Patriots tend to allow fewer chunk plays and fewer mishaps.
Expect the Chiefs to try to slow the game down and keep things close early by relying on a run-oriented attack. They'll be trying to keep Brady off the field as much as possible and to hit him when he's on it.
Brady isn't likely to crumble, though, and the Patriots offense should be able to hit enough big plays to wreck Kansas City's game plan.
Expect a competitive game in the first half, with the Patriots slamming the door shut in the second.
Prediction: Patriots 34, Chiefs 25