The Kansas City Chiefs will attempt to beat the odds on Monday night when they kick off a brutal five-game stretch against the New England Patriots in front of a national TV audience at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA. The 17-point underdogs will need to pull off a victory or fall two games back of the division leading Oakland Raiders.
Trying to beat the Patriots in New England is a difficult enough task under normal circumstances, but things are far from normal right now with Todd Haley’s team. Besides dropping back-to-back games at home to the Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos by a combined score of 48-13, they will be without starting QB Matt Cassel. A hand injury has knocked Cassel out for the season, leaving journeyman Tyler Palko to make his first career start Monday night.
Can the Chiefs show the type of fight that helped them win four straight after losing the first three games of the season? Or will they roll over and get ready to be a door mat for five teams warming up for a playoff run?
The first-place Patriots will do their best to make sure it’s the latter, though they looked very human in back-to-back losses of their own to the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants before rebounding with a 37-16 drubbing of the New York Jets.
Leading the way for New England is, of course, All-Pro Tom Brady but he is working with two of the NFL’s top 10 receivers, including the league leader in Wes Welker. Brady will hope for a better outcome than the last time these two teams met. That was back in 2008 when the QB was lost for the season with a knee injury after a low hit from safety Jarrad Page.
As the Chiefs try to shock the Patriots and their potent offense, here are three players from each team to keep your eyes on.
Offense: Tyler Palko
Nothing like making your NFL debut as a starting quarterback on the road in front of a national TV audience against a team that just two weeks ago ended a 20-game winning streak at home.
The thing is, the Patriots do have a weakness and it’s their league-worst passing defense. So if the Chiefs are going to pull off the upset, they’ll have to do it in the air and that means the pressure sits squarely on the shoulders of Kansas City’s lefty QB.
If Palko can stand tall and run his version of Air-Haley, the Chiefs have a shot. If he wilts under the bright lights of Monday Night Football, then it will be another long day for Kansas City.
Defense: Tamba Hali
Unlike last week when the Denver Broncos didn’t throw the ball enough to give Hali a shot to impact the game, there should be plenty of chances Monday night. The Patriots have yet to attempt less than 30 passes this season. That doesn’t mean the Chiefs will be able to bring down Brady, but Hali will be the key to trying to somewhat contain the league’s best passing attack.
Though he is used to it at his point, Hali will have to be a one-man pass rush. With so many explosive options in the air, the Chiefs won’t be able to afford sending much help from the the linebackers or secondary.
The linebacker is due for a big game after hitting quite the dry spell. Hali averaged a sack per game over the Chiefs first four weeks of the season, but has only had two in the last five games including shutouts against the Dolphins and Broncos.
Special Teams: Javier Arenas
After missing his first ever game against the Miami Dolphins with a bum ankle, Arenas returned last week and jumped right back into his duty as primary kick returner. He looked a little tentative on the ankle, but still managed to turn in a decent 28 yard kick return.
One key for the Chiefs to win in New England will be to turn in a big play on special teams. No matter if it’s Arenas or fellow-returner Dexter McCluster, the unit can take a lot of pressure off the Chiefs offense by putting points on the board.
Offense: Wes Welker
It’s pick your poison with this ridiculous offense.
The Chiefs have been killed by tight ends, so you could easily say that trying to keep Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez under wraps needs to be the main priority. But in there case you can hope Derrick Johnson will be able to match up with one of the tight ends and a combination of players can try to slow down the other, but who stops Welker?
Some teams have attempted to shadow the receiver with their best cornerback, but the Chiefs don’t like to move Brandon Flowers from his side. Even if Romeo Crennel is willing to move the him or Brandon Carr around the field, will either be healthy enough to play? They were both listed as “questionable” on the Chiefs final injury report.
Bottom line is it will be a tall task for Kansas City to slow down Welker and the rest of the Patriots air attack.
Defense: Andre Carter
The Chiefs defense is last in the league at taking down the QB, but the Patriots have had their own pass rush issues and currently rank 20th. However, Carter has played like a mad man lately, racking up eight sacks in the Patriots last four games, including 4.5 takedowns of Jets QB Mark Sanchez last week.
Considering how bad the Kansas City offensive line has been lately, it’s not out of the question that Carter will post another four sack day.
Special Teams: Zoltan Mesko
If the Chiefs are going to turn in a big punt return, they’ll have to do it against a guy that rarely gives returners any room to work. In nine games, Mesko has had 16 of his 31 punts returned for a measly 5.9 yards average.
The longest return Mesko has given up all season was an 18 yarder by the Raiders Denarius Moore seven weeks ago.