The Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs is finally here, and the for the first time in a long while, the eight best teams in the league are going going to be participating. Usually, there’s actually a team or two that makes it this far that many believe isn’t worthy. However, that’s not the case this time, and the remaining teams will theoretically be participating in a winner-take-all tournament from here-on.
In the first game of the weekend, at 3:30c in CBS today, the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots will take on the last team that truly dominated them.
In Week 4 of the 2014 NFL season, the Patriots visited the Chiefs, and got smoked. Justin Houston and the rest of the Chiefs absolutely dominated the Patriots offensive line, as the team thoroughly annihilated the Patriots by a final score of 41-14 in a Monday night massacre.
The game, which caused everyone to ask whether the Patriots dynasty had reached its end, triggered a 23-2 stretch for the Patriots, including their thrilling victory at Super Bowl 49 last February. The Chiefs wound up losing their first playoff game last year, and became an afterthought at that point.
Had this game taken place earlier this season, while people would have pointed to last year’s game, everyone would’ve picked the Patriots. Why? Because while the Chiefs kicked off the season with a 1-5 start, the defending champion Patriots started their season 10-0. Since then, however, both teams have trended in opposite directions.
The Patriots have lost 4 of their last six, have started 49 different offensive line combinations this season (most win NFL history,) Julian Edelman hasn’t played since November 15th, and the team has been surrounded by drama this weekend. Defensive star Chandler Jones was hospitalized due to complications from synthetic Marijuana, tight end Rob Gronkowski was spotted visiting a knee specialist on Thursday, and of all people, coach Bill Belichick entered his weekly press conference with a black eye. Simply put, the team isn’t in prime form.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs, who had begun the season with a 1-5 mark that caused football fans everywhere to question if coach Andy Reid would lose his job, have been on a roll since then. They’ve won 11 straight games, becoming the first team ever to make the postseason after such a horrid start, and won their playoff game in Houston by a whopping score of 30-0!
They haven’t lost since star running back Jamaal Charles suffered his season – ending ACL injury, Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware have done a good job covering for him, tight end Travis Kelce is one of the best in the league, Alex Smith has been a terrific fual-threat quarterback, and the defense has been dominant over the past few months, including last week.
Clearly, the Chiefs are the better team now, right? Not so fast. The Chiefs are dealing with various injuries, including their star pass rusher Justin Houston, who missed half the season. Star receiver Jeremy Maclin will be active today, but will be playing with a knee sprain that forces most players to miss 2-6 games. He’ll be out there, but might be nothing but a decoy.
Meanwhipe, the Patriots are healthier than they have been in months. Julian Edelman is finally back, and while their top two running backs are still out for the year, and the line is still hampered, the team is still healthier than it has been in months.
All in all, the game is sort of a pick-em game. The Chiefs are hampered, but on a roll. The Pats have won 25 of their last 31 games and Tom Brady only has two home playoff losses since 2000, but the team is still on a slide.
This is a game where anything can happen. If the Chiefs win, nobody I’ll be surprised. Still, I’ll have to go with the Pats. Somehow, some way, I see them pulling through with the win.
Prediction: Chiefs 24, Patriots 28.