This week's upcoming AFC Divisional Round of the playoffs is set to be a doozy as two rugged and tough teams go to battle to move on to the AFC Championship game. The Kansas City Chiefs will travel to frozen Foxborough, MA to take on the reigning NFL Champion New England Patriots (4:35 pm ET on CBS).
Last week the Kansas City Chiefs went on the road to Houston to face the Texans, and to try to win their first playoff game in 22 years. Ironically, the last time the Chiefs won their last playoff game was in the Astro Dome in Houston against the Oilers in 1994, with an ex San Francisco 49er Joe Montana. This year history repeated itself as an ex-49er quarterback Alex Smith would down a Houston team. Would this be the Chiefs' true destiny to win their first playoff game in 22 years? Yes, indeed it was as the Chiefs went on to embarrass the Texans at home 30-0, forcing five turnovers including four interceptions off Texan's quarterback Brian Hoyer.
It was a bittersweet victory for the Chiefs as they lost Jeremy Maclin for the rest of the game, fearing he tore his ACL. The Kansas City Chiefs tweeted out a report earlier this week that in fact Maclin did not tear his ACL but suffered a mild high-ankle sprain.
"The result of #Chiefs WR Jeremy Maclin's MRI is back. He did NOT tear his ACL. He has an ankle sprain and is day-to-day."
January 10, 2016
The plan for Maclin is to not practice all week and he will be able to play Saturday, but Andy Reid reported that this may not be the case. Other Chiefs players who will be limited in practice this week are Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Spencer Ware, Mitch Morse and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.
The New England Patriots also have injuries of their own to deal with, specifically wideout Julian Edelman who is expected to play with a steel plate in his shoe, according to a report from BleacherReport.
Injuries are a key component to how this game will be played and the outcome of this AFC Divisional Round matchup, but they are not the only things to keep an eye on. Here are the key matchups for this Saturday's matchup between the Chiefs and Patriots.
Patriots' Beat Up Offensive Line vs. Chief's Dominant Pass Rush
The Patriots have been dealing with a constant rotation of the offensive line this year because of injuries, specifically Sebastian Vollmer and personal issues with their Pro Bowl left tackle Nate Solder, which has caused them to give up 38 sacks on the season. This Kansas City Chiefs defense is dangerous, especially their front seven totaling 40 of the team's 47 sacks. This Chiefs' front seven has been giving opposing team's offensive lines and quarterbacks fits all season long and in order for the Patriots to win, they're going to have to limit sacks and get the ball out quickly. For the Chiefs, they're going to have to keep doing what they've been doing all season and get to Tom Brady in order to force Brady to make mistakes and turn the ball over a couple times.
Chief's Secondary vs. Gronkowski and Edelman
Rob Gronkowski has been his dominant self all season long and has solidified himself as the league's best tight end, and it's not even close. Julian Edelman is really the only other weapon the Chief's have to worry about. Edelman is returning from a broken foot and will wear a steel plate in his shoe. Coming back from an injury of that severity is tough to do, especially as a receiver who is shifty and quick on his feet. Luckily for the Chiefs, they matchup pretty well against Gronk and Edelman. The Chiefs have multiple safeties who can matchup with Gronk in Eric Berry, Ron Parker, Tyvon Branch and Husain Abdullah. Berry will most likely see most of the snaps lined up against Gronkowski, as well as Parker and even a little bit of Derrick Johnson. Edelman will line up in the slot most of the game against Parker or Branch, but he may go outside across from Pro Bowl rookie Marcus Peters or Sean Smith on the left side of the field. Marcus Peters has played like one of the NFL's elite corners this year - tied for a league lead eight interceptions - but expect Tom Brady to challenge the rookie because of the spotlight being put on Peters on the big stage of the playoffs.
Will Jeremy Maclin Be Healthy Enough To Play?
Jeremy Maclin's health is probably the most crucial question entering Saturday's game because of what he brings to the Chief's offense. Maclin provides as a major weapon for Alex Smith, as well as a decoy for other players like Travis Kelce, Albert Wilson and the Chief's running game. If Maclin gets enough rest and rehabilitation this week, he will most likely suit up and play Saturday which will be huge for this Chiefs offense. If Maclin cannot play this weekend, the Chiefs will have to lean on tight end Travis Kelce and inexperienced wideouts Albert Wilson and rookie Chris Conley, as well as Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware running the ball. Maclin playing may be the Chiefs' only way of winning this game Saturday, unless Kansas City's defense can force multiple turnovers and score at least a couple of touchdowns. Keep an eye on Kansas City's special teams and Knile Davis' return game, as Davis ran back the opening kickoff of last week's game against the Texans for a 106-yard touchdown.
Alex Smith Will Need To Go Vertical Downfield For KC To Have Offensive Success
Alex Smith is known for being a "game manager" but he is also very capable of going vertical on defenses if he gets the right looks. Smith's reputation is also known for tucking and running if the pocket collapses and if he does not see the perfectly open receiver down the field. Smith's feet has saved this Chief's offense before, but he is going to have to throw the ball deep when if he gets the chance on Saturday in order for this offense to have success against an athletic Patriots defense. New England's defense is quick on the edges which will make it difficult for Smith to get around to the outside and scramble for positive yards. Smith will have to play like he did in the first half of the Wild Card game against the Indianapolis Colts in 2013 for the Chiefs to have a chance offensively.
The game Saturday will be the most entertaining and competitive game so far this postseason, you have one of the most explosive offenses in football in the Patriots against arguably the NFL's best defensive unit in the Kansas City Chiefs. The weather is expected to be extremely cold with freezing rain or snow, which both teams are used to playing in. If Jeremy Maclin is able to play and make an impact and if the Chief's defense can get pressure on Tom Brady early and often, then the Chiefs will be able to extend their winning streak to 12 games in a row and will move on to the AFC Championship game for the first time since 1993.
Kansas City 27, New England 23