Kansas City Chiefs +5 @ 10/11 Vs New England Patriots (2135 KO)
Anybody remember week 4 of last season? Tom Brady was picked off twice as the Chiefs humiliated the Patriots 41-14 to drop the Pats to a 2-2 start for the season. The defeat led to many a sportswriter penning Brady’s obituary and predicting an end to their dynasty. What happened next was, in typical Patriots fashion, they won 10 out of 12 games and went on to win yet another SuperBowl. Yes, this is a team to write off at your peril. Nevertheless I’ve felt all along that the Chiefs would be the worst possible matchup for the Patriots to come up against in their quest to gain yet another AFC championship.
New England cruised through the first 10 games of its season with a perfect record before limping to the end of the season going 2-4 in their next 6 contests. The dip in form coincided with the loss of their number one receiver Julian Edelman. In his absence Brady has only had one game where he has passed for more than 300yds and his return could be huge since it offers his Quarterback the quick release option and opportunity to build slow and steady offence. Sebastian Vollmer should also return to help the Pats leaky offensive line which has already used a staggering 23 different alignments this season. However we’ve seen it time and again were big players returning from injury don’t necessarily slot back in and perform at maximum level. Against a team like the Chiefs, especially in the case of Vollmer, if they aren’t 100% they could end up getting embarrassed. There are also concerns over star tight end, Rob Gronkowski who reportedly having pain injections for knee and back problems. This could be the usual Pats smoke and daggers but Gronk does have a history of back problems.
Kansas has its own injury concerns coming into this. Wideout Jeremy Maclin has a mild high ankle sprain and if he were not to suit up for this one it would be a big blow for a team struggling to get TDs from its receiving corps. Aside from Maclin, tight end Travis Kelce will be the only other Chiefs target the Pats will fear. This isn’t a Chiefs team though that has made it to the postseason on the strength of their attack. Their special team unit is amongst the best in the league highlighted by the opening kickoff return against Houston last week while their defence has been unstoppable through the 11 game winning streak they are on. In their last three contests they have allowed only 468 total passing yards and over the course of the season they accumulated 47 sacks and 29 takeaways. Brady looked vulnerable against pressure earlier in the year and this is a group that will bring it early and often. Quarterback Alex Smith may not be as spectacular as Brady but is one of the best game managers in the NFL. He protects the ball well and is athletic enough to damage teams with his feet.
It’s always a brave call to go against the Patriots playing at Foxboro especially in the playoffs when Coach Bill Belichick has had two weeks to prepare. There is always the possibility with this team that they can make you end up looking very stupid. Looking at this game I see very few opportunities for either team to exploit as they both seem to matchup very well against each other. However Kansas has much more momentum with them right now and may be able to exploit a weak Patriots O-line. I’m going with the upset special, Kansas plus 5 points and perhaps even pulling off an outright victory at 2/1.
Arizona Cardinals -7 @ 5/6 vs Green Bay Packers (0115 KO, Sunday – NAP)
Last week the Washington Redskins seemed well on their way to beating the Packers before Green Bay managed to kick its running game into gear. Buoyed by Eddie Lacy and James Starks they cruised to victory. It’s one thing to be able to do that against a mediocre Redskins team though and entirely a different proposition against this tough Arizona run defence. They will need to however if they are to advance here. Rodgers is still one of the best quarterbacks around and did throw for two TDs in that game but its became clear at this stage that without Jordy Nelson this Packers attack is a shadow of its former self. Things got more complicated during the week when Davante Adams was also ruled out making this receiving corps look even thinner. They did find some innovative plays to get Randall Cobb involved last week but If this game comes down to a shootout I don’t think there any way that Green Bay can keep up.
No such problem at wide receiver for the Cardinals though as Carson Palmer has one of the most dangerous groups in the league to throw to in John Brown, Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald. The key though will be running back David Johnson who has been a revelation since coming into the team because of injuries in the middle of the season. If he gets rolling and the Packers D has to give him too much attention it will open things up for Palmer to throw some big plays down the field particularly when he has had two weeks to study for this one. Aaron Rodgers will be having nightmares about facing this defence again also. When they faced each other in week 16 he was sacked 9 times, twice causing fumbles returned for touchdowns on the way to a 38-8 defeat. This Arizona defensive unit will be eager to get back on the field to erase memories of their own inept performance in week 17.
Green Bay will certainly come into this with confidence following last week’s victory and will hope that their considerable playoff experience will put them in good stead. While I don’t think this game will end up in another 30 point win for the Cardinals it impossible to discount just how impressive that performance was. The Cardinals are the better team on both sides of the ball here. They have too many weapons for Green Bay to handle and should prevail by more than a touchdown.
I’ll be back tomorrow to preview the final two matchups of the divisional weekend, the Carolina Panthers against the Seattle Seahawks and The Denver Broncos taking on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Best of luck,