Week 1 matchups:
THURSDAY, 8:30 P.M. ET, GILLETTE STADIUM, FOXBOROUGH, MASS. TV: NBC
Analysis, odds, predictions for each NFL game.
Announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya About the Chiefs: Kansas City opens with veteran QB Alex Smith running the offense and rookie Patrick Mahomes backing him up. Despite the departure of WR Jeremy Maclin, the passing game should be productive, with Smith able to throw to TE Travis Kelce and an expected increased role for WR Tyreek Hill. The running back will be a bit of a question mark, given the loss for the season of RB Spencer Ware (knee). There are high expectations for rookie RB Kareem Hunt, who will be helped by Charcandrick West and C.J. Spiller. Defensively, S Eric Berry remains the leader but is buttressed by CB
Marcus Peters and OLBs Justin Houston,
Tamba Hali and Dee Ford as well as ILB Derrick Johnson, who has recovered from an Achilles rupture late in the 2016 season. However, Hali won’t be available until Week 7 at the earliest. K Cairo Santos missed most of the preseason because of a groin injury.
About the Patriots: There was little drama this summer compared with 2016, when it was known QB Tom Brady would miss the first four games of the season as part of the Deflategate fallout. The Patriots still rode Brady’s now-40-year-old right arm to a Super Bowl victory. The summer calm was interrupted by the loss of WR Julian Edelman for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. But don’t feel sorry for the Patriots. TE Rob
Gronkowski is healthy, and the Patriots have added WRs Brandin Cooks and Phillip
Dorsett. There will be changes on defense after the retirement of DE Rob Ninkovich and the addition of CB Stephon Gilmore in
free agency. The Patriots are expecting increased production from DL Trey Flowers, who had 21⁄ sacks and two tackles for loss in 2 the Super Bowl win vs. the Atlanta Falcons. The Patriots hope Pro Bowl LB Dont’a High
tower is healthy after missing most of training camp on the physically unable to perform list.
Matchup to watch: Patriots LT Nate Solder and RT Marcus Cannon vs. Chiefs OLBs Houston, Hali and Ford. Solder
missed time in the preseason with an undisclosed injury, and he and Cannon will be tasked with keeping the Chiefs’ pass rushers away from Brady. Houston, Hali and Ford combined for 171⁄ sacks last season. 2 Player to watch: Patriots WR Chris Hogan. Hogan averaged 17.9 yards per reception on 38 catches in the regular season, and 17 receptions for a 19.5-yard average with two touchdowns in the playoffs. With defenses focusing on Gronkowski and Cooks, Hogan could benefit. Number crunching: 3. Number of times before this season the Patriots have hosted the Thursday kickoff game since its inception in 2002. New England has won all three games, and Brady has completed 75 of 108 passes for 929 yards and nine touchdowns. KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Hunt for a ground game: Hunt, the third-round pick, played well in the preseason, but he will have to show he is up to the task.
2. Contain passes to running backs: The Patriots’ backs had 90 receptions last season, and they now have a varied group highlighted by James White, Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis.
3. Protect the football: The Patriots turned the ball over 11 times last season. But the Chiefs had the NFL’s most takeaways in 2016 with 33.
4. Keep Smith in the pocket: Kansas City’s quarterback has the ability to make plays with his legs; he had five rushing touchdowns last season.
Marcus Mariota primed for big year.
Chiefs rookie Kareem Hunt had 4,945 rushing yards in four seasons at Toledo.