Week 1 matchups:

THURS­DAY, 8:30 P.M. ET, GIL­LETTE STA­DIUM, FOXBOROUGH, MASS. TV: NBC

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - INSIDE - Howard Balzer

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.

BRAD PENNER, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Mar­cus Mar­i­ota primed for big year.

JAY BIGGERSTAFF, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Chiefs rookie Ka­reem Hunt had 4,945 rush­ing yards in four sea­sons at Toledo.

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