The 2017 regular season opener is finally upon us as the Kansas City Chiefs go into Foxboro to take on the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. While the Chiefs are expected to be a contender in the AFC, the Patriots reloaded again this offseason and look as strong as ever. This game could come down to the Chiefs just not having enough fire power to compete offensively at the end of the day.
Once again, Alex Smith enters the year as the Chiefs starting quarterback, and we sort of know what we’re getting at this point. Smith is more than serviceable, but he may just not be the type of player who can elevate his team to a whole new level. Known for his tendency to check down instead of taking risks, some are hoping that Smith takes a few more risks this season with his young receiving corps. On the outside, Tyreek Hill should be his primary target.
Hill is one of the fastest guys in the league and showed us last year it doesn’t take a vertical throw downfield for him to have a big play. With the Patriots likely to use Malcolm Butler and/or Stephon Gilmore and some safety help over the top to limit Hill, the Chiefs best bet might just be trying to get him the ball in space. A game with eight to ten total touches wouldn’t be surprising. Smith’s favorite target the past few years (and for good reason) has been tight end Travis Kelce. Like Rob Gronkowski on the other sideline, Kelce can do it all whether it is creating yards after the catch, running routes, passes down the seam, etc. You can be certain Bill Belichick and company will want to limit Kelce, but even so at least 6 to 8 targets should be in order. Chris Conley and Albert Wilson should see playing time when the Chiefs use three wideouts, but neither can be counted on for fantasy value in this game.
When running the ball, the Chiefs are relying on rookie Kareem Hunt with Spencer Ware’s season ending injury. A talented back who is also a very productive pass catcher, Hunt figures to be a very valuable asset for the Chiefs and fantasy players throughout the year. However when considering the projected game flow and the Patriots defense, this isn’t the best initial matchup. Considering the 15 to 20 touches should be there, you obviously have to play him if he’s on your team.
The Patriots offense will be able to put up points as usual, but the question is what player will shine in a given game. Even with Julian Edelman gone for the year, Tom Brady has no shortage of weapons. Brandin Cooks could line up all over the formation which would allow him to avoid Marcus Peters in coverage. After Peters, the Chiefs cornerback situation is thin so it wouldn’t be surprising if Chris Hogan is the primary beneficiary tonight even if he doesn’t receive a ton of targets. Even though Gronkowski will see plenty of Eric Berry in coverage, he will somehow get his numbers as the scheme gets him open.
At running back, make sure to have some Advil handy for the Patriots current situation. While they have an array of backs, who are versatile, the rotating on a game-by-game basis might not be for the faint of heart. Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead figure to be the early-down backs, but with Gillislee missing most of the preseason, I wouldn’t be stunned if he was a healthy scratch for this one. Regardless, none of the backs figure to get more than 12 or so touches (unless the Patriots decide to ride a hot hand). Dion Lewis or James White will certainly be looked at in the passing game as the Patriots will look to exploit Derrick Johnson in coverage. Johnson who turns 35 later this year, has torn both of his Achilles tendons sense 2014. While he’s had a very nice career, unfortunately the NFL is a cruel game and odds are Brady will look for one of his pass catching backs matched up against him.
While I do think the Chiefs have the makings of a playoff team, this game for the opening week looks to just be too much to overcome. At this time, the Chiefs only have Kelce as a reliable receiving option, and have too many questions in the secondary for me to consider going with the upset. My prediction is Chiefs 17 Patriots (-8.5) 30.