The Patriots are set to play the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday at 4:35 PM EST at Gillette Stadium. Both teams have suffered a ton of injuries to key players on both sides of the ball. The injury bug really hit the Patriots on the offensive line and the skill players, which took the air out of the offense the final 7 weeks of the season. The Chiefs have injuries to their top 3 pass rushers, which could affect their ability to be able to pressure Tom Brady with just a standard 4-man rush. In addition to getting starters back, getting more depth back should help the Patriots on Special Teams, which went through a 4-week stretch where the whole unit struggled.
On the Patriots injury front, they will get top WR Julian Edelman back from a broken foot. Edelman has been on the shelf for 9 weeks, which means he should be close to full health. The Patriots also did not have Dont'a Hightower, Chandler Jones, and Sebastian Vollmer available for the Dolphins game and all three should be good to go. Having these guys back is critical for the Patriots, who have struggled down the stretch in large part to the injuries piling up and forcing the Patriots to run vanilla game plans.
Not only getting the starters back is helpful, but also the depth guys is important because that allows for the Patriots to rotate their defensive linemen and put their pass catchers in their intended roles when the offense was at full strength through their first eight games. If the Patriots can use the quick passing game to their advantage again, it negates the Chiefs pass rush and blitz calls.
For the Chiefs, they lost their starting RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif to a concussion during the game as well as WR Jeremy Maclin to a high ankle sprain after fears of an ACL tear. In the game, the Chiefs replaced Duvernay-Tardif with their starting RT Jah Reid and subbed in Donald Stephenson at RT. A replacement tackle could be an issue with Rob Ninkovich or Jabaal Sheard lining up at left end. The potential loss of Maclin, who will be very limited if he does play, presents a domino effect. That would allow for the Patriots to apply more pressure on Travis Kelce inside with a safety over the top.
The Patriots would have likely put Malcolm Butler in as the primary coverage on Maclin if healthy. Other key injuries include their top 3 pass rushers. With Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, and Dee Ford ailing a bit, that could help the Patriots OL in pass protection. I expect all three of them to suit up on Saturday and give the Patriots OL some trouble. That's where the quick passing game comes into play, because the lack of continuity and injuries have really hurt the unit this year.
Ultimately, this game will come down to execution. Both teams are well-coached and don't make mistakes, so it's going to a closely-fought game. Even though both teams are battling injuries, the expectation is that they will play for the game since it's the playoffs. The team that wins is the one that executes better and manages their team's injuries going into and in the game the most.