1. The Chiefs were without Eric Berry in the 2014 game, but what are some of the other changes to the Kansas City defense?
The Chiefs defense is similar to last year with a few key changes. The Chiefs lost ILB Derrick Johnson and DE Mike DeVito in Week 1 last year with Achilles injuries. They've been a big help to the Chiefs run defense which is much better this year. KC drafted rookie CB Marcus Peters who has been a difference maker. The Chiefs had six interceptions last year; Peters had eight this year. As important is the other corner, Sean Smith. The Chiefs were without Smith early this season and it's no surprise they were a different team without both their corners back there.
Finally, the return of Eric Berry. The best story in sports this year. Not only did he return from cancer, but I will make the argument he is better. He looks faster. He's playing more of a centerfield role in coverage more often than playing on the line. It's such a great story and it's icing on the cake that he's playing so well.
2. How does Kansas City deploy their running backs now that Jamaal Charles isn't in the picture?
At first it was Charcandrick West and not Knile Davis who took the majority of the snaps. The Chiefs liked West's ability to catch the ball and pass protect more than Davis. A couple weeks after the injury, the Chiefs promoted Spencer Ware from the practice squad. Ware is the battering ram compared to West's shiftiness. West was consistently getting more snaps but that's started to level off in the past couple of weeks.
I see Andy Reid following the hot hand in this game; they're open to giving either player carries. In passing situations though, the Chiefs are more likely to go with West and in running situations they could go either way.
3. If Jeremy Maclin is unable to produce, how will the other wide receivers step up in his place?
There are a few options. Albert Wilson was an undrafted free agent who came on late last year. He's a shorter receiver but he's strong. He's simply solid in a number of areas, not elite in any one spot. Then there's the rookie Chris Conley, who has the size and speed you want in a receiver but he's a rookie. He has 17 receptions on the season so we're just guessing what he can do in a huge moment.
Jason Avant is the veteran who can help in a spot here and there but shouldn't be featured. Frankie Hammond rounds out the receivers. If you know Hammond's name after this game, something has gone wrong.
4. The Chiefs seem to be strong on the interior with both their offense and defense- is there a weak link in either trench?
Defensively, not really. The Chiefs are really strong on the defensive line and that's shown by the contracts some of these guys will be signing soon. Jaye Howard is going to be a rich man next year. He's a solid run stopper who has shown some burst to him. This is a contract year so he wants it. Allen Bailey got a new contract last year and he's been strong this year. He can rush the passer from the interior. Dontari Poe is a beast and will get paid in the next couple years. Mike DeVito is a run stopping veteran. There's a lot to like.
Offensively, it's funny you say it's strong because we've complained so much about the line. Somehow, someway the Chiefs offensive line has gotten better as the season goes on. The Chiefs center, Mitch Morse, will likely be out with a concussion. Zach Fulton had one of his best games last week in relief; the Chiefs should be fine there.
Jah Reid was the Chiefs right tackle but last week he filled in at guard. With starting guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif potentially out this week (concussion), you could see Reid there again. Then there's Jeff Allen, who hasn't played all season but has been arguably the Chiefs best lineman this season. The Chiefs offensive line isn't elite but they're deep in the sense that their 2nd-4th best linemen are pretty dang similar to their 5th-7th linemen.
5. Who is a player that Patriots fans will get to know during this game?
You'll know RB Spencer Ware. I'm hoping we have another Jim Ross voiceover like this one. He loves contact and will seek it out. He's a bulldozer. The best part of Chiefs games is when they have a fourth quarter lead and they're Ware-ing* down the defense with their two backs. It's such a satisfying feeling.
On defense, peep Jaye Howard. He was a former Seahawks player (so is Ware actually) that the Chiefs picked up off waivers a couple years ago. He's been a revelation this year and can stop the run well. You'll see him all over the line.
*I can't help myself.