The AFC Championship Game will not be the first this season between the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs: the two teams already met in week six in a prime time matchup that ended 43-40 in the Patriots’ favor. To draw any definitive conclusions from this game, however, is nearly impossible considering that both teams changed quite a bit over the last three months. Let’s analyze how the changes exactly look like.
Both teams have lost star offensive players
Kansas City’s most productive offensive skill position player in week six was running back Kareem Hunt, who gained 185 yards and scored a touchdown on just 15 touches. Just like Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon — he of five catches for 42 yards — he is no longer available for his team. Damien Williams is now the number one guy in the Chiefs’ offensive backfield instead, while Gordon’s role as the number two wideout was essentially given to Chris Hogan.
Kansas City’s defense has more depth
When the Patriots hung 43 points on them, the Chiefs did have neither outside linebacker Justin Houston nor safeties Eric Berry and Daniel Sorensen — at least two of which (Houston and Sorensen) are expected to see considerable snaps on Sunday. Adding all three players improves Kansas City’s overall depth and adds explosiveness to both the front seven and the secondary.
Houston in particular might provide a considerable boost. He sat out the last game between New England and Kansas City due to a hamstring injury but is now back to serve as an edge pass rusher alongside Dee Ford. In this role, the 29-year old registered 11.0 sacks so far this season — third most on the team behind Ford (14.0) and outstanding interior penetrator Chris Jones (15.5).
The Patriots’ and Chiefs’ secondaries have undergone a transformation
While the aforementioned Daniel Sorensen and Eric Berry have been added to the Chiefs’ defensive backfield since week six, two others have effectively left the equation: the club demoted cornerback Orlando Scandrick while straight-up releasing safety Ron Parker. The duo played 100% and 62% of defensive snaps in week six but was inconsistent at times, leading to the change. Parker’s role has gone to Sorensen, while Scandrick has been replaced by undrafted rookie Charvarius Ward — a player the Patriots might target on Sunday.
Speaking of undrafted rookie cornerbacks: J.C. Jackson happened in New England since week six. The undrafted rookie was inactive for the October game but has since grown into a starting cornerback for the Patriots, alongside Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty. As a result, Jonathan Jones is now more of a depth and special teams option while Devin McCourty has been allowed to play his natural deep safety role more often.
New England’s defensive line will look slightly differently...
While not the biggest of changes in a figurative sense, it might be the biggest quite literally: defensive tackle Danny Shelton played 61% of New England’s snaps in week six but it would be a surprise if this happened again on Sunday. After all, the team will have Malcom Brown available again after he sat out the 43-40 shootout due to a knee injury. With Brown back, Shelton will likely again see only a minor rotational role.
...as will the team’s offensive backfield
While both Sony Michel and James White played considerable roles on October 14 — they combined for 35 touches for 198 yards and two touchdowns — the depth alongside them was questionable: Kenjon Barner served as the number three back, with Cordarrelle Patterson and Julian Edelman also receiving hand-offs. While it would not be a surprise to see Patterson and Edelman again serve as ball carriers, Barner has been replaced by Rex Burkhead since. From the Patriots’ perspective, this is an upgrade on offense and special teams.
Ex-Patriot Jordan Devey will not start as the Chiefs’ right guard
Earlier this week, Kansas City activated Laurent Duvernay-Tardif off its injured reserve list. But even if he does not slide right back into his usual starting spot, the Chiefs will have a different player manning the right guard role: ex-Patriot Jordan Devey did it in week six, but he has since been placed on injured reserve. In his place, second-year man Andrew Wylie has been the starter — and a solid one at that.