Four years ago, on a Monday night in late September, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick were crushed in Kansas City. It seemed to many like the beginning of the end and the demise of the New England Patriots.
Of course, the 27-point blowout was an aberration and what followed was a media overreaction. The Chiefs are off to another hot start, this time led by a new young gun, Patrick Mahomes, who’s ready to step up and challenge the old champions. This time, the showdown is on Sunday night in Foxborough. There are 256 games in the NFL regular season and this might be the most intriguing one.
Kansas City, 5-0 straight up and against the spread, is a 3½-point underdog to the Patriots, who wobbled on shaky legs while losing twice in September. Mahomes is on pace to be league MVP. Brady still is the champ — of the AFC, at least. This is Tommy Gunn challenging Rocky Balboa to a fight in the street.
A month ago, New England probably would have lost this game. But the Patriots are on the upswing in October, mostly because Brady is directing a more dangerous offense. His big tight end, Rob Gronkowski, is healthy again. His favorite little slot receiver, Julian Edelman, has returned. (It’s interesting to note that when Brady and Edelman both play, the Patriots are 36-0 against AFC opponents at Gillette Stadium.) Brady has a deep group of receivers and two talented running backs, rookie Sony Michel and James White, to round out the attack.
That’s all bad news for Kansas City, which ranks last in the league in total defense (461.8 yards per game) and is not facing Blake Bortles or Case Keenum this week. The Chiefs sorely miss their best defensive player, safety Eric Berry, and pass-rushing outside linebacker Justin Houston is injured and unlikely to play.
The total of 59½ to 60 indicates a shootout because Belichick’s defense has holes, too. Still, expect the Patriots to show Mahomes some schemes he has yet to see in his brief career, and the truth is Mahomes is cooling off. He has 14 touchdown passes but only four in the past three games while his passer rating declined in each of the past three weeks.
Belichick is 11-3 ATS in his past 14 regular-season home games, and Brady lives for challenges like this. The public will be tempted by the hot ‘dog getting 3½. But just as an aging Rocky took down the young Gunn, this could be a case of Brady and Belichick taking Mahomes to school. I’ll lay the points with the Patriots.
Four more plays for Week 6 (home team in CAPS):
* BROWNS (-1) over Chargers:
All five of Cleveland’s games have gone to the wire — each decided by four points or fewer — and this will, too. Baker Mayfield has energized the Browns’ offense, but their defense is the top unit in this matchup. Cleveland, which allowed only three field goals to the Ravens last week, ranks 12th in scoring defense while the Chargers rank 20th by allowing 26 points per game. The Browns held down Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and Joe Flacco, so they should do the same to Philip Rivers.
* Steelers (plus-1½) over BENGALS: Pittsburgh’s dominance against Atlanta last week did not solve all of its problems, but Ben Roethlisberger also dominates Cincinnati. The Steelers have won six straight, nine of 10 and 14 of the past 17 in this AFC North series. The Big Ben-Antonio Brown connection was stronger last week, when James Conner (21 rushes for 110 yards, four receptions for 75 yards) did an impressive imitation of Le’Veon Bell. It’s always tough buy in on the Bengals, especially in this rivalry.
* BRONCOS (plus-7) over Rams: With temperatures in the 20s and light snow in the forecast, the Denver defense could get some help in slowing a Los Angeles offense that’s scoring 34.6 points per game. Vance Joseph is the NFL coach on the hottest seat and his defense, which just surrendered 512 yards to the Jets, is a debacle. Yet there are some positives for the Broncos. The Von Miller-led defensive front is talented and will put some heat on Jared Goff. Case Keenum has playmakers — running backs Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman and wideouts Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas and Courtland Sutton — and the Rams’ run defense was exposed last week in Seattle. The Rams will have a significant coaching edge, but Denver is a desperate home ‘dog.
* Jaguars (-3) over COWBOYS: The Dallas offense has produced more than 20 points only once in five games. While both defenses rank in the league’s top 10, Jacksonville is No. 1. The Jaguars did not allow a Mahomes touchdown pass and picked him off twice a week ago, so good luck to Dak Prescott. The elephant in the stadium is Blake Bortles, who was intercepted four times, sacked five times and lost a fumble in a 30-14 loss at Kansas City. It’s risky to bet on Bortles to bounce back, so this play is more about the Jacksonville defense.
Last week: 2-3 against the spread