The Kansas City Chiefs will aim to get back on track this weekend with a matchup against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
Here are five things to keep in mind heading into game day.
1. Here's a look at the final injury report for both teams.
The Chiefs will be without tailback Isiah Pacheco (shoulder) and offensive tackle Donovan Smith (neck) on Sunday as each player will miss a second-straight week. The absence of Smith will likely mean another start at left tackle for rookie Wanya Morris, who made his first-career start last week vs. Buffalo.
As for Pacheco, Head Coach Andy Reid provided an encouraging update on Friday:
"Pacheco had surgery on his shoulder and had some things taken out that were floaters in there," Reid said. "He's doing well and moving around good. We'll probably anticipate getting him back next week."
In some good news, linebacker Drue Tranquill – who missed last week's game due to a concussion – has no injury designation for Sunday and should be good to go.
The Patriots will be without tailback Rhamondre Stevenson (ankle), who leads New England in rushing yards (619) and receptions (38). The Patriots also listed seven players as "Questionable," including defensive lineman Christian Barmore (shoulder), linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley (knee), offensive tackle Trent Brown (ankle/hand/illness), wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (ankle) and wide receiver Tyquan Thornton (hamstring).
Barmore, who was limited during Wednesday and Thursday's practices before not participating on Friday, leads New England with 37 pressures. Bentley – the Patriots' second-leading tackler – was a full participant all week before being listed as limited on Friday. On the other side of the ball, Brown is the Patriots' starting left tackle, while Smith-Schuster led New England in receiving yards (90) last week.
2. The Patriots own the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL.
New England has held opponents under 21 points in each of their last five games due in large part to the league's top rushing defense. The Patriots are allowing just 3.2 yards-per-carry this season – the best mark in the league – while surrendering the fewest rushes of 10+ yards (22) in the NFL. New England is also allowing opponents to gain 4+ yards on just 34.6 percent of rushes, which leads the league.
The Patriots own the league's No. 12 passing defense, however, yielding 231.2 yards-per-game on average through the air.
3. Creating pressure on Patriots' quarterback Bailey Zappe will be a major key on Sunday.
Zappe will make his third-straight start on Sunday after leading New England to a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. In was a tale of two games for Zappe through his first pair of starts, as he struggled against the Chargers in Week 13 before turning in a strong performance vs. Pittsburgh.
Here's a look at his numbers in each game:
Week 13: 13-of-25 passing (52%) for 141 yards, zero touchdowns and a 68.9 passer rating.
Week 14: 19-of-28 passing (67.9%) for 240 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a 115.2 passer rating.
Zappe also threw the ball further downfield last week and did so with success, averaging 8.57 yards-per-attempt (compared to a mark of 5.64 yards-per-attempt in Week 13). One area in which Zappe has consistently struggled, however, is when under pressure. Pro Football Focus ranks Zappe as the league's sixth-worst passer when under pressure this year among quarterbacks with 100+ dropbacks, and while he was quite effective overall last week, he still struggled when pressured.
Here's a closer look at his splits last week when pressured and when kept clean:
Under Pressure in Week 14: 2-of-7 passing (28.6%) for 21 yards, zero touchdowns and a 39.6 passer rating.
Kept Clean in Week 14: 17-of-21 passing (81%) for 219 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a 129.9 passer rating.
It's all to say that the Chiefs' ability to generate pressure on Zappe this weekend will be a major key to victory.
4. Tight end Travis Kelce is only 104 yards shy of his eighth-straight 1,000-yard season.
Kelce has 896 receiving yards this season – the most among all tight ends – and with just 104 yards through the air over his next four games, the All-Pro tight end will record an eighth-straight 1,000-yard campaign. That streak will trail only Buccaneers' wide receiver Mike Evans (10 straight) among all active players. In fact, only Jerry Rice (11), Mike Evans (10), Tim Brown (9), Cris Carter (8), Marvin Harrison (8) and Torry Holt (8) have such a streak in league history.
The future Pro Football Hall of Famer also now has 80 catches on the season, making him one of just four players – joining Torry Holt, Marvin Harrison and Jerry Rice – to post eight-straight seasons with 80+ catches.
Simply put, Kelce is one of the greatest players to ever take the field, and he's still contributing at an elite level.
5. The Patriots have the fifth-highest blitz rate in the NFL.
New England has blitzed opponents at the fifth-highest rate in the NFL this season, doing so at a 34.7 percent clip. They've done so consistently, too, recording at least 11 blitzes in all 13 games this season. Conversely, Chiefs' quarterback Patrick Mahomes has been the fourth-least blitzed passer in the league this year among quarterbacks with 350+ dropbacks.
Patriots' Head Coach Bill Belichick opted to blitz Mahomes just five times back in 2020, so it will be interesting to see how often New England sends additional rushers on Sunday.
It all makes for what should be a great opportunity for Kansas City on Sunday, and while the Chiefs are coming off back-to-back losses for the first time in more than two years, their goals are all still right there in front of them. Kansas City controls its destiny in the AFC West and still has a realistic chance of securing the top seed in the conference, but it's all moot if the Chiefs can't take care of their own business, and that objective begins on Sunday at 12 p.m. CT against New England.