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Patriots’ Potential Playoff Opponents: Chiefs

01.01.14 at 3:48 pm ET
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Jamaal Charles is the centerpiece of the Chiefs offense. (AP)

Jamaal Charles is the centerpiece of the Chiefs offense. (AP)

With the Patriots securely in the playoffs, it’€™s time to start sizing up their possible postseason opponents. This is a series on the rest of the AFC playoff teams. We’€™ve already taken a look at the Chargers and Colts. Now, it’€™s the Chiefs.

The skinny: The Chiefs started 9-0 and finished 11-5, taking second place in the AFC West and earning the first of two AFC wild-card spots. The jury is still out on Kansas City for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the Chiefs beat just one playoff team this year (the Eagles, on the road in Week 3). But with a few moments, the offense has been steady and consistent, leaning primarily on running back Jamaal Charles, while the defense has managed to keep them in games for most of the season. (The only time Kansas City was anywhere close to being on the losing end of a blowout was when it went down to Indy, 23-7, on Dec. 22.) In his first year at the helm of the Chiefs, Andy Reid has done a lot to turn the program around, and will get plenty of consideration when it comes to Coach of the Year consideration. They’€™ll travel to Indy for a date with the Colts on Saturday, and will be attempting to capture the first playoff win for the franchise since Joe Montana led the Chiefs past the Oilers in January 1994.

Offense: Charles is as dynamic an offensive option as they come. The running back leads the Chiefs in rushing (259 carries, 1,287 rushing yards, 12 TDs), as well as receiving (70 catches, 693 receiving yards, 7 TDs). The 5-foot-11, 199-pounder out of Texas is supported in the passing game by Dwayne Bowe (57 catches, 673 yards, 5 TDs) and Dexter McCluster (53 catches, 511 yards, 2 TDs). Quarterback Alex Smith has done a good job leaning on a wide variety of options this year — he hasn’€™t been statistically overwhelming, but he’€™s completed 61 percent of his passes (308-for-508) for 3,313 yards, to go along with 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Knile Davis has also augmented Charles in the running game with 70 carries for 242 yards and four TDs. For the most part, Smith, Bowe, McCluster and Davis all bring a high level of competitiveness to the Kansas City offense, but everything it does offensively flows through Charles. Numbers-wise, the Chiefs are pretty much middle of the pack when it comes to offense: they’€™re 21st in total offense (337.3 yards per game), tied for 24th in passing offense (208.8 yards per game) and 10th in rushing yards per game (128.5 yards per game). But they’€™re tied for sixth in points per game (26.9).

Defense: Justin Houston was Kansas City’€™s best defensive player, but the linebacker went down Nov. 24 with an elbow injury. In his absence, the Chiefs’€™ defense has struggled — KC’€™s points per game allowed was at 13.8 with him in the lineup for the first 10 games, but was 27.3 over the final six without him on the field. Some of that had to do with other things, but his impact is undeniable. Houston is expected back for Saturday’€™s wild-card game, but the rust from his time on the shelf will likely take some time to knock off. Even without Houston, the defense is still really impressive — they tied for fifth in the league in terms of points allowed (19.1 per game), and the +18 in the takeaway department is due in large part to a ball-hawking secondary that came away with 21 interceptions.

Why the Patriots should be afraid: Charles is the sort of multidimensional offensive option that gives defensive coordinators nightmares. He had four games where he rushed for 100 yards or more, and had four games where he had at least 50 receiving yards. He had an epic game against the Raiders in December when he had eight catches for 195 yards and five TDs. (I mean, it was against Oakland, but that’€™s nuts.) If Houston is back to anything near full strength, that defense will also be difficult to contain.

Why the Patriots shouldn’€™t be afraid: Kansas City is a young team with almost no playoff experience, and one that appeared to be a little overwhelmed when faced with the spotlight against some of the other elite teams in the league this season. In addition, while a game at Arrowhead might get a little dicey for New England, the thought of playing them at Gillette isn’€™t nearly as daunting.

One guy to look out for: Tamba Hali spent most of the season working opposite Houston at the right linebacker spot, and finished the year with 11 sacks. He’€™s not the consistent stud that he used to be — the 30-year-old saw most of his sacks come in bunches this season — but is still a handful for opposing tackles. According to Pro Football Focus, Hali led the Chiefs in quarterback hurries with 59. When you’€™re talking about slowing down the Kansas City defense, so much of the focus is on shutting down Houston, but Hali remains a priority.

Potential playoff villain: The Chiefs’€™ leading receiver from 2008 through 2011 (he had over 1,000 receiving yards in three of those four seasons), Bowe is no longer the primary offensive option for Kansas City — he’€™s clearly been usurped by Charles — but can still be a difficult cover. At 6-foot-2 and 221 pounds, the 29-year-old out of LSU is a big, rangy pass catcher who can really do some damage. Like Hali and Houston, Bowe has carved out some good numbers this season because so many defenses are focused on slowing down Charles.

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