After dropping four of their final six games, after having numerous injuries to key players at key positions, and after Chandler Jones was admitted to a hospital this week, the New England Patriots open the playoffs this Saturday with a great deal of uncertainty.
Yes, they’re favored to beat the Chiefs, who have won 11 straight games, but something just feels . . . off.
“It’s not your typical Patriots year that you normally would assign with them winning a Super Bowl,” CBS broadcaster Ian Eagle said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “The injuries have been a really big part of the story. What’s happened to them at running back, most teams would not be able to bounce back from when you lose guys that have the talent and fit the way that Dion Lewis did and LeGarrette Blount did. Now you’re asking more of James White and Brandon Bolden. They bring in Steven Jackson, they kick the tires, and they decide, ‘Hey, let’s give it a shot. We feel like there might be something left in the tank.’ Wouldn’t it be just like the Patriots for Steven Jackson to have a huge game somehow? To play a big role in this divisional game? You haven’t seen him all year, he pops in for the final few weeks of the season, and then boom, he plays some kind of deep impactful role in a playoff game.”
Jackson had 21 carries for just 50 yards in New England’s final two games, but he did find the end zone once and record a 20-yard reception against Miami.
Still, it’s going to be tough for Jackson, 32, to have a breakout game against a stout Kansas City defense, especially since the Pats have gone eight straight games without a player rushing for more than 66 yards. In fact, New England has had just one 100-yard rusher all season. That was Blount in a Week 9 home win over Washington.
“The offensive line, it’s been rough sledding,” Eagle said. “The fact that Tom Brady has had the season he’s had with that makeshift offensive line, it’s pretty amazing. They’ve had 13 different offensive line combinations this season. That’s nuts. That doesn’t equate to success. San Diego’s had the same (number of combinations). We know where they are right now. There’s a reason you need stability on the O-Line.”
New England, to its credit, has reinvented itself offensively seemingly every week depending on the opponent. That’s nothing new for the Patriots, but they had to do that with more regularity this year than in years past.
“This team comes up with new ways to affect a defense,” Eagle said. “That’s part of the problem when you’re preparing for them. Sometimes you prepare for stuff that you’re not even going to see, and that now has taken you out of your game and your preparation week. I think Andy Reid has been doing this long enough that he won’t let that happen, and Bob Sutton knows this offense well. He just does. He knew it from his Jets days. We saw it last year in the Week 4 game when they annihilated the Patriots. I don’t think the Chiefs are intimidated by the idea of going into Gillette and winning this game.”
Kickoff is at 4:35 p.m. ET.