Smell that in the air? That's football. Real, honest to goodness, NFL football. Not that preseason stuff where they scores really don't matter. Not that college game where every student on the roll is on the roster. Professional, American football and the new season kicks off tonight with the world champion New England Patriots hosting the Kansas City Chiefs. Both teams are coming off a division winning season with the Patriots going 14-2 and the Chiefs 12-4, but both teams have some questions as the season begins.
The Patriots have the bar set high after winning their fifth Super Bowl with coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady out of seven tries. The team went out and got a few upgrades like wider receiver Brandin Cooks from the New Orleans Saints. But their plans took a detour when slot receiver and Brady's favorite target, Julian Edelman, went down for the season with a torn ACL. The team has tried to compensate by trading their third string quarterback Jacoby Brissett to the Indianapolis Colts for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. Now the natural though is that Dorsett will fill in for Edelman, but that's not the type of receiver Dorsett is. What's more likely to happen is that Dorsett will line up outside and Chris Hogan will move into the slot. But now you're asking one player to catch up to speed quickly and another to change position. It will take a little while to see if the pieces fit in the new configuration but now the games are real. But Brady and company are good enough they should be able to play through any difficulty and have running back Mike Gillislee carry a few extra times to offset.
The Chiefs are coming off a good year that ended in the playoffs against the Pittsburgh Steelers. They needed some slight improvements to move further into the playoffs, but the truth is they don't seem to have made them. They are returning most of last years team except their top wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who they cut. And they used their first round pick on quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, which was a bit of a head scratcher as it wasn't an area of need. Starting quarterback Alex Smith isn't going to be amazing, but he is dependable and you put the right weapons around him and a good defence he will win games. Mahomes wasn't a once-in-a-lifetime player just sitting there when the Chiefs picked. Smith is once again the starter on a team that has to look over his shoulder. That's what happened in San Francisco. The team could get back to the playoffs again, but I don't see them having improved any over last season.
Even with the injuries and shifting positions, the Patriots are at home and Brady isn't slowing down even at the age of 40. He's 101-17 at Gilette Stadium and I expect that it will be 102 tonight. The game starts at 5:30 PST / 8:30 EST and will be broadcast on NBC.