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Thursday, 07 September 2017 19:04

Patriots Preview: Everything You Need to Know For Patriots-Chiefs (P.S. Tom Brady Is FIRED UP)

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Tom Brady Tom Brady AP Photo

The Patriots unveil their fifth Super Bowl banner before taking on the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2017 NFL season opener at Gillette Stadium.

In each of the four previous occasions the Patriots have raised a Super Bowl banner, they've done so in primetime and each time with a win. The closest they've come to losing was in 2004 when they edged the Indianapolis Colts, 27-24, when Mike Vanderjagt missed a field goal in the closing seconds.

The Patriots have played the Steelers twice on banner night, beating Pittsburgh, 30-14, in the 2002 season opener and 28-21 in the most recent ceremony in 2015. That was the night that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin complained of hearing radio play-by-play calls in his headsets and said after he wasn't surprised because things like that always seem to happen to opponents in Foxboro. In 2005, the Patriots beat Randy Moss and the Oakland Raiders, 30-20.

Tom Brady went to Instagram to let his fans know he's more than ready and fired up for the opener and the season.

This banner night also coincides with the 9-year anniversary of the most infamous season-opener in the Belichick Super Bowl-era. Ironically, Tom Brady tore his ACL against the same opponent they'll be playing in the 2017 opener. Matt Cassel came on in relief and the Patriots won the game, 17-10, and finished 11-5. But that was not good enough for a playoff spot and marked the last time the Patriots did not win the division or qualify for the playoffs.

In the eight seasons since, Brady has thrown for over 35,000 yards, connected on 259 touchdown throws earned an NFL MVP (2010) and appeared in three Super Bowls, winning his last two. He has taken the Patriots to the AFC Championship in a record six straight seasons.

With concerts in Boston and parties all around Patriot Place leading up to kickoff, opening night figures to be a carnival atmosphere. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is expected in the building to congratulate owner Robert Kraft. Goodell visited Gillette four weeks ago when the Patriots opened the preseason against Jacksonville. David Portnoy of Barstool Sports has promised to hand out 70,000 towels with the infamous Roger Goodell clown nose emblazoned on each one. This was the same logo on the shirt worn by Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia as he came off the plane returning from Houston in February that reportedly ruffled the feathers of Goodell and those in the Commissioner's office.

According to Sports Illustrated, the Patriots have agreed not to incite the crowd and will not show the Commissioner on their video board inside Gillette Stadium during the game. The Commissioner will also likely just greet Kraft and Patriots officials on the field beforehand before heading up to a suite.

The fifth Super Bowl banner will be unveiled to the far right of the previous four, as crews had to construct a new hanging edifice below the Gillette Stadium sign in the south end to accommodate the newest banner. Robert Kraft indicated to Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald that there's now room for 11 championship banners should the need arise.

Once the banner is unveiled and pomp and circumstance is out of the way, here are five things to look for:

Who will most immediately fill Julian Edelman's role when Tom Brady needs a completion on third down? Danny Amendola is the most likely candidate to fill the slot role because of his familiarity with the offense and the trust he's built with Brady. Behind Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, Amendola is Brady's most trusted target. Chris Hogan is quickly rising up the charts as well.

What roles will Brandin Cooks and Phillip Dorsett take early on in the season?This hinges on just how much time Brady has to throw and how well he's able to get his eyes downfield. We saw Brady able to throw deep to Cooks in joint practices against the Jaguars and Texans but not in any preseason action. Were the Patriots just keeping their new speedster under wraps? Also of note, Cooks is considered just as dangerous with intermediate routes as he is running deep. As for Dorsett, the Patriots dealt Jacoby Brissett to Indy to acquire yet another speedster in their offense and a potential candidate to return punts with the losses of Edelman and Cyrus Jones to ACL tears. Vertical speed should open up underneath routes for the likes of Amendola, Gronkowski and the running backs.

What shape with the Patriots' running game take? The most impressive back in the preseason was Rex Burkhead. He showed an ability to run between the tackles and catch passes, giving the Patriots the best of James White and Dion Lewis in one player. White is a better pass-catcher and another big option for Brady on third down while Lewis can still run very, very effectively inside. But with Burkhead, the Patriots have a back who can legitimately do both without sacrificing much. Burkhead wasn't used much in Cincinnati but after watching just one game (against the Texans), it's pretty obvious the Patriots have bigger plans. One would assume Burkhead's injury in the week before the Lions game was minor as he did not appear on this week's injury report.

Who will generate edge rush? This is the biggest question for the Patriots defense heading into the season and it only got muddier in the preseason. The Patriots drafted Deatrich Wise and Derek Rivers. Rivers has been lost for the season with an ACL tear while Wise missed time in the preseason with a concussion against Jacksonville. Wise did not appear on the injury report this week so he should be ready to go. Kony Ealy was acquired in the offseason in a trade with the Panthers but couldn't pick up the Patriots' scheme quickly enough. He's now with the Jets. There's so much uncertainty that Rob Ninkovich told CSNNE that he's not ruling out a return from retirement. Of course, this is a Patriots defense that still has Dont'a Hightower, Trey Flowers, Alan Branch, Lawrence Guy and newcomer Cassius Marsh. Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia are hoping that's enough for now with the likes of Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Patrick Chung behind them.

Who starts the season returning punts? This is a fascinating angle to watch as Belichick values ball security and field position as much as anything in football. He wants someone back there who can consistently handle the task. This would lead one to think Danny Amendola because of his experience in the role and the trust Belichick has in him. But there's the exposure risk with a player who's had trouble staying healthy over the course of his career. Could Belichick try Dorsett? The 24-year-old former first-round pick hasn't returned punts on a regular basis since his sophomore year at the University of Miami. He returned a handful of punts in his rookie season of 2015 but was relegated to receiving duties with the Colts. Patrick Chung, Chris Hogan, Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis are all candidates as well. Whoever gets the call will be an indication of Belichick's trust level in that player.

Time for football.

Patriots Beat

Patriots Beat is a weekly podcast dedicated to coverage of the New England Patriots.

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