There can be no better measuring stick for the Chiefs and young quarterback Patrick Mahomes than what they face Sunday night.
Beat the Patriots in Foxborough and all that excitement in Kansas City might be validated.
Remember, though, that the Chiefs, with Alex Smith, went into Gillette Stadium and won the 2017 kickoff to the season. They went on an up-and-down ride the rest of the way, lost in the wild-card playoff round, while the Patriots straightened out and made the Super Bowl before losing to Philadelphia.
Mahomes, of course, has looked immune to any sort of high-stakes pressure in leading the Chiefs (5-0) to the top of the AFC. He embraces this challenge and trying to outdo Tom Brady.
"It is going to be a great opportunity," says Mahomes, who has a league-best 14 touchdown passes. "He is one of the greatest quarterbacks, if not the greatest to ever play. I am going against their defense, but as a team we are going to go in and try to compete. They are a good team in the AFC every single year. Just to compete against one of the best teams in the league is going to be an awesome opportunity."
How familiar is Mahomes with three-time league MVP Brady, whom he has never met?
"I definitely watched a good amount of him in college (at Texas Tech)," he says. "Coach (Kliff) Kingsbury actually played with Tom at one point. He liked to show me some things that he did where he was in the pocket, his pocket movements and things like that. I have definitely taken some things from him. He does it at such a high level, it's something you have to strive to be like."
New England (3-2) is striving to be, well, New England. After a 1-2 start, the Patriots appear to have gotten back on their usual winning path.
The weekend began with Philadelphia's 34-13 road victory over the New York Giants. Carson Wentz threw a season-high three touchdown passes for the Eagles (3-3). They beat the Giants (1-5) for the fourth straight time and seventh in eight games.
Off this week are Detroit (2-3) and New Orleans (4-1)
Pittsburgh (2-2-1) at Cincinnati (4-1)
One of the NFL's most vicious and yellow-tinted rivalries . As in:
—These teams combined for four penalties for unnecessary roughness, one for unsportsmanlike conduct, one for taunting, one for roughing the passer, and two 15-yard penalties for grabbing a facemask in their previous meeting.
—Cincinnati set a club record with 173 yards in penalties in that messy affair, when the Steelers overcame a 17-0 deficit to win.
More numbers of note:
—The Steelers have won the past six games in this series, nine of 10 and 14 of 17.
—The Bengals are 8-24 vs. the Steelers under coach Marvin Lewis
—Lewis is 2-15 at Paul Brown Stadium against Pittsburg.
— Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is 24-4-1 in his native Ohio, including the postseason. He's 13-2 at Paul Brown Stadium with 23 TDs, 10 interceptions.
Los Angeles Chargers (3-2) at Cleveland (2-2-1)
When last they met in Cleveland, the Browns won in their 15th game to avoid a perfect season on the wrong side of the ledger. So they lost every game in 2017, including at the Chargers.
"Not to speak too much of last year, but I could not believe and I did not feel like they were an 0-16 team or 0-14, whatever they were when we played them last year," says Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. "It was a good football team. They just did not find ways to win and so many (games) they had opportunities."
They've got two wins already and lead the NFL with 15 takeaways, two more than in the entire 2017 season.
Baltimore (3-2) at Tennessee (3-2)
Two clubs coming off down weekends: Tennessee was punchless at Buffalo, Baltimore was inept offensively at Cleveland.
Both can play D, though, so don't expect a lot of end zone activity in Music City.
The Ravens are playing a third straight road game, then have four of the next five at home. They lead the NFL in scoring defense, allowing 15.4 points per game, with no TDs in a second half.
The Titans have allowed seven points in the first quarter and lead in red zone defense, allowing three TDs in 13 possessions for a 23.1 percent success rate by opponents.
Chicago (3-1) at Miami (3-2)
The Bears have won three in a row and come off a bye. They haven't earned four straight wins since 2012.
With Khalil Mack revitalizing the defense, Chicago ranks No. 1 against the run and second overall. If second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky truly has found the passing rhythm — his six TD throws in a rout of Tampa Bay tied for second most in an NFL game — the Bears needs to be taken seriously.
Miami was taken seriously until it laid eggs at New England and Cincinnati, where it blew a 17-0 lead. The Dolphins rank third worst in yards and fifth worst in points. They have been outgained by 94 yards per game, which ranks third worst.
Carolina (3-1) at Washington (2-2)
Washington was on the wrong end of the record-setting Brees blitz through the air in New Orleans, and was damaged as much by penalties as inefficient defense. The usually precise Alex Smith threw an interception and was generally off-target.
Now comes Carolina, which has seven picks, is plus-5 in turnovers, and has nine sacks. The Panthers also have the NFL's top rushing offense, in part because quarterback Cam Newton is such a weapon on the ground. Newton is 4-0 with nine TDs and zero picks for a 115.4 passer rating vs. Washington, along with two rushing scores.
Washington has lost five straight to Carolina.
Los Angeles Rams (5-0) at Denver (2-3)
While Denver's defense has been getting Orange Crushed recently, LA's offense has looked unstoppable. Jared Goff leads the league with 1,727 yards passing and ranks second with a 119.7 passer rating. In the past month, Goff is averaging 374 yards per game.
Todd Gurley tops the NFL with seven TD runs and ranks second with 645 scrimmage yards. Of concern for the impressive receiving group is that Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp each left last week's win at Seattle with concussions.
Denver star LB Von Miller has gone sackless the past three weeks. The Broncos yielded 323 rushing yards to the Jets, so, yes, that has caught Gurley's attention.
Jacksonville (3-2) at Dallas (2-3)
Oddly, Dallas has never won its first three home games at Jerry World.
With RB Leonard Fournette still hurt, the showpiece matchup with Ezekiel Elliott disappears. Elliott has been the prime weapon for Dallas and is averaging 154 yards from scrimmage per game in the past three. But the passing game is 30th as Dak Prescott struggles without a topnotch receiver.
He'll face the stingiest defense in the NFL.
Seattle (2-3) vs. Oakland (1-4) at London
Wonder if the Raiders will have as many fans in Wembley as they did in StubHub Center. They could really use the support as Jon Gruden's return season spirals out of control.
"I'm going to continue to emphasize the good and do everything I can to fix the things that are bad, because most of the things that are bad, my fingerprints are all over," Gruden said.
Such as a defense, minus the traded Mack of course, that ranks 30th. Oakland has the fewest QB pressures in the league (29), tied for fewest sacks (six), and is tied for third-fewest takeaways (five).
Seattle makes its first regular-season overseas appearance. Worth watching:
—Pete Carroll seeks his 91st win with the team to pass Mike Holmgren as winningest coach for the franchise.
—Russell Wilson is 25-6 after a loss, the best record of any quarterback since the merger.
—Seahawks kicker Sebastian Janikowski spent 18 seasons with the Raiders, holding the franchise record for points (1,799) and games (268).
Indianapolis (1-4) at New York Jets (2-3)
If any team needed the long layoff from a Thursday nighter, it was the Colts. They went into New England undermanned and then got hammered with more injuries, giving them little chance against the Patriots.
Assuming they are somewhat healthier, this is a far better chance for Indy to straighten out its season. Andrew Luck's arm looks strong, but who does he have to throw to if T.Y. Hilton isn't in the lineup?
New York opened up its offense in a win over Denver, letting Sam Darnold occasionally fling the ball downfield and it led to some huge plays. The Colts are vulnerable to that.
Buffalo (2-3) at Houston (2-3)
Each team comes off a tight victory in which the offenses were stagnant, while the defenses and kicking games were decisive.
Houston wants things more open when it has the ball, with Deshaun Watson connecting on throws to DeAndre Hopkins. Buffalo's solid second-year cornerback Tre'Davious White, will be tested.
Apparently fully healthy after two tough years, Texans DE J.J. Watt is tied for the NFL lead with six sacks. Watt had an 80-yard interception return for a score in his previous game against the Bills in Houston, a 23-17 win in 2014.
Arizona (1-4) at Minnesota (2-2-1)
What could be a mismatch — Arizona has the NFL's worst offense and has scored all of 65 points — has one intriguing element. Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, a likely Hall of Famer, returns to his hometown for the sixth time in his 15-year career, with an average of 87.4 receiving yards and no touchdowns at Minnesota.
On the other side, wideout WR Adam Thielen leads the league in receptions (47) and is second in yards (589). He's also first in third-down catches (14). Thielen is the third player in NFL history with five 100-yard games to start a season, the first since 1961.
San Francisco (1-4) at Green Bay (2-2-1), Monday night
Following a stinker at home to hand Arizona its first win, the Niners go to the prime-time showcase against Green Bay, which is following a stinker of its own at Detroit.
Both teams struggle to protect the ball, and the 49ers can't find ways to take it away from opponents; they have a league-low one interception and have forced three turnovers.
Of special interest for the Pack: Mason Crosby went 1 for 5 on field goals and missed his only extra-point try at Detroit.
Tampa Bay (2-2) at Atlanta (1-4)
No one played worse the past two weeks than the Bucs. But the Falcons were close.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston gets back his starting job following a bye; he was suspended for the first three games, when Ryan Fitzpatrick was either magical or mediocre. Tampa's defense has been dreadful.
Then again, so has Atlanta's, which is ravaged by injuries. It ranks worst in points allowed and worst in third-down percentage. The offense struggles to protect Matt Ryan and to generate a running game.
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