FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Kansas City Chiefs have had some unlikely heroes in some of their victories from recent seasons. Joe McKnight caught two touchdown passes in a victory over the Miami Dolphins in 2014. Knile Davis returned a kickoff for a score in a 2015 playoff game against the Houston Texans. Nick Foles was their star in a win last year over the Indianapolis Colts.
But in some games, the Chiefs know there will be some players they'll need to count on. Thursday night's season opener against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots is one of those games.
Here are five players (other than quarterback Alex Smith, who always has this burden) who need to play big for the well for the Chiefs to beat the Patriots:
TE Travis Kelce: He had 23 receiving yards when the Chiefs played the Patriots in the playoffs after the 2015 season. That's one reason the Chiefs couldn't keep pace with New England that day. If Kelce is again a non-factor, the Chiefs have no chance to win this time, either. New England will again try to eliminate him as a threat, something Kelce seemed resigned to this week when he said, “Just about every third down I got doubled or some type of bracket coverage. They tried to hammer me off the line and do whatever they [could] to get in my head. But it's football. I know it's coming and it's going to be fun to see all the other guys when they're singled up, and I'm getting bracketed, have some success.” The Chiefs couldn't make that strategy work the last time. Maybe having Tyreek Hill, who didn't join the Chiefs until 2016, will make a difference. But the Chiefs can't count on that. They have to get something of significance from their best and most accomplished receiver.
S Ron Parker: He isn't a playmaker like fellow Kansas City defensive backs Eric Berry and Marcus Peters but don't let that fool you. Parker is one of the Chiefs' most valuable defensive players because he's so versatile. Not having Parker, who was listed on the final injury report of the week as questionable to play against the Patriots, would be a significant loss. The Chiefs aren't afraid to use him in man coverage, as a deep safety, in the box as a run defender or to rush the quarterback. He can do all of those things well. The Chiefs usually make good use of all of Parker's qualities but they're most valuable against the Patriots, who will test the Chiefs with a variety of formations and personnel groupings. The Chiefs were coy this week about their plans to cover for the loss of starting cornerback Steven Nelson, who was placed on the injured reserve list after having core muscle surgery. The multiple abilities of Parker undoubtedly will be a factor in whatever strategy the Chiefs come up with.
RB Kareem Hunt: The third-round draft choice inherited the starting role when Spencer Ware was lost for the season with a knee injury. But Hunt was going to play a significant amount this season even if Ware had stayed healthy. Hunt early on showed the Chiefs an ability to handle whatever they were giving him in the run and pass games. He was particularly impressive as a pass receiver, where he showed the ability to beat coverage down the field and make the difficult catch. The Chiefs must have another consistent threat on the field against the Patriots, someone to join Kelce and Hill in that category. Hunt is the most logical candidate.
S Eric Berry: It's difficult to picture the Chiefs beating the Patriots with forcing a turnover or two. Berry had the knack for making a big play at a crucial time last year. His fourth-quarter interception and touchdown return ignited a successful comeback against the Panthers. His pick-six and interception return during a two-point conversion were the big plays in a one-point victory over the Falcons. It's what Berry has come to do, in addition to his steady down to down presence. He'll probably be around the ball more than cornerback Marcus Peters, who had 13 interceptions in his first 21 NFL games and one in 10 games since in part because teams have tended to throw away from Peters.
NT Bennie Logan: Nobody outside of the New England locker room and coaching offices knows how the Patriots will attack the Chiefs. They might try to throw on every down. Assuming New England's game plan to be more conventional, the Chiefs can make their job on defense that much easier by shutting down the Patriots' running game. Logan, the Chiefs' major free-agent addition this year, is a key figure in that. Quarterback Tom Brady should be easier for the Chiefs to deal with if the Patriots are forced to become one-dimensional. Logan missed some time in the preseason because of a sore knee but he practiced this week and should be ready for a full workload against the Patriots.