Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski

FOXBORO -- When talking about the upcoming Patriots and Chiefs showdown on Sunday night, there's no shortage of storylines.

We've been pumping the Chiefs high octane offense with rising star Patrick Mahomes, and his expected duel with Tom Brady. There's also the highly-anticipated chess match between defensive mastermind Bill Belichick and offensive wizard Andy Reid, and all the implications down the road for the playoffs.

Almost lost in the mix is the matchup of the NFL's best tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce. They would be the headliners in most games. But with all the star power assembled, along with AFC supremacy dangling in the balance, they fall more under the heading of a fascinating subplot.

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce

Through five weeks, Kelce is third in the league in catches for a tight end (28), second in yards (407) and second in touchdowns (three). He's part of the Chiefs big three with running back Kareem Hunt and wideout Tyreek Hill.

Gronkowski isn't off to a great start due in part to a nagging ankle problem and being constantly double-teamed as the team's primary offensive threat. But he's still Gronk, and still a force.

Plus, his production should start to spike in the coming weeks with Julian Edelman back and Josh Gordon now factoring into the equation even more. Without those two, all the attention was on Gronk.

Currently, he ranks sixth in catches (23) and fifth in yards (308) with one touchdown.


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On Sunday night, it wouldn't be a surprise if both tight ends had monster games.

Patriots safety Duron Harmon explained why Kelce is so tough to defend. He falls into the category of a tight end who moves more like a receiver.

"He's as big as any tight end, but he has quickness like a receiver. He's very unique," said Harmon. "He catches the ball, then after he catches the ball, he does a good job running with the ball in his hands. They do a lot of different things getting him the ball. Last year, they handed him the ball off. That tells you what kind of athlete he is. That's going to be a big matchup for us. We have to do everything we can to slow him down."

Ditto the Chiefs with Gronk. While he might be hobbled a bit with an ankle that's not quite 100 percent, he's still a huge presence. Kansas City might not be able to double-team him with Edelman now running his routes in the middle of the field, and Gordon streaking down the sideline. So we'll see which tight end comes out on top.

Recently there's been some debate about which star is better, Gronk or Kelce. Naturally, Mahomes picked his tight end, just as Tom Brady would likely choose his guy.

"Yeah, I mean, on my list, I would rank Kelce the best tight end in football," Mahomes said via conference call with the media Wednesday. "I know Gronk has been a great tight end for a long time. But, I mean, I haven't gotten to play with Gronk. I've gotten to play with Kelce, and I've never seen anyone be able to do the things that he's done."

During a recent Monday Night Football game, commentator Jason Witten also went with Kelce, who like Gronk, is 29 years old.

What does Gronkowski think?

"I didn't even know he was the same age. That's pretty nuts actually," said Gronkowski, who has played four more seasons. "I just try to be the best I can be every single week, do my job every single week, the rankings and all that, the comparisons and all that, I'll leave that up to you guys (media) and whatever you say. I just try to do my best. I think he's a great player. I just have to worry about what I can do to help the team."

Last year, during a radio interview on the Dan Patrick Show, Kelce was asked how he compares with Gronkowski. Kelce basically explained why they really shouldn't be compared. He makes a great point.

"When I get the ball in my hands I'm a different type of athlete," he said. "Gronk's going to run around there like a Clydesdale, run through everything, like a big boulder. I'm more a guy who can make people miss, break somebody down with a juke move or slide off tackles. Gronk can just break everything."

Even with their differences, it sounds like Kelce enjoys watching Gronk. 

, who has an NFL-leading five seasons with 10 or more touchdowns by a tight end, and has led all tight ends in receiving yards four times in his career (2011, 2014, 2015, 2017).

The Patriots tight end also enjoys watching his counterpart. He said he can learn from guys like Kelce.

"I've seen many other tight ends play before in the league and he's quick, he's shifty, which is very crucial to have," said Gronk. "He knows how to get separation and get away from the defender. So he's a great player. I like watching him play too when I get a chance."

On Sunday night, they'll get to watch each other up close. Like Brady-Mahomes, it's another dream matchup that's bound to make this AFC showdown a classic.