Archive for September, 2011

Reevaluating

I try not to overreact to things that go on in football, especially since we’re only a few days removed from the first slate of games. But what we saw from Kansas City against Buffalo (and Indianapolis against Houston) warrants some reconsideration of what I said in my Season Preview.

Houston now has to be the odds on favorite to win the AFC South after realizing just how valuable Peyton Manning is to the Colts. And while the devastating injury to Eric Berry doesn’t change San Diego’s position as AFC West frontrunner, it could possibly change the landscape of spots 2-4 in the division.

Last Sunday’s debacle against Buffalo was pretty disheartening for Chiefs fans all around. If there is one positive to take away from it, the team did have 18 carries for 108 yards. Sure, some of it came in garbage time, but at least they proved that in a closer game, when passing isn’t a complete necessity all of the time, this is still a team that can control the ball and move the chains.

That said, I don’t think it could have gone any worse. Matt Cassel completed a solid percentage of his passes, but 119 yards on 22 completions is unacceptable (and he had 3.3 yards per attempt! An absurdly low number).* Dexter McCluster fumbling on the opening play of the game was even worse. The team was -2 on turnovers, and the front seven looked like a junior varsity squad against Fred Jackson and the Bills’ ground attack. And to add insult to injury (or the other way around I guess), Eric Berry is now out for the year with a torn ACL. Again, I try not to overreact, but seeing all of these deficiencies after one week does not paint a very optimistic picture.

*He’s certainly come a long way, without a doubt. But just seeing Tom Brady operate against the Dolphins Monday night served as a stark reminder of just how long Cassel has to go as well.

Frankly though, I refuse to let one crappy week of football dictate my optimism for this team down the road, which remains extremely high. While, my expectations for this year have been lowered a good amount, I think this injury will really do nothing but good for the team in the long term. The absence of Berry (and Tony Moeaki) will force other players to improve their games at an even higher rate. Kendrick Lewis is no all-pro in the defensive backfield, but now that he is one the best playmakers the Kansas City secondary possesses, it is mostly on him to become a better safety on the fly. What’s more, the front seven will need an improved pass rush from guys like Justin Houston, Tyson Jackson, and Glenn Dorsey, to make it easier on that secondary. If a season’s small hopes are pinned on some of our more talented young players getting better, this is something I can definitely live with…the Chiefs aren’t New England or Pittsburgh yet. 

As far as records go, its not like Berry’s injury will make the Chiefs go from a seven to nine win team to a two to four win team. But there could be just enough extra losses to get a very high draft pick, and a great chance to improve this team even more along with it.* After this season, Cassel will have 3 years left on his contract. Wouldn’t that be the perfect amount of time to let a good young quarterback sit and develop and learn (like Matt Barkley, Kellen Moore, Landry Jones…..or, gasp, Andrew Luck) and be able to take the reins after his contract is up? That sounds like a great situation to me.

*Just to get an idea: Dallas had the 9th pick in the 2011 draft with 6 wins, and Arizona had the 5th pick with as many as 5 wins. Kansas City does not need to lose 14 games to get a special player.

A buddy of mine also presented the idea that if this year turns out as bad as many now think it will, the first reaction of the media and less educated fans will be to call last year’s 10-6 record a fluke. While that will make many of the diehards angry, I doubt too many of the players even care. And if they do, won’t that just motivate them even more for next season? The “nobody believed in us”/”us against the world” mantra has taken teams very far in the past. I wouldn’t mind it at all if the players want to use that next season, or even this season.

Furthermore, Eric Berry may be losing a year of playing time. But he also left college a year early for the NFL. And he doesn’t turn 23 until December, making him even younger than most people would guess. While he won’t be able to physically play the game, this is a chance for him to get the technical/schematic aspects of Romeo Crennel’s system locked down. Yeah, there is definitely no substitution for learning by trial (in this case, with pads and a helmet, and against an offense), but I think there is also something to be said about learning from the sidelines.* And if anything, this will only get him all the more juiced for next season.

*Just ask Aaron Rodgers

I’m sure the biggest concern, though, is how this will affect Berry in the big picture. Well, upon listening to an interview from one of ESPN’s doctors (although, I can’t be sure how good the doctors are that ESPN has for guest spots), I learned that Berry should be a go for the start of training camp next year. Even better, he also noted that 95% of people who suffer ACL injuries like Berry’s go on to make full recoveries; gaining full range and all of the athletic capabilities possessed pre-injury. More than anything, the hardest thing for Berry to get back will be his confidence in planting that leg and making cuts on it, something I doubt he’ll have much of a problem with.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Progress this season won’t mean more wins or a division championship. Because of injuries and a tougher schedule, comparing this season with last season would be like trying to compare Kate Upton with this poor girl. The situations and surrounding circumstances are just different.

In an ideal world, Eric Berry stays healthy and plays the whole season. He continues to improve and he asserts himself as the heir apparent to the likes of Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu. But if you are looking for an ideal world, the NFL would probably be last on your list of places to visit. It sucks that he won’t be able to play anymore. It puts even more pressure on the entire team, and especially the secondary, to perform even better than originally expected. But sometimes, the NFL sucks.

It will be difficult for this team to win more than 6 or 7 games (that would have been difficult even if Berry and Moeaki were still healthy). But from the guys that are already on the roster to the guys that will be after April of 2012, to many other factors (WARNING: talking long-term here, something that requires patience, understanding etc)…I just don’t see how this injury doesn’t benefit the Kansas City Chiefs.

WEEK 2 PICKS (Home team in CAPS)

WASHINGTON over Arizona

Philadelphia over ATLANTA

Baltimore over TENNESSEE

BUFFALO over Oakland

GREEN BAY over Carolina

NEW ORLEANS over Chicago

DENVER over Cincinnati

INDIANAPOLIS over Cleveland

Dallas over SAN FRANCISCO

DETROIT over Kansas City

Houston over MIAMI

NEW YORK JETS over Jacksonville

MINNESOTA over Tampa Bay

NEW ENGLAND over San Diego

NEW YORK GIANTS over St. Louis

PITTSBURGH over Seattle

Last Week: 11-5

Overall: 11-5

NFL Season Preview

Editor’s Note: As I said in yesterday’s column, predicting just a single season for a single team presents a seriously thin margin for error. So now just multiply that by 32 and add in all of my award and playoff predictions and that’s what you’re getting today. If even half of these turn out to be “sort of” correct, I will consider today’s deal a success.

Well the football year officially begins in just one day, and I think all of the the lockout business during the summer only hyped it up even more. And as is always the case with the NFL, there is no shortage of storylines. When will Peyton Manning return to the field and return to form? Will Philadelphia be able to live up to the high expectations this year? Can Green Bay defend their championship? How will all of the coaches on the hot seat respond this year? And I would be remiss to not include Cam Newton’s name as well.

Concerning gameplay, I think the most important thing for teams looking to win is continuity from the previous season. That is always important no matter the situation, but this year more than others for the simple fact that there were basically no football activities, practices, etc. for the entire summer. Teams that had low personnel turnover, like Green Bay and Pittsburgh, or the ones that got together for an unusually high amount of player organized workouts, like New Orleans, will benefit the most. Thats not to say it is the end-all-be-all for teams who think they can win now, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.

As far as the win-loss predictions go, I went through every team’s schedule, and went with a pretty quick call on every single game that was played. And to ensure accuracy with records, I didn’t forget to carry games over. To explain, when going through Chicago’s slate of games for example, I put them as Week 9 losers at Philadelphia. When I was finished there, I made sure to go to Philadelphia’s schedule and put them as Week 9 winners against Chicago and so on and so forth for every team. So, without further ado, here are my regular season/playoff/awards thoughts on the 2011-2012 football season.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys 11-5 (4-2) (Division Champion, No. 3 Seed)

Philadelphia Eagles 10-6 (2-4) (Wildcard, No. 6 Seed)

New York Football Giants 8-8 (3-3)

Washington Redskins 5-11 (3-3)

Analysis: I am going all in on the Cowboys this year (as you will see below in the awards section and my playoff predictions) and I don’t think they will disappoint. Jason Garrett is going to prove himself as one of the top play callers in the game, Felix Jones will establish himself as a feature back, and Tony Romo will re-ascend into the top tier level of quarterbacks in the game. The only questions are how fast will the defense be able to adjust to Rob Ryan’s new scheme and how capable this very young and inexperienced offensive line will prove itself to be. The Cowboys could start off a little sluggish given these issues, but I think they will peak at the right time…The Eagles made headlines almost every day after the lockout was lifted, it seemed, with the players they acquired. This team certainly has a lot of talent, but the offensive line is a huge question mark (not to mention, what the hell is/was wrong with Jeremy Maclin?). Pair a possibly shaky line with Michael Vick’s probability of injury, and that is not a recipe for championship level success. The Eagles have a lot of the tools and the talent, and they are getting closer, but this is not their year…The New York Giants could easily win 10 games this year. But with a lot of new faces on the offensive line and an unlucky hoard of season ending injuries to a talented secondary, the Giants just won’t quite have the chops to compete with the big boys this season. The front office should be commended though, on how they have replenished their corps of receivers in the post-Plaxico era. Manningham and Nicks are studs…And Washington is just bad, plain and simple. Rex Grossman is their quarterback. Need I say more?

NFC North

Green Bay Packers 13-3 (6-0) (Division Champion, No.2 Seed)

Detroit Lions 8-8 (2-4)*

Chicago Bears 8-8 (2-4)*

Minnesota Vikings 7-9 (2-4)

*For the tiebreak, the first four steps (head to head, divisional record, win percentage in common games, win percentage in conference games) were unable to determine a winner. The next step was strength of victory, where the Lions edged out the Bears to win 2nd place in the division.

Analysis: Green Bay will run away with what should be a pretty competitive division in spots 2-4. Not to mention they will be even better thanks to getting Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant back after early, season ending injuries from the season before. Not much more needs to be said about the cheeseheads…Detroit is making improvements every season, but their future depends on how healthy Matt Stafford can stay. If he can, I think he’s capable of leading this team to a Super Bowl at some point in his career. I really believe it. This kid has all of the tools and the intangibles…With Julius Peppers, Chicago’s defense became one of the elite units in the game last season. On the other hand, I really don’t like their offensive line or receivers or Mike Martz in general. They just haven’t put the right guys around Jay Cutler, and it will show this year…Minnesota has some really good players, but Donovan McNabb is surely on the downside of his career. Maybe he proves that last season’s fiasco in Washington was only an apparition, but I’m not betting on it. Where he goes this season, so goes Minny.

NFC South

New Orleans Saints 13-3 (4-2) (Division Champion, No. 1 Seed by virtue of Week 1 victory over Green Bay)

Atlanta Falcons 11-5 (5-1) (Wildcard, No. 5 Seed)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-7 (3-3)

Carolina Panthers 2-14 (0-6)

Analysis: After last season’s embarrassment to Seattle in the divisional round, I think the Saints, and especially Drew Brees, will come out this season firing on all cylinders (or as Bill Simmons termed it, “Efff you” mode). They will remind all of the people who seemed to forget them that this is one of the truly elite teams in the league. Brees will take this “Efff you” mentality to a whole new level as he plays his way into an MVP award (I think in the same way Tom Brady Efff you’d his way to the honor last year). After that loss to Seattle, and all of the uncharacteristic picks he threw during the season, Brees will want to win badly this year. And we already got a glimpse of that with the passion he exhibited in organzing all of his team’s workouts during the lockout…Atlanta’s record may look worse compared to last year’s, but I think it’ll be more a result from New Orleans’ elevation of play rather than a dropoff in their own. The Falcons are still a no-doubter as one of the best teams in the NFC, you just can’t win 13 games every year. That’s not the way the NFL works…The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one of the most promising up-and-comers the league has to offer. Josh Freeman made unexpectedly huge strides in his development and added himself to an incredibly promising crop of young quarterbacks to take the mantle after the Manning’s/Brady’s/Brees’s of the world are gone. Unfortunately Raheem Morris and the Buc’s are caught in a division with two powerhouses. They will be competitive this year, but will not be able to find a way into the playoffs until the Saints drop off…Cam Newton will be starting this season at quarterback for Carolina. Thats all you really need to know. I’m putting the over/under for his completion percentage on the season at 45.

NFC West

St. Louis Rams 9-7 (4-2) (Division Champion, No. 4 Seed)

Arizona Cardinals 7-9 (4-2)

Seattle Seahawks 6-10 (3-3)

San Francisco 49ers 4-12 (1-5)

Analysis: A true abomination of a division. St. Louis will be the team to take advantage of its situation and secure a playoff spot by finishing with a winning record. Sam Bradford is a future superstar and the defense is making strides. The front office needs to prioritize the continued building of the offensive line and receiving corps though…Arizona’s season hinges completely on Kevin Kolb. I think he will be decent enough this year (better down the road) but it won’t be enough to top St. Louis for the division crown. At the same time though, this is a team that could sneak up on some people, especially if Kolb can exceed expectations and Chris (I refuse to call him Beanie) Wells can stay healthy…Seattle’s is coached by Pete Carroll and is quarterbacked by Tarvaris Jackson. That combination has no chance at making the playoffs, which is a shame because their is some intriguing talent at other spots on that roster…College coaches being successful in the NFL is, by general rule of thumb, something that just doesn’t happen. I’ve never believed in it before, but Jim Harbaugh made me think twice. He’s got a shot to become one of the best coaches in the NFL. Unfortunately, it just won’t be this year. Michael Crabtree has been disappointing as a teammate, and Alex Smith is not capable of leading a team to the playoffs. Down the road, this could be a team to watch though. Pat Willis is an absolute monster at linebacker.

NFC Playoffs

Wildcard Round

(5) Falcons def. (4) Rams

(3) Cowboys def. Eagles (6)

Divisional Round

(1) Saints def. (5) Falcons

(3) Cowboys def. (2) Packers

Conference Championship

(3) Cowboys def. (1) Saints

As I said before, I am all in on this Cowboys team. Many people have believed they could break through in the playoffs before and they’ve faltered, but I really like the talent and personnel this team has, and I believe in Tony Romo and Jason Garrett. This could easily blow up in my face, but for now, I’ll see you in Indy Cowboys.

AFC East

New England Patriots 14-2 (5-1) (Division Champion, No. 1 Seed by virture of Week 8 victory over Pittsburgh)

New York Jets 11-5 (5-1) (Wildcard, No. 5 Seed by virture of Week 4 victory over Baltimore)

Buffalo Bills 5-11 (1-5)*

Miami Dolphins 5-11 (1-5)*

*Tiebreak also settled on strength of victory this time around. The fact that the two tiebreaks had to go through so many steps was probably one of the resulting flaws of the way I organized these standings.

Analysis: I think the Patriots are not nearly ready yet to be dethroned from their seat atop the AFC East. This team is just too good and too prepared every week to not win this thing…New York is coming on fast, but until Mark Sanchez can establish himself as a top ten quarterback or Tom Brady gets seriously hurt, this division is all about New England. Despite the circus atmostphere Rex Ryan brought to New York, what he has done to that team with very average quarterback play has been a lot of fun to watch…Chan Gailey does not deserve to be a head coach in the NFL, but one nice thing I can say about him is that he is unusually good at getting points out of mediocre offenses (just look at what he did with Tyler Thigpen in Kansas City). This team has some solid pieces in place, and I think they’ve actually made strides the past year or so, but they still have a long way to go and play in a division with New England and New York. Marcell Dareus is an all-pro waiting to happen though…Miami has a chance to be a train wreck this season. I don’t like any of their running backs, or that offense in general. I haven’t completely lost faith in Chad Henne, but I’m pretty close. I just feel bad for Tony Sparano and the lack of class he was treated with concerning his job status this previous offseason. I think this guy can coach, just not in Miami. He’ll be gone after the season. Probably a good thing though, because this is not a very well run team.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers 13-3 (6-0) (Division Champion, No. 2 Seed)

Baltimore Ravens 11-5 (4-2) (Wildcard, No. 6 Seed)

Cleveland Browns 5-11 (1-5)

Cincinnati Bengals 3-13 (1-5)

Analysis: Similar division make up as the AFC East. Two REALLY good teams, one mediocre team, and a really bad one. The only difference between the Ravens and Steelers this year in the standings will come from their head to head matchups where I have the Pittsburgh sweeping the season series.* Baltimore might have Ray Lewis, but Pittsburgh has the best/most balanced collection of linebackers I have seen in my lifetime (not an exaggeration). You can put Timmons, Farrior, Harrison, and Woodley all as starters on the all-pro team this year and I don’t think you would hear complaints from anyone. Pittsburgh will be one of the favorites to win the AFC championship this year and with that coaching staff and defense (not to mention a VERY underrated offense), its not difficult to see why…Baltimore is a team I’ve always pulled for, but you have to wonder if Joe Flacco can become the man at quarterback the team so desperately needs to win one last Super Bowl for Ray Lewis. You do have to give him credit for all of the road playoff victories he’s pulled off, but Baltimore’s road to the Super Bowl always seems to be going through Pittsburgh. And until they can find a way to beat that team when it really matters, they will never play for the big prize…I like what Cleveland has been doing the last few years as far as completely rebuilding this team can go. These things just take some time, but it appears they may have found a guy in Colt McCoy… Marvin Lewis says that the Bengals will be even better than they were last year. But I’m not sure how that is possible when they are having to replace Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco (even if they are both over the hill) with two rookies. Not to mention they lost their shutdown corner in Jonathan Joseph to Houston. This team will be tough to watch.

*In my opinion, these games have become easily the most fun to watch every year. I love an Indianapolis v. New England game as much as anyone, but now that the Colts are trending downward, Baltimore v. Pittsburgh has become easily the most competitive, brutal game you can possibly find. There is something about seeing guys like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger beat on each other for 3.5 hours that you can’t find anywhere else. The teams have a pretty mutual dislike for one another, and there are hard hits, big plays, and close outcomes every time. Unfortunately, people who like to see 60 points a game should probably stay away. This is old school football at its absolute finest.

Mike Tomlin is just all sorts of awesome

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts 10-6 (4-2) (Division Champion, No. 4 Seed)*

*Gonna hedge again here, but this pick is obviously completely contingent on Peyton Manning playing at the very least 13 or 14 games. Anything less than that and my pick would be Houston to take the division at 9-7 or 10-6.

Houston Texans 9-7 (3-3)

Tennessee Titans 7-9 (2-4)

Jacksonville Jaguars 5-11 (3-3)

Analysis: I am rooting hard for the Texans to finally pull the rug out from under the Colts this season but I just don’t see it happening. I loved the Wade Phillips hire as defensive coordinator, and getting Jonathan Joseph (along with the improvement of 2010 first round pick Kareem Jackson) can really shore up that secondary. But switching from a 4-3 to a base 3-4 defense doesn’t work overnight. Its a process, especially if the guys you’re working with have played in a 4-3 their whole lives (Mario Williams could have a tough time shifting to outside linebacker). Houston is lucky they get Indy week one with Peyton on the sidelines. But the game I am really watching for is Week 16 when the Texans have to play at the Colts. The division, and a playoff spot, could be riding on it. Houston is agonizingly close to putting it together, but until I see a Peyton Manning led team not win a division championship, I am putting my money on him every year. Bank on Gary Kubiak (as well as Jacksonville’s Jack Del Rio) losing his job after the season…I like what Tennessee did in getting Matt Hasselbeck, and they may have found a stud in tight end Jared Cook, but I think this team just lacks the overall talent to compete on a weekly basis. Look for them to give a few contenders a run for their money though…Jacksonville’s starter this season is Luke McCown which means game over. Its as easy as that. Although, I think their defense could be sneaky good this year and keep them in a few games. 

AFC West

San Diego Chargers 11-5 (4-2) (Division Champion, No. 3 Seed)

Kansas City Chiefs 8-8 (5-1)

Denver Broncos 5-11 (2-4)

Oakland Raiders 3-13 (1-5)

Analysis: Having the Chargers winning the AFC West was not a difficult call. Despite the Raiders and Broncos are quietly and slowly getting better (despite the five game regression in Oakland I have this year), and the Chiefs developing into a down-the-road contender, this will still be San Diego’s division for the season, and probably the one after it as well. Philip Rivers is one of the best in the business at quarterback, and I think Norv Turner is a little underrated. Chargers take the the division easily…You’ve already heard me talk about Kansas City enough so I’ll stay away from that one…Losing Asomugha obviously hurts Oakland a lot. And the exit of Zach Miller along with Robert Gallery to Seattle doesn’t help things either. Even with all of that, there is some talent that the Raiders can build on. I’m just not sure if I can see this team being competitive until Al Davis cedes control over major personnel decisions (he really does struggle)…After the Josh McDaniels debacle of the last two seasons, I don’t think Denver could have made a better hire than John Fox, one of my favorite coaches in the league. I actually trust John Elway (never thought I would say that in my lifetime) to make some good decisions and he already got off to a good start with their newest draftee, Von Miller (who has been garnering comparisons to Derrick Thomas). Denver doesn’t have a franchise quarterback (sorry Tebow fans but that’s the reality), and they are still 4-5 years away, but things are actually looking up. 4-5 years is kind of a long time though.

AFC Playoffs

Wildcard Round

(6) Ravens def. (3) Chargers

(4) Colts def. (5) Jets

Same matchup as last year (again contingent on a healthy Manning). I know you’re saying, “Well, didn’t New York come in there and win last year? And haven’t the Colts gotten worse and the Jets better since then?” You are right on all accounts. I just don’t see Manning losing again in the manner he did last year. He’s too good and too smart for that. I’m pretty sure at least.

Divisional Round

(2) Steelers def. (6) Ravens

(1) Patriots smoke (4) Colts

For the 3rd time this season, the Ravens cannot overcome Mike Tomlin’s Steel Curtain 2.0. And the Patriots, after last season’s home playoff embarrassment, go into a postseason “Efff you” mode. They are PISSED.

Conference Championship

(1) Patriots smoke (2) Steelers

For some reason, Tom Brady is the only guy in the league who has been able to legitimately figure out that “Stiller” defense over the last few years. It’ll show again here as the Patriots march to another Super Bowl appearance.

Awards

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Mark Ingram (RB) New Orleans Saints

Defensive Rookie of the Year: 1a. Von Miller (LB) Denver Broncos

1b. Marcell Dareus (DL) Buffalo Bills

Comeback Player of the Year: Tony Romo (QB) Dallas Cowboys*

*He may not even be eligible, but what the hell.

Offensive Player of the Year: Ray Rice (RB) Baltimore Ravens

Defensive Player of the Year: DeMarcus Ware (LB) Dallas Cowboys

Coach of the Year: Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys

MVP: Drew Brees (QB) New Orleans Saints

SUPER BOWL

(1) New England Patriots def. (3) Dallas Cowboys

Its hard to believe that when the big game rolls around next February, it will have been 8 years since the Patriots have last hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. That is a shockingly long time for me and I think it stops this season. It’s just been too long for this team and they have suffered too many playoff losses in past years (seriously, how have they not won a Super bowl since 2004?!). Belichick and Brady light a collective fire under the team’s ass, they roll through the regular season, the playoffs, and outclass a feel good story in Dallas for an NFL championship. Brady wins his fourth ring and ends the Manning/Brady discussion for good. (Sorry for the jinx Pats fans…and the word count).

Now who’s ready for some football?

LOWEST WORD COUNT EVER!!!!/Kansas City Chiefs Season Preview

Editor’s Note: Predicting anything/everything is a pretty inexact science, especially when it comes to the NFL. Which is why this column is really just an opinion of how I THINK the season will end up for this proud franchise. This doesn’t take into account the injuries which will certainly befall the squad (as they do with every team), games in which the team inexplicably just doesn’t show up, or other situations in which they play over their talent level etc etc.

Back in Kansas City, expectations are pretty high among many fans about this coming season. And why shouldn’t they be? Many of the young players the team was forged around in a rough rebuilding project showed flashes of future stardom*, veterans came together and put up some career years, Todd Haley showed he can be a good coach (not great yet though), and Scott Pioli proved that there is indeed a plan in place to assemble a perennial contender, and that it is going extremely well.

*The absurd amount of alliteration in that sentence was unintended. As was the alliteration in the first sentence of this comment. I’m a wordsmith, deal with it.

And even though the Chiefs simply got outclassed in the playoffs by a very good Baltimore team, a division championship is a division championship (even though it was one of the worst divisions in football last season). I am extremely excited for the future as a Kansas City Chiefs fan. But despite all of the good things that happened last year, I am also tempering my expectations for this coming year.

For me, two teams come to mind when analyzing what is to come in Kansas City: the 2008 Cleveland Browns, and the 2009 Atlanta Falcons. In the season before for these respective teams, each came seemingly from nowhere to win a very good amount of games.* The bar was set very high for the next season, and each team could not withstand the pressure. Cleveland went back to their usual…a losing season, and we saw that the previous year was more of an outlier than anything. Atlanta, on the other hand, went 9-7, a regression for sure, but people still understood this was going to be a very good team down the road (13-3 the next season).

*Atlanta, with a rookie quarterback, went 11-5. Cleveland, with the fact that they are Cleveland and were led by the great Derrick Anderson, went 10-6.

Unfortunately, I believe the Chiefs will suffer from a similar sort of regression this season, and everyone will want to assume that it will be a Cleveland Browns type of deal. A team that was a huge fluke, not very talented, but very lucky. Rather, I think this will be more comparable to the backtracking we saw from Atlanta a few years ago. This is a team on a mission, with a lot to look forward to and a lot of the pieces in place. But its just not quite there yet.

OFFENSE

This is an intriguing situation, because there are players here who will be very good for a very long time. There are young/talented offensive lineman. Dwayne Bowe and Matt Cassel made huge strides. Jamaal Charles established himself as one of the best running backs in the league. And the team made solid, understated signings in fullback Le’Ron McLain, tackle Jared Gaither, and receiver Steve Breaston. 

But for each of those players, there is another player that is a big question mark. Will Jon Asamoah be able to replace Brian Waters at guard? Will the offensive tackles (particularly Barry Richardson) be able to play better than when they were thoroughly outmatched the last two weeks of last season? Can Matt Cassel continue to develop into an above average quarterback/is he even capable of leading a team to a Super Bowl? Will Jon Baldwin grow up? Can Dexter McCluster stay healthy? How will the team respond to the season ending injury to Tony Moeaki?

Obviously, that’s a lot of nitpicking. This offense has a lot more going for it than the majority of teams, but there are still some problems that need to be solved.

DEFENSE

This is the side of the ball that is most exciting for me. Drafting Eric Berry a season ago could pay the same franchise-changing dividends that came about when Carl Peterson drafted Derrick Thomas in 1989. Tamba Hali developed into one the leagues premier sackmasters. Derrick Johnson began to harness the serious amount of talent that made him a first round pick not long ago. And Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr showed why this secondary will be the stingiest in all of football very soon.

Again though, questions arise. Kelly Gregg was a very solid signing at nose tackle, but the rest of the defensive line is a bit iffy at this point. Can Glenn Dorsey continue to get better? Can Tyson Jackson do anything to indicate why he was drafted in the first round 2 years ago?* Will anyone step up at the other two linebacker spots? Can Andy Studebaker be an adequate replacement for Mike Vrabel? Will Kendrick Lewis be the safety valve at free safety that Eric Berry needs in order to make plays?

*If it means anything, I think he will. The development for highly drafted defensive ends takes a lot more time than fans would like.

Clearly, these are some pretty legitimate issues. But I think they will be more easily solved than some of the problems we have on offense. This could be a stretch here, but this defense has a chance to be one of the best in the NFL for the next ten years, bringing back shades of the team seen at Arrowhead Stadium in the mid-1990’s. But the questions always remain, no matter what side of the ball we’re talking about. Here are some more concrete predictions on how this year will end up.

Week 1: home against Buffalo. W (1-0)

Week 2: at Detroit. L (1-1)

Week 3: at San Diego. L (1-2)

Week 4: home against Minnesota. W (2-2)

Week 5: at Indianapolis. L (2-3)

Week 6: BYE

Week 7: at Oakland. W (3-3)

Week 8: home against San Diego. W (4-3)

Week 9: home against Miami. W (5-3)

Week 10: home against Denver. W (6-3)

Week 11: at New England. L (6-4)

Week 12: home against Pittsburgh. L (6-5)

Week 13: at Chicago. L (6-6)

Week 14: at New York (Jets). L (6-7) 

Week 15: home against Green Bay. L (6-8)

Week 16: home against Oakland. W (7-8)

Week 17: at Denver. W (8-8)

After picking each of these games, and looking through the final results, I figured that this outcome is not very likely. I think a final record of 8-8 is certainly feasable (the team will win somewhere between six and nine, MAYBE ten games this year), but the way this has worked out just won’t happen. I don’t think I have ever seen a four game winning streak followed by a five game losing streak capped off with a two game winning streak. Schedules are just too unpredictable. And a 5-1 division record could be a little ambitious.

Some key games that could really go either way are @Detroit, Minnesota, @Indianapolis, @Oakland, San Diego, Miami (this is a classic trap game), @Chicago, and @Denver. Putting half the schedule down for a “key games” section may be a little cowardly of me, but I truly believe that all of these games can go in either direction, and how the team does in these eight will determine whether or not they are playing postseason football.*

*Just to get a sense here, I have them going 5-3 in these games and it will still not be enough for a playoff berth.

 The obvious thing here though, is that the schedule this year is a great deal harder than last year’s, meaning that the team could make significant strides in the personnel department, and still finish with a worse result, which I believe is exactly what will happen. Yeah, there are some gimme’s on the slate that the team should absolutely win. But I fear that there are far too many more games that the Chiefs should definitely lose (weeks 11-15 are absolutely brutal) or games that are complete toss-ups (meaning we’d have to win a very high percentage of games decided by seven points or less).

I am looking forward very much to seeing what kind of improvements the players can make this season, and also how the team stacks up against the toughest competition and best model franchises the league has to offer (we will get many chances to see this). But the one thing people need to remember is that progress doesn’t mean a better record than the previous season or another division championship. That would be too superficial (plus I would be absolutely shocked if anyone other than the San Diego Chargers won the AFC West). For the 2011-2012 Kansas City Chiefs, progress means taking that one last step backward, before taking a leap forward.