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.

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