Pre-Regular Season Opponent Rankings

Apparently Haley reads Smokes Signals. Last week I proposed they take the injury risk to leave starters in for a significant amount of time so that they get the experience of at least a few successful drives and some consistent team chemistry in a game situation before the season starts.

They did just that, although it almost blew up in their faces with both QB Matt Cassel and TE Tony Moeaki getting dinged up and leaving the field a bit early. Still, their injuries appeared minor, and I think the on-field warranted the risk.

After going 12 of 27 for 132 yards 0 TD’s in the previous three preseason games, Cassel turned it on, throwing 15 of 17 for 129 yards and a touchdown. The defense also looked fantastic, although it should be noted that the Packers never fielded many of their starting players. Still, the chemistry was there, and that’s what I wanted to see.

We now finally know a little bit about how the Chiefs are likely to play this year, and how our future opponents will look as well. With that in mind, it’s time for revamped post-preseason pre-regular season opponent power rankings, complete with a revised prediction of the Chiefs’ 2011 record.

See what we got after the jump:

1.) Packers- Trending: STEADY

Go ahead and jot it down: We will not win this game. Seeing how the Packers’ backup D-lineman tore apart our first-team O-line should be a scary omen for things to come. Luckily, however, we don’t play them until Week 15 so two scenarios could possibly swing the balance – by then our O-line might have gelled a bit better and will put up a bit more resistance, or we could be dealing with a few injuries by then, thereby exposing our dreadful depth in the trenches.

2.) Steelers – Trending: STEADY

This is a scary game for the same reason as the Packers – they will destroy us in the trenches. These types of teams are a matchup nightmare for the Chiefs as they are equally stingy against the run and good at getting after the passer. At the end of the day Cassel needs to help out his patchwork O-line by avoiding the pressure better – there was a sack in Thursday night’s game where Cassel just stood there like a statue and took it. James Harrison will make you pay for that. If you can’t get away from him, he will literally rip your arm off for the ball. I think the X-factor in this game may be Dexter McCluster. He has been brilliant in preseason and, although the Steelers have a very tough defensive front seven, none of those guys are fast. McCluster can get the ball in space, I think he can be productive against their bruising ‘backers.

3.) Lions – Trending: UP

Broken record time – their D-line is going to be special this year, and our O-line has been hard to watch. Plus, like the Steelers and Packers, they can sling it through the air really well. Stafford, when healthy, plays like Tom Brady. The problem with teams like this is that the typical Chiefs game plan doesn’t work against them. In 2010, the Chiefs’ M.O. was to control the ball, get ahead early, and then run out the clock to the end. Teams with prolific passing attacks like Green Bay, Pittsburg and rising power Detroit will be very hard to knock out of games because their QB’s are going to be able to mount effective aerial comebacks. And it remains to be seen if Cassel can get the win in the 4th quarter when he can’t lean on the running game.

4.) Chargers – Trending: UP

The Chargers seem to have their mojo back. I know, I know, I hate all the hype and encouragement these serial underachievers get, but I do think Rivers and the Bolts feel like this may be their last chance to push for it all before some of their key players begin to pass their prime. Their special teams in the preseason so far have been decent, and that alone means they will have a real chance to get deep into the playoffs. They were the league’s top offense and top defense in 2010, if they can just get average execution from their historically bad special teams they are going to be dangerous. Oh, and they know the Chiefs fairly well.

5.) Patriots – Trending: UP

The Patriots are the Patriots, but I think this game is winnable. They were able to beat down their opponents to a 14-2 record, but they have a few chinks in their armor. The Browns were able to beat the Pats last year by controlling the ball with an effective run game and an opportunistic defense – sound like any team you know?

6.) Bears – Trending: DOWN

Most of this team appears to have gotten better. Their defense is solid, their receiving corps has gotten some reinforcements, but their offensive line is dreadful. A lot of scouts are calling it the worst O-line in the NFL, a title for which the Chiefs’ big five should be thanking them for taking. Plus, with Charles eating up the clock and their O-line getting swarmed, Bears QB Jay Cutler will be pressured to make something happen, and that usually means interceptions.

7.) Dolphins – Trending: UP

I think these guys are going to surprise people. QB Chad Henne has looked better and their defense is going to give the Chiefs fits. Plus, their O-line is pretty good against the outside pass rush, which is where the Chiefs’ front seven gets all of its pressure. Although they’ll likely end with a much worse record than their neighbors on this list, they have a much better chance of the beating KC than them.

8.) Jets – Trending: STEADY

Although I expected the Jets to have a drop off, they actally appear to continue to be effective. They’re fairly effective in every phase of the game and Plaxico Burress looks like he could be a great big target for QB Mark Sanchez who has had a lot of accuracy problems. I think the Chiefs are pretty evenly matched against the Green Mechanical Birds.

9.) Colts – Trending: DOWN

Obviously their upward trend depends on the health of a single player – Peyton Manning. Still, they had a strong draft and a free agency period that was essentially a wash. If they can get back their injured starters from last year, I think they will be able to coach up their rookies and regain some of their past prominence.

10.) Vikings – Trending: UP

Meh. The Vikes have stabilized their team with their free agent acquisitions, but they still don’t scare anyone.

11.) Bills – Trending: UP

The Bills are not nearly as bad as everyone says they are. But they’re still not good. Their defense is getting respectable up the middle and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick can be effective. Plus, Chan Gailey has been throwing darts at a photo of Todd Haley’s face for two full years now and I think he’s going to want to make a statement. And, in the end, I’m still not happy with how prepared the Chiefs look after a god-awful preseason showing. To me it looks like it is going to take at least a couple games to shake the rust off. Lucky for the Bills, they get to throw the first punch towards the unprepared team.

12.) Broncos – Trending: UP

I think the Broncos are actually going to shock the prognosticators and wind up 3rd in the AFC West, not that that is a particularly esteemed prize. Their offense will continue to be effective and it looks like they are going to get a great pass rush out of the mix of DE Elvis Dumervil and LB Von Miller. Still, the middle of their defensive front seven looks to be very soft and inviting to effective running backs.

13.) Raiders – Trending: DOWN

Their O-line makes KC’s O-line look good, and that poisons everything else they do well. QB Jason Campbell is a downfield five-to-seven-step-drop guy, and he’s just not going to get the time for that with these blockers. Similarly, it looks doubtful that their big ugglies are going to be able to open up enough holes for their potentially quite good running backs. The Raiders’ ineffectiveness continues.

Prediction: 9-7 – As you all know, I’m a lot more worried about this team now than I was four weeks ago. But, if they can win three out of their first five games before the bye, I think they’ll be in a good position. Then they can come out of the bye week with back-to-back games against division opponents (Raiders and Chargers) before they move into a difficult seven-game stretch that includes Miami, New England, Pittsburg, Chicago, New York (Jets) and Green Bay. If they can go into that chunk of the season 5-2, then they can afford to lose most of those games as they finish the home stretch to the playoffs against Oakland and Denver.

Nikolozi, out.

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