After a preseason of mishaps and bad mojo, Todd Haley is probably thanking the football gods that the battered and dysfunctional Chiefs can start off 2011 with the soft part of their schedule. Still, this five-game stretch is not to be taken lightly. In fact, me thinks it will be the key to the season.
If you don’t believe me, just take a look at what follows after it. After their bye, the Chiefs face all three division opponents with Miami sandwiched in the middle. As bad as Denver and Oakland have looked, the Chiefs were still 2-4 in the division last year, and these games cannot be overlooked. Meanwhile, I think Miami is an extremely underrated team – they have one of the best defenses in football, and a solid O-line. They are a bad matchup for KC, plain and simple.
What comes after that you ask? — all four participants in the 2010 AFC and NFC Championships plus New England. Given the beating that the Chiefs took against their top opponent last year (Baltimore), I’m not sure we can expect to win any of these five games – maybe we’ll sneak away with a couple of wins, just because football is a crazy sport.
After that murderous stretch, the Chiefs will again play back-to-back division games against Oakland and Denver in what will likely be must-wins in order for KC to have a chance at the post-season.
Thus, the Chiefs 2011 season can essentially be broken down into four segments – the Easy First Five, the Key Post-Bye Four, the Gauntlet, and the Must-Win Duo at the end.
So let’s play out how each of these sections will probably go after the jump, skipping over the EFF for now.
After the bye, the Chiefs immediately head to the stinky, ugly, post-game, gun-battle hellhole that is Candlestick Park. Now we all like to pile on the Raiders for their erratic management and deranged fans, but not only did they sweep us last year, they pounded us. All the good things you can say about the Chiefs’ running attack can also be said about the Raiders – they barely trailed us for the league lead last year. Plus, I’m not convinced the Chiefs’ D-line is considerably better than it was in 2010. TJax and Dorsey look poised to get better, but Kelly Gregg just sorta seems like a White Ron Edwards. Our middle linebackers are the same as before, and while Jovan Belcher is serviceable, at 228 lbs, he’s not the sort of inside banger that is going to be able to get off blocks and make the tackle on runs up the gut. Meaning, they will be able to run on us, and while their pass defense has gotten weaker, our O-line is going to have serious trouble protecting Cassel from their gritty defensive front seven.
Then we play San Diego and Miami at home, neither of which will be an easy game. Sure, we’ll get to beat up on Denver just before the Gauntlet, but they’re not the division opponent we’re competing with for the top spot. Objective prediction for this segment: 2-2
The Chiefs will then travel up to Gillette Stadium to face a team that was 14-2 last year, even with a dreadful young defense. Then: home against Pittsburgh, away against Chicago and the New York Jets, only to host the reigning champion Packers. Maybe by this time Baldwin will be healthier and wiser and a major contributor to our offense. Maybe our O-line will have gelled together somewhat and will be able to keep Matt Cassel alive. But, in my humble opinion, claiming confidently that we will win any of these five games rests entirely on blind optimism, not an honest analysis of the matchups. Objective prediction: 0-5
Therefore, in the two middle segments of the season we end up 2-7. Even give or take a win, how many wins will it take to give us a chance for a playoff berth at 9-7 or 10-6? Yes, your math was correct. In order to make the playoffs, we will have to win every single one of our other games.
That all begins Week 1.
Luckily, a number of unpredictable events make the Easy First Five seem easier. The Lions’ beastly young DT Nick Fairley will still be out, giving the Chiefs’ O-line a bit of breathing room, but Detroit still has some mean, mean pass rushers. Minnesota is bound to be inconsistent with a new QB and new coaching staff. And, Indy is just simply not a great team without the legendary Peyton Manning. The killer here will be Week 3 at San Diego. The Bolts look like they are ready to make that final push, and we’d better be ready. The Chiefs were able to get the jump on them at home in the opener last year. We’ll have to pray for some special teams and defensive magic to get us through that one I’m afraid.
So that’s what I’m seeing in my crystal ball. Not only is Sunday a must-win game at Arrowhead against the Bills, but all four of the games that follow it are. Buckle-up, gentlemen and ladies, we’re going to be in for a ride!