With a pretty tough schedule, the 2012 Kansas City Chiefs have their work cut out for them. They are coming off a pretty underrated 7-9 season against a tougher schedule than they had when they went 10-6, and played some brilliant football with their best players injured on both sides of the ball.
This year, they sport a roster that, aside from the QB position, could hold its own with virtually any team in the league. The Achilles’ heel of this season, however, isn’t necessarily that our QB position is shaky. Like most, I believe that starting QB Matt Cassel can be a winner when surrounded by very strong cast, which, again, he definitely has. The offensive line must hold at the edges with LT Branden Albert and RT Eric Winston, which I’m confident it will. The run game must at least be adequate, which with a pretty good version of RB Peyton Hillis and a pretty good version of RB Jamaal Charles, it will (I’m also really high on RB/WR Dexter McCluster and RB Cyrus Gray as rotational backs). The WR position, assuming stud Dwayne Bowe re-signs which I feel will certainly happen, will be as good as it’s ever been in Kansas City, ever. Cassel can perform this season.
Where this season’s Achilles’ is has to do with the other QBs we’ll face this season. The Chargers’ Philip Rivers twice, the Broncos’ Peyton Manning twice, the Falcons’ Matt Ryan, the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, the Panthers’ Cam Newton, the Saints’ Drew Brees… plus the Ravens’ Joe Flacco, the Bucs’ Josh Freeman, the Colts’ Andrew Luck, and the Raiders’ Carson Palmer twice. That is a hell of a roster of QBs for any defense to face, and presents a steep upgrade over the QBs the Chiefs faced last year.
This defense can rise to the challenge, however. They were instrumental in shutting down the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers last year, and should they remain mostly healthy, they sport one of the toughest run defenses and one of the best secondaries, with two dynamic passrushers. But when you face this many good quarterbacks, there are going to be games where it doesn’t matter what you do — a great QB can lay all challenges to waste when they’re on. The odds are, there will be more than a few games where this will be the case.
The good news is, I am not very high on the rest of the division. The Raiders are the Raiders. The Broncos have a bull’s eye on them all year, and that almost never works out in the NFL. Add into the fact that they are essentially the 2010 Indianapolis Colts, but with a weaker, older QB who’s been out of football for a year, and I think they’ll be lucky to match what the Eagles did in 2011.
The Chargers present the major threat here. All World TE Antonio Gates is a year removed from his injury problems. Both the offense and defense have holes, but Rivers is being given a full offseason to know exactly who his offensive weapons are. If he finds his rhythm, the Chargers will be the Chiefs’ main threat this year for the AFCW crown, and they have the better quarterback. At this point, I’d put the odds of winning the division 50 percent in their favor, and 50 percent in ours. The Chiefs have the easier close-out schedule.
We re-sign Dwayne Bowe to a seven-year deal before the preseason, $80 million deal with $34M guaranteed. During the season, we extend ILB Jovan Belcher for a three-year, $12M deal. We extend DE Tyson Jackson during the 2013 offseason for a five-year deal worth $30 million. Second-year QB Ricky Stanzi ends up beating out QB Brady Quinn over the course of the season for the backup QB slot. They both seem to play to a standstill in the preseason, but Quinn is HC Romeo Crennel’s guy so he gets the clipboard until about halfway through the season as Stanzi comes into his own.
Tim Biere looks like a fascinating fullback, an impoverished man’s version of Dallas Clark out of the backfield. The Chiefs will use fullbacks less under Daboll, and Hillis will get reps at the position anyway. Since last year’s seventh rounder Shane Bannon looks slow as molasses, Tim Biere gets the chance to prove himself. TE Steve Maneri lands the blocking tight end role. Rookie OT Donald Stephenson looks like he has promise, but the staff simply doesn’t trust him at left tackle yet. Rookie OT/OG Jeff Allen, then, is penciled in as the backup left tackle. ILB Dexter Heyman and DE Jerome Long land roster spots. WR Junior Hemingway and DE Brandon Bair do not.
First-round rookie NT Dontari Poe is the starting nose tackle, day one. He doesn’t always play three downs, however, as the staff continues to bring him along incrementally.
After four preseason games, here’s the roster:
QB: Cassel, Quinn, Stanzi
RB: Charles, Hillis, Gray, McCluster
WR: Bowe, Baldwin, Breaston, McCluster, Copper, Wylie
TE: Moeaki, Boss, Maneri
LT: Albert, Allen
LG: Lilja, Allen
C: Hudson, Harris
RG: Asamoah, Allen
RT: Winston, Stephenson
DE: Dorsey, Bailey
NT: Poe, Gordon, Powe
DE: Jackson, Gordon, Long
OLB: Hali, Sheffield
ILB: Belcher, Siler
ILB: Johnson, Heyman
OLB: Houston, Studebaker
CB: Flowers, Routt, Arenas, Daniels, Brown
S: Berry, Lewis, Elam, Menzie
KR: Arenas, McCluster
PR: Arenas, Wylie
Week 1: vs. Falcons L
Week 2: @ Bills W
Week 3: @ Saints W
Week 4: vs. Chargers L
Week 5: vs. Ravens L
Week 6: @ Buccaneers W
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: vs. Raiders W
Week 9: @ Chargers L
Week 10: @ Steelers L
Week 11: Bengals W
Week 12: Broncos W
Week 13: Panthers L
Week 14: @ Browns W
Week 15: @ Raiders W
Week 16: Colts W
Week 17: @ Broncos W
We finish the season 10-6 (only 4-4 at home…) against a schedule that is initially brutal, but really flatlines as the season wears on. I always assume there is a game we should win that we will lose (in this circumstance, I see the Chiefs taking a breather after beating Manning in Week 12 coinciding with an All World performance by Cam Newton in Week 13). I always assume there is a game we should lose that we will win (in this circumstance, I see the Chiefs taking advantage of a Roger Goodell-weakened Saints team in Week 3. Before taking beatings in consecutive weeks at home.
I imagine that stopping the Rivers-Gates combo may be too much for a defense even this talented — the Chargers will sweep us. However, we will have our way with the Raiders, a clearly inferior squad. And we will be assaulting Manning toward the end of a tough Broncos season, allowing us to sweep them as well.
Our young rookie crop yields diminishing returns in limited roles. Poe will get his ass handed to him by the superior offensive lines of the first six weeks, before hitting his stride once he plays inferior talent. Even then, he will yield modest statistics, 18 tackles with a FF and a fumble recovery. Jeff Allen comes out for jumbo packages, and looks fantastic. Stephenson doesn’t see the field. WR Devon Wylie looks like failed slot experiment WR Lance Long, essentially, in limited time. S DeQuan Menzie looks lost until the last five or so games of the season, where he looks like another quality mid-round selection by Pioli. Gray, meanwhile, just has a burst to him in limited snaps that will have Arrowhead Addict begging for more carries.
Crennel’s job as HC will go through a familiar roller coaster. For the first six games, he will make calls that don’t pan out and gambles that don’t pay. His team will be outplayed in three home games by superior offenses with weapons the Chiefs just can’t slow down in Julio Jones, Ray Rice, and Phillip Rivers. Doom will rain in Kansas City. But as the wins roll in, and OC Brian Daboll has Cassel doing his best Chad Henne “maybe I’m not so terrible!” impression, Crennel will shore up fan support by January.
Daboll’s offenses always seem to figure themselves out as the seasons wear on. I expect the Chiefs risk getting blanked against a couple teams before the bye. But when Daboll finds what works, which is always about halfway through the season, the offense will be clicking — against some atrocious defenses they’ll be seeing late in the year, the Chiefs could put up 40.
We will have the following issues:
- The following injuries will have been incurred: DE Glenn Dorsey (out in Week 4, is back by Week 10), FS Kendrick Lewis (misses a couple games early in the year, out again by Week 11, however, for the rest of the season), TE Tony Moeaki again ends the season on IR after Week 8, OG Ryan Lilja (misses the first three weeks of the season, throwing Jeff Allen into the fire), McCluster (misses a six game stretch from Week 2 through Week 8).
- With Kendrick Lewis out a good portion of the year, the safety position is again in dire straights. Veteran S Abe Elam isn’t much more than former S Jon McGraw was, and Menzie won’t put together a good game until late in the year as he’s brought along. CB/S Travis Daniels eventually has to start taking reps at safety, which thins out the CB corps.
- The defense suffers up the gut for a good portion of the year. Poe is still learning the craft, and won’t be good for another year. The good news is, Crennel gives him a ton of work because NT/DE Amon Gordon is too light to hold the point of attack. NT Jerrell Powe gets reps on goal line situations. Andrew Crocker will claim those reps demonstrate he’s the best nose on the roster. Nobody will listen.
- CB Stanford Routt and CB Brandon Flowers is a serious downgrade from CB Brandon Carr and CB Brandon Flowers last year. They perform admirably, and are probably still a top 10 tandem, but they are going up against a beastly QB lineup and some great receiving talent this year.
- Despite two talents in Dexter McCluster and Devon Wylie, the slot position doesn’t seem to be figured out too well. WR Steve Breaston plays out wide more than he will in the slot, McCluster will go down with injury again, and Wylie will snatch a few receptions but otherwise disappear as he is brought along this season.
Pro Bowlers: Hillis, Bowe, Hali, Johnson, Flowers, Berry
All Pro: Johnson, Berry
The offensive line plays very well, allowing the seventh fewest sacks in the NFL, which would probably be like third fewest if it weren’t for the superhuman combo of Dumervil and Miller in Denver twice this year. Their runblocking is unparalleled in the league, concluding the season in the top 3 in rushing. Charles puts up 900 yards in limited time coming off his ACL. Hillis leads the team in carries, stays healthy for most of the season, and emerges with 1,200 on the ground at a 4.5 clip. McCluster chips in 150 yards in spot work. Gray chips in another 150, most of it coming in a game against the Panthers where he carries the ball 18 times to spell minor injuries to Hillis and Charles. Yes, the run game is on.
Since it is on, Cassel looks like a different QB. Well… he’ll look like the same QB, but better. By Week 7, the fanbase will no doubt be calling for his head — we’ll see some 100-yard and 200-yard performances in loses and victories alike. Expect a terrible ratio of 5TD:10INT. By the time Week 8 rolls around, and the defenses weaken, Cassel will get his groove back. In the last ten games, Cassel makes his case to remain the Chiefs QB for future seasons, with a 20TD:4INT. This is his team now, and with the right matchup in the playoffs, who knows. Cassel throws for 2,950 yards, 25 TDs, 14 INTs.
Top receivers: Bowe is slow out of the gate due to the lockout, but flirts with All Pro consideration with his final ten games. 75 receptions for 1,200 yards and 8 TDs.
WR Jonathan Baldwin is the lone bright spot of the first six weeks — no corner can seemingly cover him. His first six weeks, he racks up 4 TDs and 500 yards. As fantasy owners flock to him, defenses will bracket him. This will stall his statistics, but it’s going to unleash Dwayne Bowe all over everybody, as defenses try to take him one-on-one to take out Baldwin. Moeaki, 38 with 2 TDs. TE Kevin Boss, 45 with 6 TDs. Breaston, 33 and 1 TD. All other receivers get the scraps.
Crennel plays the snot out of Jackson and Dorsey this year, stuffing the run and getting a sense of who they want to remain a Chief in 2013 (a choice will likely have to be made). Both do their usual one-dimensional business, even as Dorsey misses some time to injury. But it doesn’t get DE Allen Bailey on the field too often as a result, and really gunks up the sack totals, which will remain in the league’s bottom third. OLB Tamba Hali will have another great season, notching 15 sacks and constantly pressuring QBs, as OLB Justin Houston continues his development. He “only” puts up nine sacks, but his play against the run is stellar and he loses a couple sacks as Hali beats him there. It is clear there is no depth at OLB, however.
The secondary, in addition to S Eric Berry’s stellar play and Flowers and Routt doing their best to slow down some of the league’s best passing attacks, is responsible for nine sacks all year, with Berry getting five, and CB Javier Arenas three.
Leading tacklers: DJ gets 140, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down… ever. Berry has an outstanding year with 90. Belcher notches 110, Flowers 45 and Dorsey adds 39 to lead the DL. Berry leads the team with seven INT, almost every one of them looking like he’ll take it to the house.
Routt is going to be the player fans love to hate all year. He’ll get torched in his fair share of games, but will be able to grab four INT of his own. Arenas’ ascension at nickelback continues.
Notes about the upcoming offseason:
Compensatory picks for 2014! Dorsey is allowed to walk into free agency. (Allen Bailey is the heir apparent.) Peyton Hillis, coming off a one-year prove it Pro Bowl performance that he largely notched due to (a.) a great offensive line, (b.) a couple injuries to other key RBs, and (c.) another RB or two declining to play in the Pro Bowl. Hillis will walk, and some team will sign him to a nice little deal.
Albert is franchised.
The big question of the offseason is… now that Daboll has figured out what to do with Cassel, and the entire OL is returning for next season (upgrading! because Jeff Allen will replace Ryan Lilja), do we keep Matt Cassel or move on?
The team will need to get the safety position fixed as well, and find even more depth for a young, talented front seven.
The Chiefs will make the playoffs as division winners.
AFC Byes: Ravens, Texans
Patriots host Steelers
Chiefs host Chargers
Arrowhead, as it often does in prime time situations, just proves too much for Phillip Rivers. The Chiefs emerge as the victors, their first playoff win in 19 years. But once again, they will run into the Ravens buzzsaw in the next round.
The Ravens reach the Super Bowl against the Giants and pull out a grunter, 13-12.
It’s clear by season’s end that Oklahoma’s QB Landry Jones is a second-round prospect, which can only mean some team in the middle-to-bottom of the first round will reach for him. The Chiefs, drafting in the mid 20s, are far too low in the first to have a chance at any of the premier QBs. But they trade up four spots to select Landry Jones, who will compete with (and probably lose to) Cassel in 2013, before taking over in 2014.