Chiefs early schedule could determine season

Dec 20, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid (L) looks onto the field during the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 20, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid (L) looks onto the field during the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

There is always a stretch of games in an NFL schedule that are vital to a team’s success. Most of the time, these happen in the middle of the season. For the 2016 Chiefs, that stretch comes right at the beginning.

 A quick, overall glance at the Kansas City Chiefs’ 2016 slate of games won’t exactly send shivers down the spines of the Chiefs Kingdom. Statistically speaking, the Chiefs have one of the easiest schedules in the NFL this season. An easy schedule means high expectations and no excuses for missing the playoffs.

That being said, this is the NFL. Now, more than ever, the “any given Sunday” mantra proves to be absolutely true.

It appears the Chiefs’ toughest game of the 2016 campaign will come on November 13 when they hit the road to take on Cam Newton and the NFC-champion Carolina Panthers. That happens later in the season. Kansas City’s toughest stretch of games, however, comes right from the first kickoff.

Week 1 sees the Chiefs hosting division rivals San Diego. Division games, especially in the AFC West it seems, are always a toss up. Despite relatively low expectations for the Chargers this year, there is still plenty to be afraid of. The passing combinations of Phillip Rivers and Keenan Allen, Stevie Johnson, and newly-acquired Travis Benjamin are potentially scoring threats, especially with the questions surrounding the KC secondary. Also, while he didn’t have a great rookie season, Melvin Gordon still has a lot of upside and could boost the Chargers’ running game.

In week 2, the Chiefs will visit Houston for the third time in just over a year. Of course, the first two of those meetings ended in a KC victory, including the one that ended the 22-year playoff win drought. Offensively, there are a lot of questions surrounding the Texans and their newly acquired quarterback Brock Osweiler. If the former Bronco is able to play up to expectations, that passing game should be extremely dangerous (DeAndre Hopkins might just be the best wide receiver in football). Defensively, Houston should once again be one of the best squads in the league and KC will need to repeat how well they were able to stop JJ Watt in the playoff game.

The stretch continues into Week 3, when Kansas City host the New York Jets, a team that fell just shy of the playoffs last season. While there are still a lot of questions around the Jets, especially when it comes to whether or not Ryan Fitzpatrick will be the quarterback, this could potentially be a dangerous team. They surprised everyone last year with how well they did and can easily do the same this season.

Then in Week 4, the Chiefs make a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers on Sunday Night Football. This game, you can argue, is as tough as the game against Carolina, if not more difficult. The black and yellow are many experts’ favorites in the AFC North, and some think they are the favorites in the AFC. The offensive trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown is, in my opinion, the best in the league. If the Steelers can stay healthy, they can definitely go deep into the postseason. This will be a huge game for the Chiefs.

After the trip northeast, the Chiefs get a bye week before heading west for the first 2016 game against the rival Oakland Raiders. When the Chiefs left the Black Hole last season, many thought it would be the last time the two would play in Oakland. But the offseason relocation fell through and, at least for now, the Raiders remain in northern California.

The silver and black should be a lot better this year, too. The young standouts on both sides of the ball are gaining more experience, making them more and more dangerous. Guys like Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack will have a huge impact and are rising stars the Chiefs will definitely have to take note of.

This early stretch of difficult games could make or break the Chiefs season. Four or five wins during this stretch would be considered a success. Three wins wouldn’t be preferred, but also wouldn’t be the end of the world. Two or fewer victories and KC will have some work to do to make up for lost ground.

In the competitive world of the NFL, especially when it comes to potential Wild Card races, every win matters. This stretch of games could be the difference between a division title and missing the playoffs for the Chiefs this season.