The public often surprises me with their opinions and love affairs. Rarely, though, have they surprised me as much as they have this year with their enthusiastic early embrace of the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs won just four games last year and had a whole lot of woes - they didn’t underachieve at that win total. Despite that, their NFL season win total was set aggressively at 6.5 this year by oddsmakers. That’s a big step forward from last year, but it wasn’t nearly enough for the betting public.
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The action was so lopsided on the ‘over’ that the price quickly jumped all the way to -140. People overwhelmingly seem to believe that this is a team that is going to win seven or more games and that they are finally going to be respectable. But can that possibly be true? Let’s take a look:
Defense - This is the first place to look because it’s probably the most concerning. The Chiefs have invested heavily in the defense through the NFL Draft in recent years, but it just hasn’t paid off so far. Last year only the Browns and the Lions allowed more yards than the Chiefs. That’s hardly esteemed company. They were second worst against the pass, and better than just three teams in points per game. It was ugly.
Through all of the problems there is one thing the team can’t complain about - they certainly don’t lack blue chip talent. Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson are Top 5 draft picks at defensive end. Both have all of the tools, but neither has really proven themselves so far. Jackson in particular needs to be dramatically better than he has been if the team is going to succeed. Frankly, I’m not entirely convinced that that improvement will happen this year.
Behind those big men up front the front seven is designed far more effectively to play against the pass. Teams had no problem running against them last year, and I can’t think any good reason why teams won’t run relentlessly form the outset again this year.
The secondary makes you more optimistic. The corners are good, and it shouldn’t take Eric Berry long to establish himself as a star at safety. If Berry proves that he’s a player quickly then the secondary should be more than solid.
Offense - It’s as simple as this - the closer the team gets to 2008 Matt Cassel the better they will be, but the closer they are to 2009 Matt Cassel the uglier the season will be. Cassel just wasn’t good last year - 55 percent completion rate, 5.9 YPA, and 16/1 TD/Int are not good numbers for a guy who wants to be a top-level quarterback.
The biggest problem that Cassel had (among many) was that he was constantly fearing for his life from the pass rush. He didn’t have protection with any consistency, so he was forced to pay more attention to the people who were trying to kill him than to the receivers down the field. This team needs to do a much better job of protecting him. Unfortunately, it’s hard to believe that it will be dramatically improved.
The key is another high draft pick who has underperformed - left tackle Branden Albert. He’s in his third year, and though he has shown he has the abilities he has not come close to realizing his potential so far. He needs to be much better. So does right tackle Ryan O’Callaghan, though his upside is far more limited than Albert’s. There are depth issues on the line as well. You can’t accuse me of being optimistic. The O-line play will be better, but I don’t think it will be good enough.
Even if Cassel does manage to find more time to pass I’m not convinced that he’ll have many guys worth passing to. Dwayne Bowe is obviously talented, but his maturity and work ethic are constantly questioned, and he doesn’t work nearly as hard as he would have to to be one of the greats. Their second best receiver is Chris Chambers. If Chambers is that high up your depth chart you don’t have a very good depth chart. The most intriguing name among the receivers is Dexter McCluster. He’s a freak of an athlete, but the rookie was a running back in college, so there will be an obvious adjustment period. Simply put, I hate the receiver situation on this team.
Luckily for Cassel, the running game is significantly better. Thomas Jones is a steal after the Jets gave up on him far too early. Along with Jamaal Charles they have a very good duo to carry the ball and support this offense.
Coaching - I won’t spend much time here because it has been talked about heavily. The public loves the fact that Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis have joined the squad and have returned the roles that made them stars at New England. I’m not nearly as thrilled. Both are an upgrade over what was there before, but I can’t help but think about how indescribably bad both guys were in their last jobs. Just horrible. I’m not willing to crown them as geniuses again until they prove that they are worthy.
Schedule - The schedule isn’t the main reason why the public is bullish on this team, but perhaps it should be. This is one of the easier schedules in the league. If the team is able to perform to their potential then they will be well matched in eight or nine games, and not totally outclassed in more than three or four. Still, the problem is that in order for this team to win seven or more games there won’t be a lot of room for error in the games that are winnable. This is a team that lost to Oakland, Buffalo, and Cleveland last year, so to go from that to a team that wins the majority of their close games in one year requires a leap of faith that I’m not willing to make.
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