Every NFL team has to deal with injuries – it’s part of the game. But perhaps no club’s season was derailed earlier in 2011 by major injuries than the Kansas City Chiefs’. Fresh off a surprising AFC West title in 2010, many had the Chiefs as a chic pick to reach the AFC title game a year ago. But stud running back Jamaal Charles, who was second in the NFL in rushing in 2010, was lost for the season early in Week 2. Also going down for the year were star tight end Tony Moeaki (in the preseason finale) and Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry (Week 1). Without them, K.C. started 0-3 and was outscored by a record 99-10 in the first two losses.
Yet somehow, the team managed to rally with four straight wins to retain hope of winning the mediocre division again. However, a four-game skid followed and all was about lost even though K.C. wasn’t eliminated from the division race until a Week 16 loss to Oakland. Kansas City finished 7-9.
The Chiefs fired Head Coach Todd Haley after a 37-10 loss to the Jets in Week 14 that was their fifth in six games and dropped them to 5-8. In that defeat, the Chiefs committed 11 penalties for 128 yards (a problem all season), including a 15-yarder on Haley for unsportsmanlike conduct that may have sealed his fate. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, the former Browns head coach, took over for the final three games and probably got himself the full-time job (he would officially after the season) in his first game, a 19-14 upset of previously unbeaten Green Bay in Week 15.
This unit was mostly pathetic in 2011 without Charles and Moeaki. The offense ranked second-to-last in points per game (13.2), 27th in yards per game (310.8) and 25th in passing yards per game (192.5). This year will be a make-or-break one for QB Matt Cassel. The good news is that this is an even-numbered season. He was great in 2008 with New England in place of an injured Tom Brady and made the Pro Bowl with the Chiefs in 2010. But Cassel has struggled in ’09 and ’11 with an 8-16 record as a starter. The team could have tried to keep Kyle Orton, who was acquired during last season and took over when Cassel was hurt, but has hitched its wagon to Cassel for one more season. He’s a goner with another bad year. Brady Quinn and Ricky Stanzi are his backups, so that’s not much to be excited about.
Certainly the Chiefs will be run-heavy with Charles and new addition Peyton Hillis, the former Brown. Hillis was a breakout star in 2010 and a “Madden” video game cover boy heading into last season, when injuries and, frankly, a lousy attitude led to a terrible season. The Chiefs led the NFL averaging 164.2 rushing yards per game in 2010. That average dropped to 118.3 yards per contest, 15th in the NFL, a year ago thanks to Charles’ injury and Thomas Jones’ decreasing effectiveness (he wasn’t retained). Dexter McCluster is also technically a running back, but he will mostly be used as third-down receiver – in fact, he may just line out in the slot. He should still get a few carries but not anywhere near the 114 from last season barring another Charles injury.
Kansas City must get some help for star WR Dwayne Bowe (81 catches, 1,159 yards, five TDs), who is expected to holdout into the preseason after he was franchised this offseason and couldn’t agree to a long-term deal. Bowe was usually double-teamed a year ago because no other receiver scared defenses. Steve Breaston (61 catches, 785 yards, 2 TDs) was solid in his first season in K.C. but is more of a No. 3 guy, in my opinion. The Chiefs expect much more from 2011 first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin, who was a major disappointment last year but reportedly has had a great offseason with Bowe sitting out. Kansas City missed out on luring Colts free agent Reggie Wayne this offseason. Moeaki’s return can only help things in the passing game.
New coordinator Brian Daboll brings the offensive scheme he directed in Miami last year and in Cleveland the season before that one. (Not sure that’s a good thing?) Daboll will feature the run game, no question, with a lot of two tight-end sets. There will be two new starting offensive linemen at a minimum.
Crennel will remain the team’s coordinator on this side of the ball and there has been coaching continuity among the assistants as well. This unit was pretty good last year, finishing No. 12 in points per game (21.1 – not bad considering how inept the offense was), No. 11 in yards per game (333.3) and No. 6 against the pass (201.3). It forced 26 takeaways in 2011, tied for sixth in the AFC. Nine starters are set to return, with the additions being Stanford Routt at cornerback and 2012 first-round pick Dontari Poe at nose tackle. But the big addition is really the return of Berry.
2012 Kansas City Chiefs Schedule Analysis
Kansas City is tied as having the 20th-toughest schedule this season in terms of an opponents’ 2011 winning percentage of .492. K.C’s three division rivals all are judged to have tougher schedules – the Chiefs play just five games vs. teams that finished over .500 a year ago (somewhat misleading since the three other AFC West teams all finished right at .500.)
The Chiefs’ opener will be a homecoming game for former Kansas City star tight end Tony Gonzalez as his Falcons visit (currently a ‘pick’em’ on 5Dimes). That’s followed by back-to-back road games at Buffalo and New Orleans – certainly both challenges. The Bills won 41-7 at Kansas City in last year’s opener that sort of set a tone for the Chiefs season considering Berry got hurt.
Things get no easier after that as San Diego and then Baltimore visit Arrowhead. The Bolts and Chiefs split two games in 2011, each winning at home by a field goal. K.C. then visits Tampa before its bye week – realistically, a 3-4 record would be pretty good.
Four of the Chiefs’ first six games after the bye at home (including three straight at one point) and all are certainly winnable (vs. Oakland, Cincinnati, Denver and Carolina). But the two road games look daunting: at Chargers and Steelers (Chiefs’ only Monday night game) in Weeks 9 and 10. The closing stretch has three of four on the road, but at least the home finale vs. the rebuilding Colts should be a lock W.
2012 Kansas City Chiefs NFL Futures and Odds to Win AFC West
On 5Dimes, the Chiefs’ “over/under” wins total is set at 8, with the over at -120. To win the AFC West, K.C. is +350, while the field against it is -485. To win the AFC, the Chiefs are +1800, and the Super Bowl +4500.
2012 Kansas City Chiefs Predictions
The Chiefs enter their 50th season as the youngest team in the league. They are the only NFL team to begin camp with no player older than 30 (six players will start camp right at 30 and only Cassel is an important one). Does that mean it’s on the rise? Two years ago, I thought so.
Now I’m not so sure, mainly because of Cassel. If he flounders, this season goes downhill fast and the Chiefs may be eyeing someone like USC’s Matt Barkley or Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson in the first round of next year’s draft. Plus, wouldn’t you rather have every other AFC West QB (Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer) than Cassel? I sure would.
I can’t see this club getting to eight wins with that schedule as I wouldn’t “expect” a road win anywhere but maybe Cleveland. And with the AFC West trio, Atlanta and Baltimore visiting Kansas City, well, 7-9 looks likely again.
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