Kansas City, MO. 2011 ended before it really even started for the Kansas City Chiefs. After a 2010 season where they won the AFC West, expectations were high last year, and a another trip to the playoffs was anticipated by most of the Arrowhead faithful. But before the calendar even hit October, injuries hit this team, and in a major way. Just a few games into the 2011 regular season, the Chiefs lost their home run threat Jamaal Charles, and stud safety Eric Berry, both for the whole year. There were also other losses in the starting lineup along the way, as Matt Cassel ended up missing seven games due to injury. When you factor all of this in, it’s actually pretty amazing that this Kansas City Chiefs team still won 7 games and finished just a game behind the eventual AFC West champion, Denver. So as the Chiefs head into the home opener this week versus Atlanta, they have all of these key pieces back in the fold for what they hope will be a continuation of the success they had two years ago. With a very balanced roster, and a head coach who the team seemed to play very hard for down the stretch, the Chiefs have a recipe that should land them in the playoffs come this January.
When Todd Haley was fired and Romeo Crennel took over late last season, this Kansas City Chiefs team instantly had a different look. They seemed to be rejuvenated, and even though they really had no shot at the playoffs, they played remarkably hard in December. Remember the stunning upset win over the then undefeated Packers? Nobody saw that coming, as it actually may have been the beginning of the end for Green Bay last year. With seemingly nothing to play for in the final week of the season, they knocked off the Broncos in Denver. The bottom line is, when Crennel became head coach, the team came together and showed everyone that he was the right man for this job going forward. Two years ago, Jamaal Charles busted out and racked up almost 2,000 yards from scrimmage. He had the look of a running back who would only get better, and a scary guy for any defense to have to deal with. But in game two at Detroit last year, he went down with a torn ACL, which obviously ended his year. He is back now, and looking very healthy. The Chiefs went out and got him some help in the backfield during this offseason, signing Peyton Hillis. Hillis is a perfect guy to split carries with Charles, and his style couldn’t be any more different. The combination of Charles’ speed and elusiveness, and Hillis’ straight ahead power and goal-line proficiency is potentially a deadly one for defenses to have to deal with. Matt Cassel is back, and although he does have his critics, he has shown to be productive when healthy. In 2010, playing in 15 games, he tossed 27 TD’s while only having 7 interceptions. Is he in the top half of QB’s in the NFL? Probably not. But is he good enough to get the job done behind a very strong running attack. I think so, and in 2012, we will all find out. Dwayne Bowe is a Pro Bowl caliber receiver, but needs to be more consistent as he enters his sixth season. Yet another player returning from injury is tight end Tony Moeaki, who proved to be a very nice red zone threat in 2010.
As mentioned previously, Eric Berry returns at safety, and his health going forward is one of the keys to this defense. At linebacker, Derrick Johnson is the heart and soul of this unit, and a very undervalued player in the NFL. Tamba Hali’s speed on the end gives the Chiefs a very good pass rush. Hali will miss the game this Sunday because of a one game substance abuse related suspension, however. If healthy, this entire defense has the ability of making a lot of big plays, and ultimately could be one of the NFL’s top ten overall units.
So where do the Kansas City Chiefs fit in when it comes to the AFC West? With Oakland and San Diego having so many question marks, to me, it comes down to the Broncos and Chiefs to compete for the division crown. The NFL is a QB driven league, and Denver undoubtedly has the big edge there. These two teams should battle this out well into December, with the final game of the season between them potentially deciding who the AFC West champ will be. The Broncos, behind Peyton, should have enough to stave off the Chiefs. However, Kansas City looks to be a team who should win a few more games than last year. A 10-6 finish should be about right, and a wildcard berth in the AFC playoffs.
Denver Sports by J Simp