My official Kansas City Chiefs preview comes to you in the form of a grab bag consisting of my 10 biggest thoughts, worries, qualms, predictions, hunches, juxtapositions, and if you're lucky, maybe some conjectures. But first, go ahead and play this song throughout the reading of this piece. If it ends, just restart it. Trust me.
1. This Buffalo Bills opening game scares the dickens out of me. In case you haven't read what I've been saying about the Bills this offseason (here and here), I think they are very dangerous. The Chiefs are still reeling from their shaky preseason, and the Bills might be extra motivated after last season's last second loss (not to mention, Chan Gailey probably hates Todd Haley). However, if the Chiefs were to drop their home opener, I don't like their chances to win at Detroit the next week. At all. And then you're staring down an 0-2 record with a trip to San Diego looming. Those are season over circumstances there. So the moral of this horror story is - Don't lose to Buffalo!
2. People saying this is a make or break year for Todd Haley are dead wrong. I'm looking at you Randy Covitz! And you Sports Guy (who had this to say in his NFL preview: "Relatively Bold Prediction No. 5: By April 2012, Todd Haley will be the offensive coordinator for the New York Jets"). Look you may not like how Haley approached this preseason (nor do you probably like anything that is unconventional), but he has earned himself a down season after last year. If the Chiefs underperform this season, then he can plop down on the hot seat for the 2012 season, but unless the bottom falls out this season, and the Chiefs go something like 3-13, Todd Haley's job will be safe.
3. I'm worried about Jamaal Charles. And nobody else seems to be, which worries me even more. Look, I've said it before, and I'll say it again (just watch), Running Backs come and go all the time in the NFL. And it happens just like that. One minute you are Chris Johnson (and he'll suck in 2 years) and the next you're Edgerrin James. Or Shaun Alexander. Or Steve Slaton (perhaps the scariest comparison - nearly 1,300 yards as a rookie and barely over 500 yards in the two years since). The easiest way to metamorphose from good to bad is by getting injured. Or getting paid. One of which happened, and one of which I see in my nightmares. Luckily, we have, who I believe to be, the best long term mind in the NFL in Scott Pioli, who seems to be taking the necessary measures to keep Charles healthy for a long God Jam time.
4. Dwayne Bowe takes "The Leap." Last year he took a step and became D-Pro Bowe. I think he takes that next step this season. I'm not sure his stats will necessarily reflect the leap, but consistency is a big part of taking that next step. I expect Bowe to be considered a Top 5 NFL Wide Receiver by the end of the 2011 season. He's in a contract year, which may have played a big part in his offseason conditioning (something the Chiefs will have to take into evaluation following this season when he becomes a free agent). He has looked simply unstoppable this preseason, catching everything thrown his way, and I expect that to continue into the regular season.
5. Charlie Weis was the biggest loss of the offseason. Literally and schematically (oh wait, Shaun Smith is bigger, I think...). Since Chaz Weis announced he was leaving for oranger pastures, Matt Cassel and the passing offense haven't played well against an NFL starting defense. It's possible that the Chiefs got the services of a top flight Offensive Coordinator for only 15 games. And it's also possible that Todd Haley is to blame for that (speculative personality beef). In comes Jim Zorn (who I believe in) and Bill Muir (very skeptical), who takes over as the play caller for the Chiefs. They'll become the immediate scape goats, if my fears of Weis being more important than we're all hoping he was come true.
6. The defense is dependent on the long term health of Kelly Gregg. He appears to be fully healthy right now. But he will turn 35 this season. And his snaps were cut down considerably last season in Baltimore. If Gregg goes down, the Chiefs are forced to turn to 6th rounder Jerrell Powe as a starting Nose Tackle. POWE (right in the kisser) has looked good against 2nd and 3rd teamers in the preseason, but asking him to handle the load as a rookie is a bit of a stretch. And with the Chiefs run defense struggling enough as is, I hate to imagine what it would be like without The Oggre. That is why we all need to pray to 8 pound, 6 ounce baby Jesus that Gregg is lucky enough to last 16 games this season.
7. The defense needs a definitive leader to step up. It could be Eric Berry, Brandon Flowers, Derrick Johnson, or Tamba Hali (my order of likelihood), but I want an individual player for the team to rally around. I want a player that everybody can look to when things are going bad, and they'll get a sense of reassurance. The Ravens have Ray Lewis. The Steelers have Troy Polamalu. The Packers have Charles Woodson. The Patriots had Tedy Bruschi. One look in any of their eyes, and you knew his teammates were completely prepared to respond to adversity. My guess is that Urrrrrr Burrrrrrr (ahem, Eric Berry) steps into that role as this season progresses.
8. I'm atleast mildly intrigued by the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes. I'm not gonna root for the Chiefs to lose all of their games. Atleast, not yet. But if the Chiefs fall out of the playoff hunt early on in the season (read: worst case scenario up at #1), I would atleast entertain the idea of tanking the rest of the season in order to win the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes. I think the Chiefs are set up with young talent across the board right now, but Matt Cassel will never be more than an above average Quarterback, and if you watched the Green Bay - New Orleans season opener, you saw first hand what an elite QB can bring to the table. If the Chiefs were able to acquire an elite level QB (and I think there's a very high chance Luck becomes one), then they would become a league powerhouse for the next 10 seasons (and now I have to quit typing before I convince myself this is a good idea from the get go).
9. The Chiefs will only make the playoffs if Jared Gaither is successfully inserted into the starting offensive line. When predicting a team's fate, especially your own team, I look to the most clear cut reasoning possible. Right now the Chiefs offensive line is piss poor. And Matt Cassel doesn't handle getting pressured very well. That's the absolute easiest observation to make about this team. Barry Richardson not only seems to have regressed this offseason/preseason, he seems to have regressed hard. The only chance at improvement I see right now is Jared Gaither, who must play, and play well for the Chiefs to repeat last year's success.
10. The Kansas City Chiefs will go 9-7. Click here to see how.