It’s not too hard to look at the Chiefs on the surface and see a team on the brink of greatness. Promising young starters returning, one of the hottest young coaches in the game and a passionate fanbase reignited by an unlikely division title run last season.
But as September 11th approaches, the Chiefs find themselves staring at an 0-4 preseason record and questions mounting about Todd Haley’s unconventional handling of the preseason. Four key Chiefs players were dinged up in the preseason, and Tony Moeaki finds himself sidelined until training camp in 2012 with a torn ACL that he suffered in the 4th quarter of the fourth preseason game. Ouch.
The Chiefs’ first half of the schedule is one that can be conquered and set the tone for a brutal second half in which they will face five playoff teams, four of which appeared in their respective conference championship games. At times like this, you have to wonder if the Chiefs are at a crossroads or just a detour on their path to Super Bowl glory.
Staring them in the face is yet another season where most prognosticators are questioning Matt Cassel’s ability to lead the Chiefs past the first round of the playoffs and lead the team to their first postseason win in over 17 years. Jamaal Charles looks to shoulder more of the load in the running game, despite his small frame. Dwayne Bowe is hoping to follow a breakout year and establish himself as an elite wide out in the NFL. The young defense is fast and brutal, but up front there are problems.
Here’s the great part. None of this matters.
I’ve picked the Chiefs to go 11-5 this season. Why? Take a step back and look at the season from a distance. Shield yourself from the minutiae and really look at this team. Sure, a sophomore slump may be in the cards, but this will be Matt Cassel’s fourth full season in the NFL, third with the Chiefs. This will be his test. Can he go into hell holes like Gilette Stadium, Soldier Field and the Meadowlands and pull out victories? He put it together against lesser opponents last year. People might say that last year is the best that Cassel can do. Well if that’s the truth, then we’re looking at a Hall of Fame quarterback. Cassel faltered down the stretch, but he is a leader on this team and you can tell by his demeanor and the way his teammates talk about him.
The defense is what will make this team go in 2011. Besides the defensive line, the Chiefs have Pro Bowl talent at nearly every position on defense. The weak link is perhaps at inside linebacker, where Jovan Belcher is looking to make his unlikely story continue. Belcher is fast and if you remember, had an incredible game against the Ravens in the playoffs with 11 total tackles. The defensive line is laden with issues, but a stabilizing for the Chiefs will be Glenn Dorsey. Finally, the once proclaimed “bust” got his act together and posted his best season of his short career. Kelly Gregg is about as above average as they come, but this spot will likely be taken over by sixth round rookie Jerelle Powe halfway through the season. Powe showed brilliant promise against the run in the preseason. And this brings us to Tyson Jackson…you know what, nevermind.
Another reason the experts aren’t picking the Chiefs this year is the myth that we were “healthy” last year. What they are failing to remember is that the Chiefs were leveled with injuries last year. Matt Cassel missed perhaps the biggest road game of the season due to appendicitis. Kendrick Lewis missed seven games (In which the Chiefs went 2-5…). Dexter McCluster missed several weeks with an ankle sprain. Tony Moeaki missed games. Injuries happen. Staying healthy is impossible through the course of an NFL season. The Chiefs had it as bad as anyone else last year.
Finally, the schedule. The NFL schedule for each team is something the experts love to point to as a reason for certain teams falling short of expectations. Here’s the reality: every team in our division has to play the exact same schedule, save two games. Now, are the Chiefs the best team in the AFC West? Who knows? That’s why we don’t play the games on paper, folks.
So before you go spouting 6-10, 7-9 or 11-5 (heh), let’s just sit back and enjoy the ride. This team will be fun to watch no matter what. Because no matter the outcome of this season, good or bad, the Chiefs are on the verge of something special. Eric Berry, Derrick Johnson, Jamaal Charles, Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Kendrick Lewis, Dwayne Bowe, Dexter McCluster, Jon Asamoah. These are the names that are going to be around here for a long, long time