Two weeks into the baseball season and the Kansas City Royals already having gone belly-up, it’s time for fans of Kansas City sports teams to turn their attentions to the NFL.
While the Chiefs haven’t exactly been overwhelming in the past decade — they did make the playoffs two years ago, but other than that it’s been a dry run — at least their offer of hope is more tangible than that of the fraudulent Royals, whose core of young players has crumbled under the pressure of too high of expectations.
The reason we bring up the Chiefs is that their 2012 regular-season schedule was released this week and from all indications, the gloom-and-doom of the baseball season could bleed over to football.
For as bad as the Chiefs were last year, when injuries stripped them of their most dynamic playmakers, they were mathematically alive going into the last week of the season, due to the underwhelming talent of the AFC West. Three teams wound up tying for the title at 8-8, and the Chiefs were in last, but just one game back at 7-9. That finish makes the Chiefs’ schedule somewhat softer, but not by much.
Working against the Chiefs is that they have games with the NFC’s South Division, one of the megapower divisions of the entire league. That means games against high-flyers New Orleans and Atlanta, as well as Tampa Bay (a year removed from 10-6) and rising star Carolina (Cam Newton gives the Panthers a chance in every game). Losses to Atlanta and the Saints (despite all their offseason upheaval) are virtual givens, while the game with Tampa Bay is on the road, and we all know how poorly the Chiefs traditionally play in Florida. We would think the Chiefs could beat Carolina in Arrowhead, so we’re talking 1-3 in these four games.
Of course, the Chiefs have their usual six games within their own division. With Peyton Manning now at the helm of Denver, the Broncos are the prohibitive favorite to win the division, even if Manning is about 85 percent. San Diego has had some of its stars jump ship and should be weaker than last year. Oakland has had maybe the worst offseason of anybody in the NFL, losing stars and not replacing them. A 3-3 record is not out of the question in the division.
Now let’s look at the other games. The Chiefs play Buffalo on the road, and all they need for motivation is the embarrassing shellacking the Bills laid on the Chiefs on opening day last year. With Mario Williams now on board for the Bills, KC is about 50-50 in this one.
The Chiefs have Baltimore at Arrowhead and that also looks to be a loss, as Matt Cassel will be under siege from that physical Raven defense.
Page 2 of 2 - A road game at Pittsburgh also doesn’t bode well, as this looks like another almost-cinch loss.
Who knows what kind of team Cincinnati will have this year, as the Bengals have been feast or famine, so we’ll give KC the benefit here.
The other two games are winnable, at Cleveland and home against Indianapolis.
So what we’re looking at is another year in the 7-9 to 8-8 range. While that would have kept them in the race last year, Denver should be at least a 10-win team, though its schedule is considered among the NFL’s most difficult.
Of course, a lot of this is speculation. We still have the draft coming up, and rosters are far from set.
Kansas City will be better simply by the return of Cassel, Jamaal Charles, Tony Moeaki and Eric Berry, four of their injured stars.
GM Scott Pioli made several moves to beef up and add depth to the offense, with the highlight signing being Eric Winston, a legit All-Pro offensive lineman. Pioli’s draft attention figures to be focused on defense, adding speed at linebacker and size up front. The Kansas City defense got a lot better during the latter stages of last season, but there’s no depth to speak of. We wouldn’t be surprised if most of their picks are on the defensive side of the ball.
But all that said, we still believe the team’s fortunes hinge on one player — Cassel.
He was having a dreadful year when he went down for the season with a hand injury. He’s never been somebody who instills a lot of confidence, and he doesn’t seem to be a team leader. In a quarterback-driven league, it’s pretty hard to be a big winner without a Top 10 quarterback. And Cassel isn’t one of them.
Our guess — another 7-9 season.