Football fans in Kansas City will tell you the biggest reason the Chiefs did not repeat as AFC West champions was because of the injuries that occurred in 2011.
The Chiefs placed eight players on injured reserve this past season—four of them being key starters from the 2010 season. Among those four, three of them received an invitation to the Pro Bowl. The Chiefs had high hopes of moving forward and improving off of the 10-6 season, but with the absence of many players, that goal could not be attained.
Although we are in January and the 2012 regular season won't be for another eight months, players never take a break from preparation as OTAs get underway in the spring.
The Chiefs have four key players who were missing for either most or part of the 2011 season.
QB Matt Cassel: Matt Cassel was injured halfway through the season when the offensive line didn't do him any favors against the Denver Broncos. Rookie linebacker Von Miller made it look easy as he got to Cassel several times and was ultimately responsible for Cassel's finger injury.
RB Jamaal Charles: Arguably, Kansas City's most popular player, Chiefs fans were saddened when Jamaal Charles was taken out of Ford Field on a cart. After seeing Charles leave, with a disappointed look on his face, it was no surprise when it was announced that Charles was out for the season.
TE Tony Moeaki: Chiefs fans had no idea if they would ever find the next Tony Gonzalez in Kansas City. Now, fans are hopeful with Tony Moeaki, even though he has only played one season as a Chief. Moeaki's one-handed catch against San Francisco is what helped him achieve his "the-next-Tony-in-Kansas City" status. Moeaki was hurt in the preseason in the finale against Green Bay.
Which Chiefs player has the best chance of winning the league's Comeback Player of the Year award?
S Eric Berry: It is hard to remember the last time the Chiefs had a player explode during his rookie season. Following Eric Berry's rookie Pro Bowl season, he was already labeled as one of the best safeties in the league alongside Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed and Adrian Wilson. Berry was ready to erupt in 2011 until he was blocked in the knees by Stevie Johnson during the season opener against the Buffalo Bills.
With Cassel, Charles and Berry as Pro Bowlers and Moeaki as a key contributor, one can wonder if Kansas City could have outlasted the Denver Broncos for the AFC West. It is the second time since 2008 a team in the AFC West won the division with eight wins.
Part of the reason why Chiefs fans should be excited about the 2012 season is how close they were to beating the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football without those four players. What if the Chiefs had Cassel throwing the ball and Charles as the tailback?
And let's not forget how much Ben Roethlisberger struggled. The Steelers only managed to come away with 13 points that night while the Chiefs were held to nine.
The Chiefs were involved in a few other low-scoring contests while playing with a thin roster. While some of those games went their way, others didn't.
As these four players are set to return and make the Chiefs better, they are also early candidates to win the league's Comeback Player of the Year award for next season.
Cassel, right now, has a lot of support from head coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli. Charles almost shattered Jim Brown's record for the highest yard per carry average in 2010 while having 15 less carries then Thomas Jones. Moeaki and Berry were both getting their feet wet and were poised for breakout seasons during their sophomore years.
Chiefs fans have a lot to be excited about. Since they fell only one game behind the division winner in 2011, it helps fans know that some of their favorite players will return and rise in the division. But fans also love seeing their favorite players earn individual awards, such as the Comeback Player of the Year award.
Crennel and Pioli have a lot of work to do this offseason to help the team build high standards for 2012. When that happens, the Chiefs may get some national exposure from the media, which will help sell a lot of tickets next season and perhaps fill those empty yellow seats.