After winning the AFC West in 2010, the Kansas City Chiefs followed up a season to remember with one to be forgotten.
The lack of an offseason, critical injuries and just bad luck in general were all contributing factors to a subpar 7-9 effort in 2011.
Nonetheless, the past is the past, and the sun is once again shining down on Kansas City's beloved football franchise.
Jamaal Charles, Matt Cassel, Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki will all return from devastating injuries in 2011 and attempt to lead the Chiefs to another division title, and possibly maneuver deep into the playoffs.
Throw in a well-orchestrated free-agency plan directed by GM Scott Pioli and the Chiefs' front office, as well as some potentially valuable additions through the draft, and it shouldn't be as tough as one may think to dethrone Peyton Manning and the defending AFC West champion Broncos this fall.
The next five slides highlight why I think the Chiefs can "buck" the Broncos and take hold of the AFC West once again.
Routt comes to Kansas City replacing Carr at cornerback.
Aside from CB Brandon Carr and FB Le'ron McClain, the Chiefs didn't suffer any casualties in free agency.
But Carr was replaced with the equally-effective Stanford Routt when the two parties agreed on a three-year deal, bringing the seven-year veteran over from the divisional rival Oakland Raiders. Carr and Routt piled up four interceptions apiece in 2011 and recorded over 40 tackles, but the more-experienced Routt also comes at a cheaper rate.
There will now be two Peyton's playing inside the AFC West this year, as Peyton Hillis was brought in to Kansas City in hopes of reviving his career and becoming a complimentary power option next to the speedy Charles, a role that should fit Hillis well.
And when the Houston Texans cut the extremely underrated Eric Winston in efforts to save cap space, the Chiefs quickly pounced on the 6'7", 302-pound lineman and will now use him to hold down the fort at right tackle.
Another former Raider, tight end Kevin Boss, was signed to a three-year, $9 million deal and will help Kansas City run some effective two-tight end sets.
Add in free agent QB Brady Quinn, who was signed to replace Kyle Orton as an extra insurance policy for Cassel, and the Chiefs undoubtedly came out winners in this year's free-agency period.
Let's face it, you can say what you want about Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos in 2011, and while they did win the AFC West—it wasn't exactly a job well done.
It's hard to say any team that went 8-8 and basically lost their way into the playoffs (lost three straight to end the season and still won a divisional tiebreaker over the Chargers and Raiders) earned the right to host a home game in the NFL playoffs.
But the 7-9 Seahawks found themselves hosting a playoff game in 2010, so I suppose we'd better just get used to the idea.
Yes, Tebow is gone and Manning is in Denver now. But regardless of whether or not he has returned to his superhuman form, Peyton will need some time to adjust, and the upcoming schedule in 2012 isn't doing the Broncos any favors.
As for the rest of the AFC West, the Chargers will never win with Norv Turner at the helm, as far as I'm concerned. You can rack up all of the yardage you want, but if you don't play disciplined football and win the turnover battle, you won't be playing postseason football. Simple as that.
And the Raiders, well, let's just say they didn't put themselves in the best of situations by giving up a fortune to acquire Carson Palmer. And if he doesn't produce this season, it's going to be a long year for Oakland and its new general manager, Reggie McKenzie.
If the Chiefs want to claim the west once again, this is clearly the year to make it happen.
I think the Chiefs' 19-14 upset over the previously 13-0 Green Bay Packers in Week 15 proved that the players are pretty fond of their new head coach.
Kansas City had a disappointing record of 5-8 at the time and Todd Haley had been fired earlier that week. A banged up and beaten down team could've easily closed shop until next season, but Crennel stepped up confidently and led the Chiefs to victory when the task at hand seemed nearly impossible.
Crennel is an honest, up-front coach that tells it like it is day in and day out. Most players find that to be an invaluable asset for a coach.
The Chiefs will now have a full offseason to prepare for their first year under Crennel's lead since his ditching of the "interim" label, and barring another season plagued by injuries, the sky is the limit in Kansas City and its foreseeable future.
As I previously stated, and Crennel will tell you too, Pioli and the front office completed a job well done in this year's free agency.
As a result, many of the roster's holes have now disappeared and the Chiefs can simply take the best available talents in the NFL draft—as opposed to seeking out and eventually reaching for a prospect who fits a need that's desperate to be filled.
With the 11th pick in the first round, there's no telling which direction Kansas City could go. They may choose to bolster the defensive line with a stud like Dontari Poe (Memphis) if he's still on the board.
If not, there are plenty of other instant-impact defenders such as linebacker Luke Kuechly (Boston College) waiting to be picked at No. 11 that are capable of breakout campaigns in 2012.
As for the later rounds, the Chiefs will likely be looking to add depth in the secondary, and may address the nose tackle position later on if a guy like Poe is off the board.
Click here for a complete list of the Chiefs picks in the upcoming NFL draft.
Facing the Saints in 2012 may not be as bad as it typically would be..
All in all, Kansas City got it pretty easy in terms of scheduling for the upcoming season.
Oh, the perks of finishing last in the division.
While traveling to New Orleans is typically no easy draw, the Chiefs can potentially take advantage of a depleted Saints team and sneak out with a win.
Kansas City also gets Atlanta at home, and the Matt Ryan-led Falcons do not fare well out of town—especially when playing on a grass field.
There are a couple of potentially tough matchups awaiting in games against the Ravens, Bengals and Steelers, but if all goes well, the Chiefs should now be equipped with the firepower to hang with the big boys of the AFC.
Click here to view the Chiefs opponents in 2012.
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