The Chiefs’ schedule looks to be significantly less brutal than it was last season, when an injury-crippled squad knocked heads with the third strongest schedule in the NFL. Facing the NFC South and AFC North divisions, the schedule toughness drops to 20th.
Despite the eased up schedule, there is still some very formidable resistance to the Chiefs reclaiming the AFC West title. Which of the Chiefs’ opponents will give them the most grief in 2012?
It is bad times in the bayou but make no mistake, this is still a potent and dangerous team as long as Drew Brees is under center.
2011 saw Brees and the Saints light up their schedule for an average of 467 yards per game to cement themselves as the number one overall offense in the NFL. With 334 of those average yards being through the air (also the best in the NFL) it’s a daunting aerial attack that could give Kansas City all kinds of headaches.
But not only does Romeo Crennel have to figure out how to slow down Brees, he has to do it in the Swamp Slinger’s wheelhouse: The Superdome.
Last season the Saints averaged 39.8 points per game at home, with the weakest effort being a measly 27 points. If the Chiefs offense can’t capitalize on a defense that was 24th in the NFL before the loss of Jonathan Vilma and Anthony Hargrove to suspensions, this could end up being a very long day in Louisiana for the Red and Gold.
Key Matchup: Dontari Poe vs. Brian de la Puente
The New Orleans offensive line is one of the best at keeping a clean pocket for their passer. Whether that will remain the case with Ben Grubbs replacing Carl Nicks remains to be seen. However, if the Chiefs’ first round Memphis Monster can take win, the battle against de la Puente and collapse the interior of the pocket, Kansas City’s defense will have a much easier time during their visit to the Big Easy.
The Ravens are the epitome of smash-mouth. The last time Kansas City and Baltimore squared off, the Ravens gave the Chiefs a hard lesson in what it takes to succeed in the postseason with a 30-7 beating in which the Baltimore defense bashed the will out of the Kansas City offense.
Now as the Black Birds return to KC in Week Five, fans should be extremely wary of this matchup.
Why? Because the Ravens know exactly how to beat Kansas City, and they’ll try to do it again: Force Matt Cassel to make great throws to win. That’s a scary proposition for Chiefs supporters.
A defense that features Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis and Pernell McPhee up front will be gunning to shut down Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis. And they are perfectly capable of completely derailing a Chiefs ground game that looks like it could be record-settingly lethal. If 2010 repeats itself, and it’s up to Cassel to make throws and win, that could prove difficult with Ed Reed watching Dwayne Bowe like Terrance Cody watches cupcakes.
On the defensive side of things, it doesn’t get any easier for Kansas City as they’ll face an offense designed much like their own. One of the few offenses left in the NFL with a feature fullback, a Kansas City defense that was a less than convincing 26th against the run last year will have a very telling test against Ray Rice. With home run threat Torrey Smith whizzing downfield and Anquan Boldin being tougher than a five dollar steak, the backfield will have their own problems and it will be up to Poe, Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson to set the tone for the defense.
Key Matchup: Jovan Belcher vs Vontae Leach
These two meeting at the line of scrimmage will be like watching two bighorn sheep fight on the Discovery Channel. With Leach charged with clearing the way for Rice and Belcher’s responsibility to take blocks to free up Derrick Johnson, whoever wins this matchup will go a long way toward helping their team’s cause. If Johnson gets space to pursue Rice, he can limit the Tiny Tank’s effectiveness significantly.
There really isn’t anything special about the Raiders at first glance going into 2012. The franchise is in rebuild mode with few new draft picks to build from. Carson Palmer may or may not be the answer at quarterback and the defense is full of unrecognized and underperforming potential.
But one thing is constant the last few seasons: Oakland always seems to have Kansas City’s number at home. The Chiefs haven’t beaten the Raiders at Arrowhead since 2006 and the last couple of times have been especially painful. Whether it’s the 31-10 beating in 2010 or the game that would ultimately keep the Chiefs out of the playoffs in 2011, the Raiders are a black thorn in the side of the Arrowhead faithful.
Despite the transition period happening in the Bay Area, they still have an animal coming out of the backfield by the name of Darren McFadden. The Chiefs, who finished 26th in defending the run in 2011, will have a difficult time hog-tying the former Razorback if they let him get any kind of groove going.
Offensively, the Chiefs need to have one thing drilled into their brains in practice the week leading up to Oakland paying a visit: contain Richard Seymour at all costs.
He might be starting to look at retirement homes in Aruba, but Seymour is still a nasty, marauding force. New center Rodney Hudson will need to account for him at all times during the pre-snap calls or Brady Quinn is going to find himself in the game.
Key Matchup: Dwayne Bowe vs. Lito Sheppard
Dwayne Bowe needs to abuse Lito Shappard early and often. With Stanford Routt on the opposite sideline now the Oakland secondary is in even bigger disarray than it was with him; although that’s not exactly a comforting sentiment for Chiefs fans concerning Routt. Regardless, this is a matchup that offensive coordinator Brian Daboll needs to exploit.
There’s a man in some dark corner of Heinz Field circling November 12th on his calendar, sneering through a scraggly beard and waiting for his settling of scores. Todd Haley is going to throw everything his new Steelers offense has at his old team.
If Ben Roethlisberger is healthy at this point in the season, this may well be the biggest test the Chiefs’ promising young secondary will face. Matching up against Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders along with promising rookie Marquis Maze will be an interesting gut check for Flowers and company that could quickly turn sour if Tamba Hali and Justin Houston don’t get Big Ben down on first contact. Few are better at making big plays out of near-sacks than Roethlisberger, and not allowing him and his receivers to improvise will save Crennel a lot of headaches that Sunday.
Daboll, on the other hand, is going to need to stock up on Aspirin. Despite the aging of key pieces, Pittsburgh is still not a defense to get cheeky with. Hudson, Jon Asamoah and Ryan Lilja will have to contend with a defensive line rotation that consists of Casey Hampton, Cameron Heyward, Brett Keisel and Alameda Ta’amu in what is sure to be a bloody mêlée at the line of scrimmage.
With the swinging gate formerly known as Barry Richardson gone and Eric Winston holding down right tackle for Kansas City, left tackle Brandon Albert has a lot more help keeping James Harrison and Lamarr Woodley off of Cassel’s case, a tall order to be sure. Even with the upgrade, it’s not a sure thing Cassel’s uniform will be clean when the final gun sounds in Pittsburgh.
Key Matchup: Romeo Crennel vs. Todd Haley
This great battle of the minds will be a storyline all through the week leading up to the showdown. A great defensive mind against the much-ballyhooed offensive brainchild Haley will be the dead horse ESPN beats all week. Here’s to hoping Crennel makes fun of Haley for starting Tyler Palko for four weeks in the post-game handshake.
Everyone from Chris Berman to the guy at the end of the bar at Shenanigans is ready to hand the Broncos the AFC West. Just because Peyton Manning chose to grace the Rockies with his presence, people are conceding the division to Elway’s boys.
I am not one of those people.
Demaryius Thomas may be an up and coming receiver talent, but the rest of the receiving corps wouldn't scare the Iowa State secondary. Andre Caldwell, Eric Decker and Brandon Stokely aren’t exactly the stuff of nightmares.
The Chiefs were built to beat the Chargers when they were the primary passing team in the division. Now that Denver looks to be that team, the outpouring of secondary talent in Kansas City is tailor-made to beat passing offenses.
Additionally, Crennel seems to be Manning’s kryptonite. A wizard at taking away Manning’s primary read, it will prove difficult for Manning to find his first target. With Ryan Clady seeming to regress since his outstanding rookie season, Tamba Hali could have some fun when all of Manning’s receivers are covered.
Offensively, the Chiefs will have to exploit the weakness in the middle of Bronco’s line. Relying on second-round draft selection Derek Wolfe and old-timer Ty Warren to hold down the middle, the center of that defense is prime to be busted to pieces by Hillis.
Key Matchup: Kevin Boss and Tony Moeaki vs Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers
Jamaal Charles tormented the Broncos at the end of the 2009 seasons for 259 yards and two touchdowns. If Boss and Moeaki can seal the edges and let Charles run wild on the Denver defense again, it will keep the clock moving and give Manning less opportunities to get on the field. And anytime you get Charles on a roll you've got a good shot of winning any football game.