Every season in the National Football League, there are a few teams that shake off disappointing seasons the year before to make a serious run at the postseason, and one of the leading candidates to do so this year is the Kansas City Chiefs.
After somewhat surprisingly winning the AFC West with a 10-6 record in 2010, everything that could have conceivably went wrong did for the Chiefs last year.
Injuries struck the team early and often. Starting tight end Tony Moeaki tore his ACL in the preseason and didn't play a down in the regular season. The team lost its best defensive player, safety Eric Berry, to a similar injury in the first game of the year. And because they say these things happen in threes, star running back Jamaal Charles saw his season end by the same injury in Week 2.
Add in the loss of starting quarterback Matt Cassel to a hand injury after nine games and a mid-season change in head coaches, and it's no real surprise that the 2011 season was a frustrating one in Kansas City, with the team needing to win three of their last five games just to finish the season at 7-9.
However, there are a couple of reasons to believe that the Chiefs could be set to bounce back this season and contend in what should be a very winnable AFC West.
First, the tumultuous 2011 season that brought about the firing of former head coach Todd Haley may actually have been a blessing in disguise, at least where that is concerned. Haley was an intense coach who rubbed any number of his players the wrong way.
On the other hand, new head coach Romeo Crennel appears to have the unanimous support of his players. There's no more clear evidence of that support than in Crennel's first game last year after Haley was shown the door.
In Crennel's first game as interim coach, the Chiefs shocked the NFL by downing the then-unbeaten Green Bay Packers 19-14, handing the Packers their only defeat of the 2011 regular season in a game that likely went a long way towards landing Crennel the head coaching job on a permanent basis.
The biggest factor in a return to contention for the Chiefs will undoubtedly be the return to health of the numerous stars the team lost to injury last year.
Berry and Charles are arguably the Chiefs' most talented players on defense and offense, and as Adam Schein of FOX Sports recently tweeted, Kansas City's star safety said he's ready to go for 2012:
Berry says he is 100 percent physically. #CHIEFS
— Adam Schein (@AdamSchein) June 27, 2012
Aiding in the Chiefs' quest for a return to prominence is the fact that they play in a division that would appear ripe for the taking.
Granted, the arrival of quarterback Peyton Manning in Denver may have instilled the Broncos as the AFC West favorites. But the fact remains that no team in the division won more than eight games last year, and there isn't a team in the division that doesn't face question marks entering this season.
The fate of the Chiefs in 2012 may well rest, as it often does in the NFL, squarely on the shoulders of its starting quarterback. Matt Cassel has yet to truly show the promise that Kansas City saw in the eighth-year veteran when they signed him to a six-year, $63 million contract in 2009.
How Many Games Will The Kansas City Chiefs Win in 2012?
If the Chiefs are going to make some noise in the AFC West this year, they need the Cassel who threw 27 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions in 2010, not the erratic passer who has 26 touchdowns and 25 picks in his other two years with the club.
However, with a number of returning stars, the most favorable schedule in their division and a successful offseason and draft, the Kansas City Chiefs are in a prime position to be one of those "surprise" squads that the talking heads love to chatter about, going on and on about how surprising it is that the team sits atop its division six weeks into the season.
Actually, that wouldn't be that surprising at all.