Any self-respecting coach will tell you that every game in the NFL is critical, and they have a point. More so than any other sport besides perhaps the college ranks, NFL games are crucial week in and week out. One NFL game carries the same weight as five NBA games or 10 MLB games, so coaches can’t afford to take a single week for granted.
Still, some games just stick out, and for the Kansas City Chiefs, there are five that will be central to how their season plays out.
This one gets the benefit of the doubt just because it’s always a good idea to make a statement to start off the season. When the Dirty Birds come a-knockin’ in KC, this game will hinge on Atlanta’s vicious air attack versus potentially the top young secondary in the league.
Shutting down Matty Ice, Roddy White and Julio Jones is a tall order, considering Atlanta was the eighth-best passing team in 2011. It will be quite the test for Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis as they return from injuries, and the chemistry between new corner partners Brandon Flowers and Stanford Routt will undergo a trial by fire.
If, however, the talented secondary players can cover Atlanta’s superweapons and keep the Falcons from finding the promised land, the offense will have much less pressure to get the pigskin in the paint themselves. This is an optimal situation for a unit under a new coordinator, as the Chiefs have Brian Daboll still getting his feet wet in Red and Gold.
If the Chiefs’ promising defense can bring the Birds back to earth, it will go a long way to establishing the unit’s confidence the rest of 2012.
Oh, and some guy named Tony is coming back to Arrowhead.
This is the kind of game that young, unproven teams like the Chiefs live for: The chance to take down a powerhouse.
Forget the fact Sean Payton will be watching the game from the couch, it doesn’t particularly matter. As long as Drew Brees is still taking the snaps, any game against the Saints will be a dogfight. Facing 2011’s finest offense in their Swamp Dojo at the Superdome isn’t going to make things any easier, either.
This game will be a test for the defense, certainly. But if Brees and Co. are clicking on their home turf, no defense has much hope to stop them, and this game will be critical for the offense. It may be the first time Matt Cassel and Jamaal Charles will have to match an elite offense tit-for-tat, and that’s a daunting prospect for an offense that averaged only about 13 points per game.
But if the offense proves itself up to the task and the Chiefs can escape the Big Easy with a win, their confidence will be as high as Brees’ quarterback rating the rest of the season.
Here’s a fact that’s guaranteed to make any self-respecting Chiefs fan puke: The Raiders have beaten the Chiefs at Arrowhead every year since 2007. 5-0. Nauseating.
That makes this game all the more vital. With the new, Manning-led Broncos looking to take the division, the Chiefs can’t afford to let any division games slip away, especially in a stadium that’s famous for its’ home-field advantage.
The Raiders don’t seem to be a major threat this season under a new head coach, a new GM systematically cleaning house and a minimal infusion of talent coming from the draft. But make no mistake: The Raiders are always a substantial threat to Kansas City’s playoff hopes, no matter how bad they seem to be. And the Raiders love nothing more than to spoil Kansas City’s picnic.
With the talent levels on the two teams favoring the Chiefs, the boys in Red and Gold simply need to execute against their bitter rivals to get it done. Easier said than done against the Black and Silver, though.
The Chiefs have had a little sprinkling of magic bestowed upon them the last couple of seasons when the Chargers have come to town. Whether it’s Dexter McCluster taking it to the house in the first game of his NFL career in 2010 or Philip Rivers’ inexplicable fumbled snap on Halloween night 2011, the Chiefs seem to have the Chargers’ number on their home turf.
At Qualcomm Stadium? Not so much.
The Chiefs haven’t won in San Diego since 2007. Since that time, the Chargers have given the Chiefs a smackdown to the tune of a combined score of 114-50. Ouch.
A sweep of the Chargers would not only be the first since 2003, it would be a major boon to locking up the division. Beating the Volts at Arrowhead is hard enough, doing it on the road would do wonders for prepping the Chiefs for a playoff run.
You knew this was coming. No matter how much those in the Show Me State may hate the division being handed to the Broncos before the season even starts, more than likely the Chiefs will have to go through a certain Super Bowl-winning, future Hall of Fame quarterback to get to the postseason.
More than likely, this first meeting between the teams in 2012 will be the first of two heavyweight fights to determine who claims the division. That being said, the Chiefs have to take care of business at Arrowhead against the Rocky Mountain Monstrosity.
This game falls almost completely on the defense, as the Broncos don’t look to have a very imposing defensive unit themselves in 2012 besides the two outside linebackers. I have a strange hunch Tamba Hali is going to be the deciding factor in this game, and given Romeo Crennel’s past successes against Manning, he should be able to find a way to get Hali in the backfield to ruin Peyton’s day.
Depending on how the Broncos fare against the rest of the division, one win against Denver may be enough to win the division for Kansas City. Why not do it at home?