The Kansas City Chiefs had so many injuries to top players last season that trying to predict how they will perform this year based on that performance would be a mistake. Every year in the NFL, there are teams that go from worst to first in their division. The Chiefs are the team most likely to make that jump this year.
The Chiefs offense suffered a huge blow when running back Jamaal Charles tore his ACL last season. If this preseason is any indication, however, he is already back in rare form. They also brought in Peyton Hillis, who suffered through an injury-plagued 2011. Those two guys will team up for a potent one-two punch in the running game.
At wide receiver, the Chiefs are blessed with two tall wide receivers who can go up and get the ball in Dwayne Bowe and Jon Baldwin. If that wasn't enough, they have wide receivers Steve Breaston and Dexter McCluster to work defenses over from the slot receiver position. Tight ends Kevin Boss and Tony Moeaki are also steady contributors in the passing game.
In short, the Chiefs have a lot of weapons on offense.
I envision the Chiefs giving the same pick-your-poison problems as the Chicago Bears near the goal line when they have Bowe and Baldwin out wide with Hillis in the backfield.
The key to their success will be keeping quarterback Matt Cassel healthy and making good decisions with the ball. Even though there are people who doubt his ability, I'm confident Cassel can get the job done.
On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs have outstanding players on every level of the defense. Outside linebacker Tamba Hali, middle linebacker Derrick Johnson and safeties Kendrick Lewis and Eric Berry are all big-time playmakers. Outside linebacker Justin Houston and cornerback Stanford Routt are no slouches, either.
Cornerback Brandon Flowers is another quality player, but he is sidelined for now with a foot injury.
When teams have to pass against the Chiefs, their defense is going to wreak havoc. And with the weapons they have on offense, they should be playing with a lead a lot.
In the return game, the Chiefs are also explosive with McCluster and nickel cornerback Javier Arenas. They will help change field position and put the offense in better situations to score.
The Chiefs' schedule is tough, but it's a little bit easier than that of the Denver Broncos, which is the other team I consider in position to win this division. The Chiefs will face two teams I believe will win their division while the Broncos will face four. The Chiefs also have games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts, all of which will struggle a bit this year.
Aside from the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens, the Chiefs will also face tests out of the division from the the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and Carolina Panthers, all of which will contend for a playoff spot.
Interestingly enough, the Chiefs meet the Broncos in the final game of the season, a game that may well be for the division crown. Even with Peyton Manning at the helm for the Broncos, I have to give the edge on offense to the Chiefs.
For that reason and the others outlined above, the Kansas City Chiefs are my pick to win the AFC West by a nose.