2012 NFL Season: Are the Kansas City Chiefs the Best Team in the AFC West?
Successive blowouts in the preseason have chipped away at that confidence.
In the preseason opener, Kansas City's defense appeared porous and ineffective against the St. Louis Rams' subpar offensive line, while the following week, the unit made Seattle Seahawks' rookie quarterback Russell Wilson look like a Rookie of the Year candidate.
On offense, the Chiefs starters could only produce two touchdowns over five solid quarters of play. Their top receivers have been all but invisible to date, and a rushing attack that dominated the NFL just two years ago sits at a mediocre 15th in the league.
Despite all of this, the Kansas City Chiefs are the best team in the AFC West.*
Did you catch that, that little asterisk at the end of that statement? That's a sign meaning there's something left unsaid—the "fine print" lurking at the bottom of the page that takes a "too-good-to-be-true" situation and smashes it like a schoolyard bully does a weakling first-grader's brown-bag lunch.
The Chiefs do have the strongest roster in the AFC West. Kansas City's starting units are littered with top draft picks and All-Pros. First-round draft picks hold eight of the 22 starting positions, and that doesn't count standouts like Eric Winston, Jamaal Charles or Brandon Flowers.
No other AFC West roster comes close to being this complete.
Plus, the biggest question mark for this season, quarterback Matt Cassel, looks comfortable in Brian Daboll's offense. In six quarters of play thus far, Cassel has completed 64 percent of his passes for 377 yards. Those types of numbers would carry the Chiefs to a number of victories in the regular season.
But Chiefs fans can't start planning February's victory parade just yet; there's still that asterisk to deal with.
Kansas City should have topped the AFC West last year. A rash of injuries to the Chiefs' top players derailed that train before it ever left the station. That could easily happen again; Brandon Flowers, Kendrick Lewis and Anthony Toribio are already banged up. The loss of Lewis and Flowers hurts the most as their absence quickly depletes the talent in Kansas City's secondary.
Depth could be an issue on offense as well.
Rodney Hudson enters his first year as a starter and should do well. But if his play takes a nose dive, a round of musical chairs would ensue as Lilja moves to center and rookie Jeff Allen would step in at left guard. And with two veteran tackles electing retirement during the Chiefs' training camp, rookie Donald Stephenson appears to be the top backup option at tackle.
Success in the run game depends on a strong, healthy offensive line, and Cassel's play depends on a strong, healthy rushing attack. Cassel has yet to prove he can carry the Chiefs on his own, and most fans don't see that happening anytime soon, if ever.
And while Kansas City added offensive weapons like Kevin Boss and Peyton Hillis, Cassel either needs Jonathan Baldwin to step up or Dwayne Bowe to return to his 2010 form when he caught 15 touchdown passes. Bowe missed most of camp though, and could still be shaking off the rust even after the season begins. He didn't impress anyone with his marginal play against Seattle.
Kansas City has all the tools to overcome the little blemishes in an otherwise solid roster, and it has one of the NFL's best defensive minds calling the shots. The Chiefs will take that next step towards being an elite defense and lock up the AFC West, should they execute Romeo Crennel's scheme.
That's not a big "if". But asterisks aren't that big either, and they could mean the difference between a division championship and another year watching from home someone else's Super Bowl run.
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