The Kansas City Chiefs are in position to have a very successful season in 2012. A few things certainly have to go their way, but a duplication of their 2010 season in which they won the AFC West is a definite possibility.
Everyone in and around the Chiefs organization wants to put last year's roller coaster of a season in the rear-view mirror. In order for that to happen, Kansas City must find an identity early on and stick to it. Luck and health will also surely play a fundamental part.
Whether directly controlled by the team, or if they benefit from the misfortunes of other squads, here is the blueprint for the Chiefs to win the AFC West.
When Jamaal Charles suffered a torn ACL in the 48-3 Week 2 loss to the Detroit Lions last season, any chance the Chiefs had of repeating as league leaders in rushing vanished with him.
Thomas Jones, Jackie Battle and Dexter McCluster simply weren't enough to pick up the slack.
Enter Peyton Hillis in 2012.
The Chiefs signed Hillis to basically be a younger and hungrier version of what they wanted out of Jones. And with an upgraded offensive line, the Chiefs would do well to feed Hillis and Charles the ball as much as possible this season.
However, Cassel hasn't quite proven that he is capable of leading this franchise with his arm. But his 3,116 passing yards and 27 touchdowns in 2010 were more than sufficient for a team that led the league in rushing that same year.
If the Chiefs plan on making a return trip to the playoffs by winning the AFC West, Charles and Hillis will be a major part of that equation.
The pass rush over the past few seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs can be summed up with two words: Tamba Hali.
Hali's suspension for the season opener with the Atlanta Falcons shouldn't hamper his production this season, but the Chiefs will need other players to get to the opposing quarterback often if they plan on having much success on the defensive side of the ball in 2012.
Outside linebacker Justin Houston came on strong at the end of last year, tallying 5.5 sacks over the season's final five games. A full season under the tutelage of head coach Romeo Crennel and playing alongside Hali could help Houston reach double-digit sack totals this season.
Rookie nose tackle Dontari Poe should also play a factor in the Chiefs ability to get to the quarterback. His push in the middle will open lanes for Derrick Johnson, Eric Berry and others to create havoc on blitzes as well.
While not to the same extent as 2011—when the Kansas City Chiefs lost Brandon Siler, Tony Moeaki, Eric Berry and Jamaal Charles to season-ending injuries by Week 2—there are some early concerns surrounding the health of key players, particularly on defense.
Fellow defensive back Kendrick Lewis is dealing with a lingering shoulder issue. And linebacker Derrick Johnson was taken out of the game against the Packers last week after suffering what was thought to be a significant ankle injury at the time.
None of the injuries to these key players seem to be too serious. But having any of these guys miss a considerable amount of time will not bode well for the Chiefs defense and their chances of winning the division.
While the Broncos did little else to improve the rest of their team from last year, Manning has shown throughout his career that he elevates the play of everyone around him on the field.
If Manning is any semblance of his former self, Denver's offense will be successful, and wide receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas will be doing their best Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison impressions all season long.
Though the jury is still on out Manning's ability to sustain his health through the rigors of an entire season, as long as he on the field, the Broncos have a shot at winning every game on their schedule.
On paper, the Chiefs are a more talented team and have more depth. Kansas City also wants to quickly erase what happened last season. But if Manning can pick up where he left off with the Indianapolis Colts in 2010, the Chiefs have a huge road block ahead of them in taking back the AFC West crown.
The Kansas City Chiefs schedule actually sets up quite nicely; finishing fourth place in the AFC West last season affords them a fourth-place schedule.
While no game is a sure thing in the NFL and looking past any opponent often yields heartbreak, there are a few must-win games on the Chiefs slate in 2012 if they are to win the AFC West.
Obviously, all six inter-divisional games with the Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders hold major importance. Taking care of business at home and taking two more on the road within the division would give the Chiefs a leg-up in the AFC West.
It is also imperative that the Chiefs do not stumble out of the gate similar to last season by losing to the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions by a combined score of 89-10.
The Atlanta Falcons will be a handful at Arrowhead Stadium in the season opener. The Chiefs must come out strong and prove that the high expectations entering this season actually have substance.
Kansas City also must demonstrate the ability to beat other playoff-caliber teams. Avenging their most recent postseason loss when the Baltimore Ravens come to town in Week 5 will be a good test to see if the Chiefs deserve to be mentioned with the AFC's elite.
While every game is important, the Chiefs must handle the games within their own division and find ways to beat the tougher teams outside of the AFC West to make a return trip to the postseason.