The Kansas City Chiefs started the 2012 season with realistic expectations of challenging the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers for the AFC West title. Four games into the season, Matt Cassel and the offense looks more interested in competing for the rights to draft his replacement.
The Chiefs' (1-3) lone victory on the season required an overtime period to knock off the still-winless New Orleans Saints. Kansas City was blown out in Buffalo and wasn't competitive in home games against the Atlanta Falcons and the Chargers.
The team needs a reason to believe they can still make the playoffs or they need to begin planning for 2013. With the Chargers preparing for their game against the Saints this weekend, the Chiefs could be three games back come Monday morning.
Cassel should have the same end-goal every game, and that is helping his team get a win. But when the Baltimore Ravens visit on Sunday, winning the game will be more than a goal—it will be a mandate if he wants to maintain his starting job.
Being replaced by Brady Quinn, who hasn't seen the field for a regular-season game since 2009, would be disastrous. It would be a clear indicator that head coach Romeo Crennel and GM Scott Pioli are preparing for next season, and likely doing it with no intention of keeping Cassel in the fold.
Kansas City spent dearly for Cassel's services. Pioli had just been hired away from the New England Patriots when he made the move to acquire his former backup signal-caller.
The Chiefs promptly signed Cassel to a six-year, $63 million contract. He still has two seasons and $17 million remaining, according to spotrac.com.
When should the Chiefs bench Cassel?
Cassel had a spectacular season in 2010. He threw 27 touchdown passes with just seven interceptions and took the Chiefs to the playoffs. His lone playoff start saw him pass for 70 yards on 18 throws with three interceptions, as the Ravens destroyed the Chiefs 30-7.
In the other two-plus seasons in Kansas City Cassel has 31 TDs with 32 INTs and a completion percentage under 57 percent.
Perhaps it is too simplistic to say "win or else" for Cassel this weekend, as the team isn't going to bench him if he throws for 300 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. But with the way Jamaal Charles is running and the capabilities of the defense, that kind of a performance should be enough to trigger an upset over the Ravens.
The Chiefs would have just one more game, a Week 6 contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, prior to their bye week. If a change is to be made that would be the logical jump-the-shark point.
Pioli may feel his hands are tied to Cassel after making the moves to establish his franchise quarterback. But if Cassel doesn't begin directing scoring drives it should be clear that he isn't the future for Kansas City. The Hunt family won't spend $7.5 million on a losing quarterback next season.
Chiefs fan plans to fly banner asking to fire Pioli, bench Cassel nfl.com/news/story/0ap…— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) October 5, 2012
Instead, the Chiefs would have to prepare to draft a legitimate franchise quarterback next April. They would also need to determine Quinn's role on the team going forward.
Crennel can likely help the team with both of those causes by inserting Quinn into the starting lineup headed into their Week 7 bye.
All statistics, unless otherwise stated, are courtesy of ESPN.com.
Darin Pike is a writer for Bleacher Report's Breaking News Team and a Featured Columnist covering the NFL and Seattle Seahawks.