Where Do Kansas City Chiefs Stand in the AFC West Now?
USA TODAY Sports
Buyer beware: Chiefs fans entered the 2012 season with the same brand of optimism currently circulating throughout the City of Fountains. And that optimism revealed a cruel 2-14 prank.
Kansas City will improve, but to what extent is anybody's guess. A new head coach, Andy Reid, will teach an unfamiliar system to a fresh batch of players. And on the heels of last season, Kansas Citians are well aware that coaching transitions don't transpire without bumps in the road (or in the Chiefs' case, barricades).
Reid and general manager John Dorsey have trimmed the roster's fat, but new faces in new places don't guarantee that Kansas City will surpass its division rivals.
The following rankings are based on the teams' current pre-draft rosters.
Notable Offseason Additions: DT Pat Sims, LB Kevin Burnett, LB Nick Roach, DT Vance Walker, LB Kaluka Maiava
Notable Offseason Losses: DT Desmond Bryant, DE Matt Shaughnessy, DT Tommy Kelly, S Michael Huff, LB Philip Wheeler, TE Brandon Myers, T Khalif Barnes, G Cooper Carlisle
Notable Unsigned Free Agents: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, DT Richard Seymour, CB Shawntae Spencer
The Oakland Raiders have made a concerted effort to revamp the defense this offseason—the club dismantled its front seven and has signed six potential starters thus far.
ESPN's John Clayton speculates that the Raiders may also release Carson Palmer and fill the quarterback void with Matt Flynn:
If Carson Palmer is cut, Matt Flynn is a viable trade option for the Raiders. They might offer a swap of picks in Round 3 and a 2014 pick— John Clayton (@ClaytonESPN) March 28, 2013
Of course, the organization could also make a play for Geno Smith with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 draft.
Regardless, Oakland has lost far more than it has gained this offseason. Bloated contracts and salary-cap ramifications led to the front office imploding last year's defensive rotation.
The Raiders defense was starving for improvement after the unit ranked 20th in passing, 18th in rushing and 28th in scoring by the end of 2012 (via NFL.com). But Desmond Bryant's mountainous presence will be sorely missed on the interior. And the production of dynamic tackling machine Philip Wheeler likely won't be matched by his replacement(s).
On paper, a subpar Raiders defense has regressed. Playmakers—namely running back Darren McFadden and wide receivers Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford—are scattered across the offense. However, McFadden annually combats injuries, and Palmer—while more than serviceable—isn't going to will a team into the playoffs at this stage in his career.
Assuming that Kansas City's offensive line remains healthy, Reid's aerial attack, in tandem with Jamaal Charles' ground game, should churn out points with relative ease against Oakland.
Notable Offseason Additions: CB Derek Cox, RB Danny Woodhead, G Chad Rinehart, T King Dunlap
Notable Offseason Losses: CB Antoine Cason, CB Quentin Jammer, DT Aubrayo Franklin, DT Antonio Garay, DE Vaughn Martin
Notable Unsigned Free Agents: T Jared Gaither, LB Shaun Phillips, LB Takeo Spikes
The San Diego Chargers will join the Chiefs in debuting a new regime in 2013, as the team hired Mike McCoy to replace former head coach Norv Turner.
McCoy, formerly the Denver Broncos quarterbacks coach, was primarily recruited to reverse the hex on quarterback Philip Rivers. The polarizing passer has regressed in each of the past five seasons (via NFL.com).
Much like the Raiders, San Diego's defense is riddled with questions. Cornerback Derek Cox adds a nice piece to the secondary, but the Chargers released the starting duo of Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer. Depending on how the remaining vacancy is addressed, the potential of San Diego's secondary ranges from mediocre to solid.
However, second-year edge-rusher Melvin Ingram should significantly boost the production from his rookie season. If so, his presence should help minimize the damage stemming from the departures on San Diego's front seven.
Offensively, the Chargers desperately need to re-sign wideout Danario Alexander (restricted free agent).
If McCoy, who has no prior head-coaching experience, reverts Rivers to his efficient Pro Bowl form, San Diego could eclipse the .500 mark in 2013. But the franchise's hopes also hinge on the health of running back Ryan Mathews, who has missed 10 games in three seasons (via NFL.com).
In all likelihood, Rivers' and tight end Antonio Gates' best days are behind them.
The Chargers victimized the Chiefs by pinning 68 points on the board (via Pro-Football-Reference.com) during the rivals' two meetings last season—history is unlikely to repeat itself in 2013. Injuries continue to plague key offensive contributors, and holes have sprouted in the middle of San Diego's defense.
Notable Offseason Additions: QB Alex Smith, CB Sean Smith, DT Mike DeVito, CB Dunta Robinson, TE Anthony Fasano
Notable Offseason Losses: DT Glenn Dorsey, QB Matt Cassel, DE Ropati Pitoitua
Notable Unsigned Free Agents: RT Eric Winston, RB Peyton Hillis, TE Kevin Boss, WR Steve Breaston, QB Brady Quinn
But the NFL has evolved into a passing league. And last year, a baffled coaching staff oversaw substandard quarterbacks operating a run-oriented offense. It was a recipe for disaster that graduated into a perfect storm.
However, the hiring of Andy Reid has replenished the organization's credibility, and his staff of renowned names ensures that last season's most crippling factor—coaching—won't shroud Kansas City's 2013 squad.
Trading for Alex Smith reintroduces three elements to the Chiefs passing game: accuracy, poise and sound decision-making. If Kansas City's quarterback develops a healthy rapport with his receivers, Jamaal Charles will stare at drastically less stacked boxes.
Brandon Flowers will headline a stingy cornerback trio comprised of him, Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson—a trio that was formed to counteract Denver's high-octane passing game.
But the Chiefs' success ultimately depends on how well Reid implements his West Coast offense. If Kansas City effectively moves the chains and tacks touchdowns on the scoreboard, its defensive playmakers will be given the green light to react more aggressively. But if the Chiefs resort to 2012's conservative approach, quarterbacks like Peyton Manning will feast on their vulnerabilities.
Due to the abundance of offseason changes, it will take time before the Chiefs boast cohesive units on both sides of the ball. But the pieces are in place, and the No. 1 overall pick will add an extra layer of icing to the roster.
In due time, Kansas City should jell and become capable of challenging Denver for the AFC West throne. But that challenge will likely fall on next year's calendar.
Notable Offseason Additions: WR Wes Welker, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, G Louis Vasquez, DT Terrance Knighton
Notable Offseason Losses: DE Elvis Dumervil, LB D.J. Williams
Notable Unsigned Free Agents: CB Tracy Porter, DE Ty Warren, C Dan Koppen, DT Justin Bannan, LB Keith Brooking
The AFC West champions tallied a polished 13-3 record last season. And Denver has only improved since the curtains closed on 2012.
The Broncos' only irreparable offseason loss occurred when defensive end Elvis Dumervil signed with the Baltimore Ravens—no available free agent or late first-round pick will replicate his production. At least, not next season.
But the front office upgraded its potent offensive machine with two noteworthy cogs: receiver Wes Welker and guard Louis Vasquez. And both can attribute their payday to Peyton Manning.
Which team will win the AFC West in 2013?
Regardless of who lines up at nickelback for the Chiefs—likely Dunta Robinson or Javier Arenas—their (in)ability to limit Welker may dictate the outcomes of both meetings next year.
Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton was also brought in to treat Denver's interior issues up front. And cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was added for two reasons: He spent the past two seasons scouting Andy Reid's offense, and Father Time is pounding on the door of Champ Bailey's career.
With budding prospect Chris Harris anchoring a spot in the starting rotation, Bailey and Rodgers-Cromartie will see their fair share of spirals next fall. If Alex Smith can capitalize on Bailey's deteriorating skills and Rodgers-Cromartie's inconsistent play, the Chiefs will be capable of pulling out at least one upset against the Broncos.
Andy Reid's club can breach next season's playoff picture, but it will likely be in the form of a wild-card berth. The nucleus of Denver's 13-3 run remains intact, and Kansas City's legion of unfamiliar faces will spend a healthy portion of 2013 acclimating to their new surroundings.
Although a lot of scenery has changed, one constant remains: Kansas City's home-field advantage. And if Andy Reid restores the franchise's competitive nature, fans will restore Arrowhead Stadium's electricity and defibrillate its intimidation factor.
A supremely talented roster supported by a revived fanbase can redirect the Chiefs' path to the postseason. Romeo Crennel once coached an inferior team to defeat a previously 13-0 Green Bay Packers squad—crazier things have happened.
Twitter: Follow @BrettGering
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