Things couldn't have gone much better for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013 (well, at least until that Andrew Luck fella ruined things in the playoffs). The team finished 11-5 in the first season with Andy Reid as the head coach and Alex Smith the quarterback, earning a wild-card berth in the AFC playoffs.
And when the Chiefs took a 38-10 lead on the Indianapolis Colts with 13:39 remaining in the third quarter of their playoff matchup, it appeared that Kansas City was heading to the divisional round.
But then Luck happened, as he led the Colts to an improbable comeback victory, 45-44, that included four touchdown passes overall and a bizarre fumble recovery that Luck turned into a rushing touchdown. It was a game that has surely haunted Kansas City fans all offseason long.
But now, it's time to stop looking back and instead look ahead, as next year's schedule is officially here, courtesy of NFL.com. Last season was a huge step in the right direction for the Chiefs. Let's see which teams stand in their way of reaching the postseason for a second straight year.
|1||Sept. 7||vs. Titans||1 p.m.||CBS|
|2||Sept. 14||at Broncos||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|3||Sept. 21||at Dolphins||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|4||Sept. 29||vs. Patriots||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|5||Oct. 5||at 49ers||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|7||Oct. 19||at Chargers||4:05 p.m.||CBS|
|8||Oct. 26||vs. Rams||1 p.m.||Fox|
|9||Nov. 2||vs. Jets||1 p.m.||CBS|
|10||Nov. 9||at Bills||1 p.m.||CBS|
|11||Nov. 16||vs. Seahawks||1 p.m.||Fox|
|12||Nov. 20||at Raiders||8:25 p.m.||NFLN|
|13||Nov. 30||vs. Broncos||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|14||Dec. 7||at Cardinals||4:05 p.m.||CBS|
|15||Dec. 14||vs. Raiders||1 p.m.||CBS|
|16||Dec. 21||at Steelers||1 p.m.||CBS|
|17||Dec. 28||vs. Chargers||1 p.m.||CBS|
Returning to the postseason won't be easy for the Chiefs.
The team plays seven games against teams that reached the playoffs last year (the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers twice, along with the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers), 11 games against teams that finished .500 or better and in total faces a collection of teams with a combined record of 117-91 last season.
Keep in mind that the Arizona Cardinals were theoretically good enough to reach the postseason last year (10-6) but were left out in the loaded NFC. Also, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins nearly snuck in themselves. This is a brutal collection of games, though by midseason it might not look so rough.
The NFL has a funny way of taking everyone by surprise, after all, as was the case with Kansas City last year after jumping out to a 9-0 start.
One of the critiques of the 2013 Chiefs was that they reached the postseason in part because of a soft schedule. It's hard to imagine that critique being levied against them this year.
Year 2 of the Reid and Smith regime will still have big expectations, however. Jamaal Charles (1,980 yards from scrimmage, 19 total touchdowns) is coming off his best season as a pro and will again have to carry the load for Kansas City's offense.
Meanwhile, last year's opportunistic defense (36 forced turnovers, second in the NFL to Seattle's 39) will once again need to force turnovers to keep the ball in the hands of Kansas City's methodical offense. With Smith at the helm, the team turned the ball over just 18 times, and their turnover differential of plus-18 was second only to, you guessed it, Seattle (plus-20).
Still, there are concerns for the Chiefs. The team wasn't particularly active in free agency, allowing players like tackle Branden Albert, safety Kendrick Lewis, wide receiver Dexter McCluster, guard Geoff Schwartz, guard Jon Asamoah and defensive end Tyson Jackson, among others, to depart.
The team is also still pretty weak at wide receiver. They thought they were bringing aboard Emmanuel Sanders in March, but that situation was a pretty big mess, as Dan Hanzus of NFL.com wrote at the time.
Sanders certainly would have been a nice addition. And many folks thought DeSean Jackson might be a solid addition as well after he was cut by the Philadelphia Eagles, given his ties to Reid from their days spent in Philly together, but the Chiefs didn't move in that direction, either.
Bleacher Report's Christopher Hansen thinks the team was wise to avoid Jackson:
Thirst for a WR is strong among #Chiefs fans. I get that, but Jackson probably wasn't the best fit.— Christopher Hansen (@ChrisHansenNFL) March 31, 2014
Smith isn't exactly known for his deep ball, so the blazing-fast D-Jax might have overrun more than a few passes in Kansas City. And Jackson's deal with Washington could have been replicated by the Chiefs, though it would have left them with no wiggle room under the cap and would have forced them to potentially release a key veteran.
The team did add defensive end Vance Walker, linebacker Joe Mays and offensive lineman Jeffrey Linkenbach, so the Chiefs haven't been completely quiet on the free-agency front. General manager John Dorsey spoke to Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star and had positive things to say about Mays:
Every defensive scheme puts players in unique football positions. One of the things you guys will love about Joe Mays is he’s a real football player. He’s mature, he’s a very good communicator. He’ll be able to play, equally, the run and the pass. I think when it’s all said and done, you guys will like Joe Mays.
But fans of the team hoping to win the AFC West this year will be nervous about the team's offseason, especially as the Broncos added DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Sanders.
The Chiefs have the coaching staff and talent in place to lead them to the playoffs once more. Winning the West will be an uphill battle against a loaded Broncos team, but reaching the postseason once again will be the goal.
If Charles has another MVP-esque season and the defense is as opportunistic as it was last season, the Chiefs will be hard to beat. And given how loaded their schedule is this season, they'll need to be hard to beat to survive it.
The two games against the Broncos will be huge, of course, but games against teams that will likely be competing with Kansas City for a wild-card seed—the Broncos deserve to be the prohibitive favorite to win the division—like the Chargers, Steelers and Dolphins could be the difference between another playoff trip and an early postseason.
Kansas City's contests against Miami and Pittsburgh both come on the road, making the circumstances all the more difficult. Those are two pivotal games the team will need to win.
Kansas City was a pleasant surprise a year ago, but nobody will be taking them lightly this year. The 2014 season is going to be a battle.