Projecting the 2014 Kansas City Chiefs is like writing out the Magic 8 Ball's answer bank, pinning each response on a wall, turning out the lights and throwing a dart blindfolded.
On one hand, you have an offense whose 26.9 points per game ranked No. 6 in the league last season. An offense that's returning all but one of its big-name skill players, while the position of that "one" may have arguably been upgraded this offseason.
You have a gung-ho defense which, before injuries rerouted its effectiveness, was on course to etch a new single-season sack record.
On the other hand, due to three key departures, projecting the raw but gifted offensive line has (d)evolved into an athletic cakewalk.
Meanwhile, last year's receiving corps was about as threatening as a puppy chasing a three-year-old waving a Care Bear. Another season, another chapter of "Double Coverage: The Dwayne Bowe Story."
The defense lost a Pro Bowl corner, while its best overall player, Justin "Hulk Smash!" Houston, is a potential holdout who's giving off a (NSFW) "Place got hit by lightning, huh? F--k you. Pay me" vibe. And considering he's due to make $1.57 million fewer than his team's punter, per Spotrac, no one with the IQ of a pet rock can blame him.
Plus, compared to last season, the difficulty of Kansas City's schedule is basically is like tweeting threats to a 7-footer, then stepping into a ring with one.
Just to jog your memory, here's the Chiefs' regular-season schedule:
KCChiefs.com, * = 2013 Playoff Team
In Andy Reid's last season at Philadelphia, the Eagles were an abysmal 4-12. However, something that tends to slip people's minds is that after the first four weeks the club was 3-1.
Reid and Michael Vick were circled as the culprits, but they weren't the primary reason for the Eagles' downfall—a shoddy offensive line was.
By Week 9, injuries claimed the availability of all but one initial starter, Evan Mathis. That in turn gave rise to an inexperienced, makeshift front five.
Ring a bell?
Entering 2014, Kansas City's starting O-Line, thus far, projects to be Eric Fisher, Jeff Allen, Rodney Hudson, Rishaw Johnson and Donald Stephenson.
Johnson and Stephenson have never been full-time starters. Fisher is rebounding from two offseason surgeries and switching sides (albeit to his natural position), and he was anything but a model of consistency as a rookie. Defensive tackles treated Allen like a blocking sled.
Hudson brings the only hint of efficiency to the table, but he plays the unit's least valuable position within Reid's system.
That group will be blocking for Alex Smith, who will be throwing to a five-piece puzzle of mediocrity.
OK, that's too harsh.
Bowe, who's reportedly in phenomenal shape and looks in vintage form, as TWC SportsChannel's Nick Jacobs and Chiefs Spin's Herbie Teope note, is a down-to-down target whom coordinators have to plan for:
From a timing & trust standpoint. Dwayne Bowe & Alex Smith are on the same page. It's hard to ignore. Contest coverage or not.— Nick Jacobs (@Jacobs71) June 12, 2014
Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe after OTA practice discussed chemistry with QB Alex Smith this year compared to last year.— Herbie Teope (@HerbieTeope) June 12, 2014
And the raw but decibel-cranking De'Anthony Thomas will at some point in time prove to be an upgrade over Dexter McCluster.
But if the past is indicative of the future, A.J. Jenkins and Junior Hemingway will be celebrated as saviors after their monthly 12-yard comebacks move the chains.
Between those minor miracles, Donnie Avery will do "Donnie Avery things"—bobbling between-the-numbers passes, impersonating a blocker, etc.—while apologists will cite his one 30-yard go route, all the while spouting drunken-tongued curses at Bowe like they're trying to oust a demon.
Even if one of the previous three progresses, he'll still be eyeing AFC and NFC West defenses.
The latter of the two needs no introduction. And though Kansas City's group reigned supreme among its division last year, the Chiefs won't be dealing with slouches anymore.
Denver now pairs a pass-rushing duo of Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware with a secondary featuring Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward.
Westward, the Fighting Eric Weddles (San Diego Chargers) upgraded—and to be fair, it was impossible to do anything but—with the signings of Dwight Freeney, Jason Verrett and former fan-favorite Brandon Flowers, who, per Pro Football Talk, admittedly joined the team just to exact revenge upon Kansas City:
Brandon Flowers admits playing Chiefs twice was a factor in signing with Chargers http://t.co/GyLYCSxFtM— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) June 25, 2014
Assuming he doesn't tweet "I'm your No. 1 fan" to the Chiefs and hobble John Dorsey first (see: Misery; see: "OK, what's she doing...Oh God, no! Make it stop! Please make it stop!"; see: trust issu...actually, don't see Misery), then Weeks 7 and 17 aren't going to be walks in the park.
Also, after a decade of searching, Oakland seemingly pulled its common sense from the lost-and-found pile. Last year, its fans wore pirate patches just to protect them from an eyesore disguised as the Raiders secondary, and the team didn't remove the proverbial thorn in the offseason.
However, Justin Tuck and Khalil Mack complement an already stout front seven.
Look, every franchise rah-rahs its fanbase this time of year, and in doing so, all 32 teams own strongholds on delusional loyalists. If training camp opened with Tyler Palko taking first-team reps, there would still be four Kansas City fans Googling "Super Bowl StubHub" and dipping into their 401K.
But in a moment of honesty, any diehard who has a shred of objectivity within his or herself knows that this year's path to the playoffs is a rocky one.
Even if the Chiefs improve, it doesn't mean their record will follow suit.
If you haven't already pounded out a caps-locked comment and exited the window yet, then in terms of your viewing pleasure, the remainder of this should be smoother sailing.
The Chiefs were 11-5 last year, and if they had played their starters in the season finale, there's little doubt that Week 17's overtime heartbreaker would've been promoted to a chest-beating blowout.
For all intents and purposes, the Chiefs could've easily bumped the win column to 12 if they had so pleased.
Aside from Flowers, Geoff Schwartz and Branden Albert, Dorsey retained most of the key components in 2013's U-turn. (Yes, Dexter McCluster made the Pro Bowl, but Dave Toub's coaching also headlined a record-breaking 29.9-yard kickoff return average. Give the man some credit.)
In his first year, Alex Smith, surrounded by a flock of foreign faces, notched his first Pro Bowl appearance. Furthermore, his local postseason premiere looked like a quarterback clinic sponsored by Beats by Dre ("Go ahead and can tell everybodyyy...").
Ankle-snapping extraordinaire Jamaal Charles, who, per the team's Twitter account, was recently nominated for the "Best NFL Player" ESPY, turned the season into a 16-chapter fantasy novel:
Prior to the bye, Kansas City's defense was a barrage of incoming missiles disguised as 250-plus-pound hell hounds. After the bye, it took one in the jugular (NSFW) from a tranquilizer dart.
Justin Houston and Tamba Hali were, to varying extents, sidelined by injury. Subsequently, the pass rush evaporated, and the secondary played like they were allergic to pigskin.
This offseason, every time that an opposing wideout prances across the goal line, the loss of Flowers is bound to manifest in "Told you so!" tweets. That being said, cutting him also paves the way for a reunion with Houston, who, judging by last year, doubles as the catalyst for defensive success.
The catalyst for defensive failure? Deep-safety play. At least, it was a season ago. Time and again, Kendrick Lewis and Quintin Demps took the angles of a lagging Madden player, trailing receivers like stragglers trying to flag down a bullet train.
Eric Berry, Husain Abdullah and Sanders Commings will seemingly rotate in the role, and while they may not have a wealth of experience at it, they're all faster than Lewis and savvier than Demps.
Switching sides, the offense's fate hinges on its front five—one that oozes with upside. Potential is a blind date, though.
If the offensive line develops the necessary chemistry, Kansas City's surrounding talent deems them a returning playoff threat.
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