The Kansas City Chiefs are going back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Mark it down.
This prediction is not a popular one, as most people believe the Chargers will be the class of the AFC West once again, but I believe the Chiefs have the pieces in place to challenge for and ultimately win the division this season.
The Chiefs were a team in disarray for much of last season, as they had a new general manager, coaching staff, and quarterback. The biggest problem at Arrowhead came in the form of Larry Johnson, who was released after Week Seven.
The dismissal of Johnson led to the emergence of Jamaal Charles as a potential superstar running back. The running game is one of the main reasons Chiefs fans should be optimistic about the upcoming season.
Charles will team with the recently signed Thomas Jones to form one of the league's best rushing duos. Charles is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball, while Jones proved he's still a bruising back even at the age of 32 by rushing for over 1,400 yards with the Jets last season.
Quarterback Matt Cassel will be expected to have a much better season than his first in a Chiefs uniform if the Chiefs are to have a successful 2010 campaign. Cassel was plagued by a wide receiving corps that led the league in dropped passes but should have no excuses this season with the offensive weapons the Chiefs have added.
Besides signing Jones, the Chiefs also signed a big target at wide receiver in 6'3" Jerheme Urban and drafted a dynamic weapon in the second round with the selection of Dexter McCluster.
McCluster was a very productive player at Ole Miss and will be called upon to do many things, such as return kicks, line up as the slot receiver, and even run the ball.
McCluster wasn't the only offensive player the Chiefs were excited to get in the draft; they traded up in the third round to take tight end Tony Moeaki. The Kansas City coaching staff was impressed with the rookie's ability to stretch the field from the tight end position.
Coach Todd Haley hasn't used his tight ends a whole lot in the past, but Chiefs fans are hoping Moeaki can be reminiscent of a former tight end who ruled the end zone at Arrowhead.
The offensive line was also upgraded over the offseason, as the Chiefs brought two former linemen back to Kansas City in guard Ryan Lilja and center Casey Wiegmann. Lilja will start at guard, and Wiegmann will be in an interesting battle with incumbent Rudy Niswanger. Branden Albert had a strong second half of the season and should continue to improve at the key left tackle spot.
The offensive line will be an important part of the Chiefs' offensive success, at it was when the Chiefs were among the highest scoring teams in the league under Dick Vermeil.
Dwayne Bowe is a major question mark after his struggles catching the ball last season and his recent controversial comments. Bowe needs to return to the form he displayed his first two seasons in the league for the Chiefs to have a potent passing attack.
The Chiefs did little to improve a defense that had trouble stopping the run for most of the last season. They drafted the best safety prospect to come out of college in years by selecting Eric Berry with the fifth overall choice. Berry was their only major acquisition on defense and is being counted on to be a difference maker in the defensive backfield such as Ed Reed.
The defensive line is an area of concern for the Chiefs, as former top-five draft picks Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson have failed to live up to lofty expectations. Dorsey and Jackson are still very young, and oftentimes defensive linemen struggle to put up big numbers in their first few seasons.
Derrick Johnson is the most talented linebacker on the team, but because of a feud with Haley he didn't see the field nearly enough last season. When Johnson actually got off the sidelines and into the game, he intercepted two passes for touchdowns in the final game of last season.
Tamba Hali is underrated and overlooked at linebacker, as he turned in a very solid effort last season with 8.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.
The strength of the defense should be the young secondary, which returns both starting corners in Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr. Flowers is a rising star in the league and has a great chance at getting to his first Pro Bowl this season.
The addition of defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel should have the Chiefs defense improved enough to win the Chiefs more games this season. The Chiefs also added Charlie Weis as offensive coordinator, which should help Cassel in his development.
The Chiefs lost six games by seven points or less last season, and with the pieces they've added on offense, the Chiefs shouldn't need a whole lot of improvement from their defense this season. I believe they will get enough improvement out of their defense to challenge for the division crown and ultimately win it.