There are 32 players in the NFL that are under extensively more scrutiny than any of the thousands of others that are in camp right now.
Those 32 are the starting quarterbacks who will emerge for the 2011 NFL season.
Every professional athlete...check that...every professional is under pressure to perform at their jobs. A franchises fortunes hinge on the performances of the team they put on the field. The performances of the team on the field—at least on one side of the ball—often hinge more on the quarterback than any other position.
However, some quarterbacks are given greater leeway than others because of the pieces around them or because of their own limitations. A guy like Newton is not going to be scathed as much as Brady if he has a poor season because he is a rookie on a lesser team.
Last season, to an extent, you could create excuses for Matt Cassel of the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs themselves surpassed their own expectations and that was largely due to Cassel's impressive performances.
However, while Cassel was playing with a certain freedom last season with a youthful team and offense that was lacking proven talent on the outside, Chris Chambers was the team's second best receiver and impressed to the point he got cut.
This year however, Cassel comes into the season under pressure to perform.
Entering the third year of his $63 million dollar contract, Cassel hasn't had this much talent around him since he impressed as a Patriot.
The pieces from last season remain. Thomas Jones—at the point of writing—and Jamaal Charles have been joined in the backfield by the impressive LeRon McClain from Baltimore. The Chiefs had the best tandem of running backs in the whole league last year and McClain should only improve that.
McClain must have been offered the chance to carry the ball with the Chiefs because he had made no secret of his desire to receive carries. However, he will aid the team dramatically with his blocking also.
Improving on a strength is always nice, but fixing a weakness is what makes championship teams.
The addition of rookie Jonathan Baldwin in the first round of the 2011 draft and Steve Breaston through free agency has seemingly solved the Chiefs biggest offensive weakness.
Breaston excelled with then offensive coordinator Todd Haley in Arizona during their time together. Haley has reunited himself with his former receiver now which should be a certain comfort for Chiefs fans because it shows that Breaston is a proven commodity in his eyes.
Baldwin may be another youngster like Dexter McCluster was last season, but he should be better suited to perform instantly. McCluster was a college running back and never really adapted to being a receiver. He remains another weapon for the team, but Baldwin will be a much better option for Cassel as the third choice.
The Cheifs offensive line should hold up despite the release of Brian Waters.
There are plenty of good offenses around the league, but what really adds to the pressure on Cassel is the fact that the defense could potentially be dominant next year.
Last season, rookie Eric Berry excelled and impressed everyone who watched him. Berry didn't vault himself to the elite tier of Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed, but he is arguably the closest to the group. His work rate and raw talent should allow him to get even better next year.
Berry is part of a talented secondary with an outstanding cornerback in Brandon Flowers. Flowers doesn't get the same attention as bigger-named players around the league, but that is simply a lack of exposure that will be cured with a deep playoff run this year.
The Chiefs biggest defensive problem last year was the reliance on Tamba Hali to get pressure on the quarterback. GM Scott Pioli took a risk in bringing in Justin Houston in the third round of the NFL draft. Houston was considered a first-round talent but dropped because of character issues.
There is no doubt that he could be a star across from Hali however. If Houston can simply complement Hali—who's performances resulted in a huge reward in the form of a contract—then the Chiefs will be one of the best pass defenses in the league as Brandon Carr and Flowers form one of the best corner tandems in the league as it is.
They did suffer some losses on the defensive line, but bringing in the impressive nose tackle Kelly Gregg from Baltimore should give them a huge boost in the short term.
It appears as if the Chiefs are set to make a deep run in the playoffs. The biggest unknown looks to be Matt Cassel.
Cassel had a great regular season last year, especially considering Dwayne Bowe was his only legitimate target. However, he capitulated in the Chiefs only playoff game with a 9-of-18 performance for three interceptions and zero touchdowns.
That's the problem with having glaring weaknesses offensively, better defenses will find them and take advantage. That isn't a problem that will face the Chiefs this season provided that Cassel can continue his consistency from last year.
The Kansas City Chiefs shocked most people in the league with their performances last year, but I for one definitely won't be shocked to see them back in the playoffs next year.
This time they may even look to win a game...or two.
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