Heading into the 2011-2012 season, hopes are high for the Arrowhead faithful, whose Kansas City Chiefs are coming fresh off their first AFC West division title since 2003.
After a surprising 6-game turnaround from the abysmal 2009 campaign, many questions for the Chiefs' follow-up performance await an answer. Those questions include:
* Was the 2010 season a fluke?
* How will a young team handle the pressure to improve upon a division championship?
* Can Matt Cassel surpass last year's success without the guidance of Charlie Weiss?
* Will Jim Zorn pick up where Weiss left off?
Facing a schedule littered with powerhouse perennial playoff contenders, not to mention the defending Super Bowl champions, these questions look to be resolved sooner rather than later.
Let's have a look at the weekly matchups and see what fate may potentially lie ahead for the Chiefs.
This will be the perfect tone-setter for the Chiefs' opener, at home no less, as the Buffalo Bills are wandering around in the football wilderness.
Sure, the Bills hung around in many games last year, but they lack the pieces to put opponents away. It took overtime for Kansas City to close the door on Buffalo a season ago, but the Chiefs' team chemistry will be much stronger with a year now under their belt.
Look for the Chiefs to coast with one in the WIN column on their way to Detroit.
Detroit is being frequently talked about as the team that no one's talking about. Make sense?
The Lions are the early sexy pick for a wild card berth, with many expecting the Bears and Vikings to under-perform in the NFC North. These are two monster defenses meeting early on, so what this game comes down to is which offense will better endure the onslaught.
Expect Jamaal Charles and Tony Moeaki to be employed for clock-control. Detroit, with an inferior running game, will rely heavily on Megatron and the pass, playing into the Chiefs' gameplan.
Mark it down. WIN
San Diego had the top offense and defense last year. Having Vincent Jackson back to full-time only spells more trouble for the AFC West.
After a surprising loss to the Chiefs in the season opener last year, The Chargers settled the score with an embarrassing 31-0 shutout over Kansas City. You can be sure San Diego is on a mission and focused on shooting out of the gate.
If you're hoping for the Chiefs to come home in week 4 with a spotless record, don't hold your breath.
A lopsided LOSS is the more likely outcome.
As I stated before, expectations for Minnesota are not very high.
Sidney Rice has shipped out, Bernard Berrian hasn't quite lived up to his abilities, and Donovan McNabb is in the downturn period of his career – possibly even past his twilight.
Overall, the Vikings offense is not nearly as potent as it was only a couple years ago. Once evenly balanced, Minnesota will be looking to Adrian Peterson to be the centerpiece in the early going while McNabb gets acclimated to the weapons around him.
Like the Detroit matchup, these are two strong defenses colliding, but Kansas City has the edge in offensive firepower to outlast Minnesota for the WIN.
Questions of Peyton Manning's health have been circulating, but Indianapolis is a well-oiled machine and the textbook definition of the word 'system.'
If the Chiefs want to win, they'll have to do it in a shootout. Manning has an endless supply of offensive weaponry, too much for the staunch Kansas City defense, and the Chiefs don't have the artillery to match.
Jamaal Charles could have a big game against the Colts' suspect run-defense, but it will most likely be good only for fantasy value with Manning throwing bombs all over the field.
This game could get out of hand early, with a long day ending in a Kansas City LOSS.
With what could likely be a blowout loss against Indianapolis, a bye week might just be what the doctor ordered for the Chiefs to get mentally prepared for a trip to the black hole against the long-time rival Oakland Raiders.
Kansas City ended the regular season last year on a sour note with a 31-10 loss to a surging Raiders team. There have been critical changes, however.
Nnamdi Asomugha is no longer in Oakland, a major hit to their pass defense. And with kickoffs now starting at the 35-yard line, the Raiders' special teams threat – which was the thorn in the Chiefs' side last season – has been essentially neutralized.
Look for the Chiefs to escape a hostile environment with a WIN.
If you've been keeping score, the prediction thus far has KC at 4-2, which makes the Monday night game at Arrowhead a turning point in the Chiefs' season.
Kansas City will have a noisy sea of red and motivation to avenge a prior loss on their side. Unfortunately, the Chargers will most likely still have Philip Rivers, Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates, and a league-leading defense on theirs.
Like I said before, San Diego is on a mission to realize and fulfill their full potential.
A crushing prime-time home LOSS and season sweep by the Chargers is how I see this game playing out.
The Chiefs stay in Kansas City to take on the Miami Dolphins, who come in sporting some changes on the offensive side of the ball.
The duo of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams is gone, with Reggie Bush taking their place as the sole number-one tailback.
Though Brandon Marshall is a top-tier receiver, the Dolphins' offense doesn't have the depth to make Bush the specialized threat that must be accounted for on every down like he once was with the New Orleans Saints.
Kansas City will dominate on both sides of the ball, leading to a WIN, and reach the halfway point two games above .500.
A third straight game for the Chiefs in Arrowhead and they take on the Denver Broncos – that somehow finds itself re-rebuilding after the Josh McDaniels project didn't turn out quite the way they had foreseen.
A growing quarterback battle continues to hold Denver in an identity crisis, which makes them ripe for the picking. Denver has an above-average offense as Kansas City witnessed first-hand last year in week 10 at Invesco. The Chiefs learned their lesson and stifled the Broncos three weeks later.
Expect Kansas City to replicate their week 13 defensive performance and pick up a consecutive WIN before packing for Foxboro.
This is an intriguing match, to say the least.
The Brady-Ochocinco dynamic will be a fun one to watch play out, but ultimately the Bill Belichick rehabilitation program will likely turn it into a positive connection. That, along with Albert Haynesworth as a new addition on defense could find Kansas City in over their heads.
Don't be surprised if the Chiefs squander another chance to justify their place in the prime time with a LOSS.
Prime time, yet again, and this time it's a Sunday night contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
If there's anything to take away from a meaningless preseason game, it's that Pittsburgh is at the top of their game and ready to go, as made evident by their dominating win over Mike Vick and the supposed "dream team" Philadelphia Eagles.
With the Chiefs at home in Arrowhead, one would hope the third time would be the charm for a night-game victory. It's hard to fathom that Kansas City would lose a second home game at night, but Pittsburgh is just too stout a defense for a still maturing Matt Cassel and Jamaal Charles.
I predict a consecutive LOSS in painful fashion.
With a projected record of 6-5, the road gets anything but easier for the Chiefs.
Heading into Chicago, expect a must-win attitude from Kansas City, coupled with a reliably skittish performance out of Jay Cutler, to propel the Chiefs to a squeaker WIN. This will be a defensive struggle throughout, but you can count on at least a pair of red-zone interceptions to do the Bears in and give the Chiefs the edge, keeping their season barely above water.
As you've seen, the bulk of this season will find Kansas City in gritty, defensive battles. This season-long test of the defense's mettle will reach its apex in week 14 against the New York Jets.
This game will be a test for both Matt Cassel and Mark Sanchez, as this is the season that each must turn the corner into upper-echelon status of quarterback in the league. You can be sure that Cassel and the Chiefs will find themselves outmatched by an elite Jets secondary.
Look for Sanchez to gain the advantage over Cassel, and hand Kansas City a tough LOSS.
As we all know, the Green Bay Packers won the Lombardi Trophy last season with nearly a third of the team out with injuries.
With all first-stringers back to health, they appear virtually unbeatable. Aaron Rodgers is well on his way to becoming the best quarterback in the entire league, if he isn't already. With a wealth of options at receiver, he could pick apart the Chiefs secondary like he was playing Madden on Rookie mode.
The Packers are an unstoppable force, and will make the Chiefs a very movable object.
Kansas City could easily get railroaded out of their own stadium with an embarrassing LOSS.
In a Christmas rematch from week seven, I predict the Chiefs will once again use the Raiders to rebound from a humiliating showing. With Asomugha gone, the Raiders became a one-trick pony until the new kickoff placement took that trick away.
Kansas City will repeat their black hole performance and get a makeup WIN for the hometown crowd in their Arrowhead finale, sweeping the Raiders.
Even in their worst years, the Chiefs somehow find a way to split the season with Denver. It just seemed like a given that whoever won the first matchup, the other team would be victorious in the rematch.
However, in this point in the season, I see Kansas City having more to play for with Denver likely having a losing record by then. Tim Tebow will probably be starting, auditioning to be the starter position for next year.
The Chiefs WIN on the road, effectively keeping their playoff hopes alive by a slim margin as they finish with a 9-7 record.
When you compare 2010 and 2011's schedules, it's safe to say the Chiefs had it much easier last season. And with a 10-6 showing, it makes a 9-7 projection for this season ambitious.
The fact remains, however, that Kansas City surprised many critics a year ago, so pulling out a couple upset victories is not outside the realm of possibility.
Regardless of the outcome, such a tough schedule against some of the league's best can at least serve as a learning experience for a very young, very hungry Kansas City Chiefs team.
Feel free to add your predictions in the comments!
To read more of his thoughts on the Kansas City 2011 campaign throughout the season, follow The Dizzle on Twitter at @mrbrandonscott