The Kansas City Chiefs' 2012 fortunes rest squarely on the shoulders of quarterback Matt Cassel. This year, however, Cassel has a new offensive coordinator in Brian Daboll, the steady calmness of head coach Romeo Crennel, plus an outstanding group of offensive weapons at his disposal.
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And Cassel doesn’t have to do it all by himself. This year he’s blessed with an outstanding defense that might be as talented a unit since the Chiefs teams of the 1990s that were among the league's very best. In 2012, linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson will anchor Kansas City’s defense. All world safety Eric Berry, who sat out the 2011 campaign with season-ending knee surgery, should be ready for opening day. If the Chiefs can get any sack production from defensive ends Tyson Jackson, Glenn Dorsey or Alan Bailey, then this unit could crack the top 10.
The Chiefs had a solid offseason, adding right tackle Eric Winston, tight end Kevin Boss and standout cornerback Stanford Routt. Those were key signings for general manager Scott Pioli, who was very aggressive in his approach to free agency last March. But Pioli is going to be judged not by his free agent acquisitions, but by the decision to draft Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe with the 11th overall pick of April's draft.
Safety Eric Berry is coming off a knee injury that cost him the 2011 season.
The one player to watch this year is guard Jeff Allen. The second-round draft pick from Illinois was hobbled in the early stages of May and June but could catapult himself into a starter along the Chiefs offensive line. He has all the tools to be as good as Stanford’s David DeCastro. If that eventually transpires, the Chiefs offensive line could be that much better. Poe, meanwhile, enters camp as a backup at defensive tackle despite being a first-round pick.
Five of the Chiefs' eight selections were offensive players. Along with Allen, Kansas City picked offensive tackle Donald Stephenson in the third round, wide receiver Devon Wylie in the fourth round, running back Cyrus Gray in the sixth round and wide receiver Junior Hemingway in the seventh round. Other defensive players picked were cornerback DeQuan Menzie in the fifth round and defensive tackle Jerome Long in the seventh round.
Though not as daunting a task as last season, the Chiefs' 2012 schedule does offer some challenges out of the gate. In fact, their season could hinge on their ability to survive the six games prior to their bye week. In that stretch, they have home games against Atlanta, San Diego and Baltimore plus road tilts at Buffalo, New Orleans and Tampa Bay.
If they can somehow make that turn at 3-3, the remainder of the schedule is much easier –- especially when you factor in a hat trick of consecutive home games in late November and early December against the Bengals, Broncos and Panthers. When the Chiefs were a dominating team at home a few years back, they rarely lost football games in those cold winter months on their own turf. They follow that stretch with winnable games at the Browns, at the Raiders and at home against the Colts before closing the season in Denver.
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER
Matt Cassel, quarterback. Put me in the minority group of prognostications on this very topic nationally -- but the Chiefs' maligned starting quarterback will repeat his numbers from his 2010 Pro Bowl season.
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Eric Berry, safety. Berry missed the entire 2011 season thanks to a knee injury. But he’s the quarterback of Kansas City’s defense. If he’s healthy and free to roam the secondary, the Chiefs will be a defense that could be a wrecking ball on opposing offenses in 2012.
WILL WIN DIVISION IF ...
If they don’t buy into the Peyton Manning hype in Denver. The Chiefs may very well have the best overall talent of any team in the AFC West. And that should be enough to carry them to the
playoffs as division champs.