By Tony George
The AFC West is clearly dominated by 1 team this year, the San Deigo Chargers are a clear cut favorite to win the division. Last year this division winner only had to play .500 ball, 8-8 to reach the playoffs, and there is no doubt that Oakland, Denver or Kansas City will provide little resistance in terms of challenging 8 wins to match last years Chargers title, or the division title against the Chargers overall in 2009, who are loaded with talented skill positions players and looking at least 10 wins this season.
That being said, Kansas City win total is set at 6 wins this season, and I say they exceed that win total and will list the reasons why here for you as I break down this team.
Coaching and Management
Herm Edwards was let go which was a popular choice with fans and the owners of the Cheifs, the Hunt family, also let go of long time, and not locally well liked Carl Petersen as general manager. Scott Pioli was hired to replace him, who was highly sought after by numerous teams last year, he was one of the keys to New Englands success the past 6 or 7 years. His first order of business was to hire Todd Haley, the popular offensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals, whom he helped lead to the Super Bowl last season and revive Kurt Warners career with his west cost style, pass oriented offense. This just in, there is no Larry Fitzgerald in Kansas City, or Kurt Warner for that fact. The main theme is disipline with Haley as head man, and a brutal and physical training camp has been employed. Chan Gaily remains as offensive coordinator, but Haley will have a large influence on the offense and play calling. Clancy Pendergast was hired on as defensive coordinator and plans to use a hybrid system of both the 4-3 and 3-4 schemes this year. He came from Arizona and is a close friend of Haley�s.
Kansas City made some big news picking up QB Matt Cassel from the Pats along with LB Mike Vrabel in that transaction. He recently signed a 64 million dollar contract with 28 million guaranteed, and it is clear the Chiefs are banking their future on the guy. Backing him up are previous starters Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen, and both expected to make the roster and both have NFL experience. I like the depth at QB, and I am not sold Croyle�s future is over, he was injured all of last season and has yet to showcase his compliment of wares, and Thigpen is a scrambling QB who showed plenty of chops last year.
The running back position is solid as long as Larry Johnson plays his A game and keeps his off field issues away from the locker this year. When he has his head out of his rear end, he is a top 5 back in the NFL. Backing him up is Jamal Charles who is a fast and quick player who is underrated, and has great hands out of the backfield catching passes and is a great open field runner. The loss of all world TE Tony Gonzalas hurts, but free agency was very good at this poistion. Dwayne Bowe, last years #1 WR was demoted to 4th string showing up to camp overweight and out of shape. He will return to the top, but the sense of urgency from the coaches was put on display. Free agents Bobby Ingram, Ashley Lelie as well as rising star Mark Bradley round out a solid and deep unit with above average ability. The offensive line is the weakness but the free agent signing of Mike Goff of the Chargers, along with Pro Bowler Brian Waters back, provide veteran leadership and there are high hopes for second year guard Branden Albert who has ability. Overall a spread / west coast style offense stressing more of the running game than Arizona�s scheme had last season will be employed and I assure you that a 24th ranked offense in 2008 will improve this season.
KC�s defense was ranked 31st in the NFL last year, there is no where to but up. If you look at stopping the run game, KC has put the wheels in motion at LB. Picking up Zach Thomas who was second on the Cowboys last year in tackels, Mike Vrabel from the Pats is still viable, and DeAngelo Williams from the Falcons, and you have a veteran unit which has a lot of start power. Derrick Johnson also has plenty of skill and will be shuffled in in certain scenarios. The seondary is blessed with second year stud Brandon Flowers out of Virginia Tech. This kid was over shawdoed by a bad year for the team, but is great in coverage and for a DB is a big hitter and an impact player. They have Branden Carr who started as a rookie last year and is improving, as well as Jared Page at saftey and strong safety Bernard Pollard is a big hitter and good against the run. The line is the issue, and KC ranked dead last in sacks last year and that has to improve in order for KC to compete. Kansas City picked up LSU stud Tyson Jackson in the draft with the third pick overall. The line is a work in progress but expect them to mix up schemes and utilize the talent at LB and the secondary of a 4-3 set with the depth they have to confuse offense�s and make some plays and pressure the QB more. This unit is will far better to last years edition. The Special teams for KC is average at best and Colquitt at punter is one of the NFL�s best, and draft pick Quinten Lawrence is expect to ignite the return game. This has been a large emphasis in camp and should be greatly improved.
Kansas City has cleaned houese and are in a s position to fly under the radar screen with veteran leadership on defense and some impact players on offense who should make some serious strides over a 2 win season in 2008. There are a lot of �ifs� with Kansas City, but playing in a weak conference where is may be easy to sweep to Denver and Oakland which provides them 4 wins, along with beatable teams in Buffalo and Cleveland at home, and they pick up a few road wins, and Kansas City in my mind has 7 wins this season. They should improve by 5 games and build this franchise back to a power in the West. Never forget the home field advanatge KC has, and with renewed interest and a newly remodeled stadium at Arrowhead, one of the most hostile to play in the NFL, and you have the makings of a surpise team in the AFC this season. OVER 6 WINS.
Tony George eneters is 17th Year as a Pro Capper. Check out all his plays and packages at www.pregamepros.com