NFL Team Previews: Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs endured a rough year in 2011, getting hit by injuries right out of the gate, as three key players missed all or most of the season with torn ACLs. Then quarterback Matt Cassell struggled and got hurt. Then head coach Todd Haley was fired midstream. It added up to a year where the franchise regressed from its AFC West title in 2010 to a 7-9 record in 2011. Romeo Crennel is getting his second chance at a head coaching job now, and both he and his team are looking to make the most of a fresh opportunity.

OFFENSE: Kansas City GM Scott Pioli made fixing the offensive line a key priority and signed free-agent offensive tackle Eric Winston away from the Houston Texans. For an offense that wants to build around the run, this was essential, as is the development of second-year center Rodney Hudson who will get his first chance to start this year. This is not a great offensive line overall, but if Hudson is able to come through, the addition of Winston gives it the chance to be good enough to give running back Jamaal Charles the push he needs.

Charles is the biggest name of the players returning from torn ACLs, and Kansas City added Peyton Hillis on the free agent market to help out in goal-line situations and in general to share the load. Tight end Tony Moeaki is another IR returnee and overall they combine to give Cassell what he needs as far as a running game that can set tempo and a tight end who can bail him out on the inevitable 3rd-and-4 type situations that arise with such an offense. The receivers are up in the air right now. #1 target Dwayne Bowe is holding out and if he doesn’t return, the talented Jon Baldwin will have to assume greater responsibility in his second year in the league.

DEFENSE: The Chiefs are a 3-4 defense and they have the havoc-wreaking linebacker this scheme needs to reach maximum potential in the person of Tamba Hali. The rest of the linebacking corps is pretty good in its own right, with Derrick Johnson on the inside and Jovan Belcher a prime candidate for big improvement. The defensive front is better than you see on a lot of three-man lines, with Glenn Dorsey able to get to the passer. Kansas City drafted Dontari Poe in the first round this April to hold down the nose, but Poe has not looked good in preseason. Still, in the context of the overall front seven the prospect of Poe being a bust is more of a long-term problem than a short-term one.

The short-term problem is going to be the secondary. This unit will get a big boost with the return of Pro Bowler Eric Berry, the last of the ACL Three. But the corners are a cause for concern. Brandon Flowers is pretty good, but undersized, and he’d be better off as the #2 corner opposite a true lockdown cover guy. Instead he’s opposite Stanford Routt, who can be known for some undisciplined play. How well Flowers and Routt play—or at the very least how well the defensive guru Crennel disguises their shortcomings—is going to be a big part of whether Kansas City has a comeback year.

LAS VEGAS OVER/UNDER WIN PROJECTION: 8—This number makes sense, when you consider the team won seven games, gets all the injured players back and still beat then-undefeated Green Bay after Crennel had taken over the job on an interim basis. And in the interests of full disclosure, the Chiefs are a team I cover over at I’m not a partisan Kansas City fan, but I am at the very least a sympathetic  observer. So you can weigh that as a factor when I say I feel pretty good about the Chiefs’ prospects in 2012. I won’t say the “Over” is a steal when the number is 8, but I think KC will win more than they lose and be a contender in the balanced AFC West.