Mailbag: Can the Kansas City Chiefs go 12-4 this season?

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Not just another Kansas City Chiefs mailbag. (OK, it's another Kansas City Chiefs mailbag)

Bringing back the mailbag has been one of the best decisions I've made in awhile. It's allowed me to answer questions people care about, it's made for some fun articles that AREN'T about Alex Smith (well, except when they are), and given us a chance to relax a little bit.

I do have one complaint / challenge for readers, though ... let's see more (not MOAR. Even I realize at this point that's the kiss of death) non-football questions. Pop culture, parenting, other sports ... that's what gives the mailbag character. I know you won't let me down. In the meantime, there are some GREAT football questions for this week, so let's roll right along.

If you want to be a part of the (now weekly) Chiefs Mailbag experience, email me at MNchiefsfan@hotmail.com or tweet to @RealMNchiefsfan. Any and all questions / comments / criticism / outright hateful thoughts are welcome. Anyway...

They are absolutely capable of 12-4. And 13-3 (though with the Chiefs history I'd rather  say12-4. Call me superstitious, but I've seen some things, man).

Look, I get that people are concerned about the upcoming season. The Chiefs 2014 schedule (which features a murderers row of NFC West defenses) is absolutely brutal. The memory of what happened right after 2010 is still pretty fresh in our minds. There are some question marks along the offensive line (unless you're team Rishaw Johnson, then it's all good. Well ... sorta) and in the receiving corps.

But make no mistake, this team wasn't a flukey playoff team last season. The Chiefs belonged out there. They traded punches with every team they faced (except the Colts that first game. That one was... blech), and there was never a point in the season where I said, "Man, they're just not nearly as good as the other team." There's talent up and down the roster.

However, in order for 12-4 to happen, a few things are going to have to fall in place. One automatic thing is health. This team would have to stay healthy to go 12-4. The Chiefs can't lose Jamaal Charles or Justin Houston or any of the other major contributors. Of course, any combination of things COULD lead to 12-4, so I won't go into all the hypothetical situations here. Instead, I'm going to think of hypothetical situation where the fewest things need to happen for the Chiefs to go 12-4 ... I'm going with two things:

(One stipulation: this includes the obvious "No one take a step backward" hypothetical. Because without that, any amount of improvement could be meaningless)

1)  Alex Smith plays like second half of 2013 Alex Smith ... all season

I've gone through the stats plenty of times, so there's no need here. But Smith needs to build on what seemed to be happening to close the season last year for the Chiefs to take the shortest route to 12-4.

2)  Someone steps up as the fourth pass rusher

We all know that Dontari Poe can get pressure from the interior. We also know that Tamba Hali and Justin Houston will get theirs. What we don't know is what else we've got on the table with pass rushers.

Last season when the Chiefs were in the base 3-4 defense, Poe and Hali were the only two guys who were capable of applying pressure to the quarterback (though Mike DeVito has been quoted as saying he's going to slim down to improve in this area).  So unless the Chiefs blitzed, the base defense just wasn't applying a ton of pressure outside of great plays being made by those two.

The two simplest things to happen that could lead to 12-4 is Alex Smith slinging it and a fourth rusher. And yes, that's possible.

The problem got more magnified when the Chiefs switched to the nickel and dime defenses. After the pass rush CRUSHED teams early in the year, we started to see a pattern. Teams that needed to pass the ball would double Poe, have their tackles cheat to the inside to force Hali and Houston outside, keep a running back in in case one of those three managed something amazing, then have their quarterback step comfortably into the pocket (where Hali and Houston couldn't get to him) and survey the field.

The reason this worked? The Chiefs weren't getting anything out of their other interior defensive lineman. Allen Bailey came a long way as a run defender last year, and hats off to him for that. But he repeatedly saw individual matchups late in the season last year against lone offensive linemen and couldn't make the most of those opportunities.

When a defense is predictable, that's bad. When a defensive WEAKNESS is predictable, that's suicide. NFL teams will pick on you and pick on you and pick on you ... and then pick on you some more.

Yes, there are other areas of the team that could be a cause for concern. And as I said, there are a zillion scenarios where it's possible (the secondary comes together well, receivers step up, etc.). But the two simplest things to happen that could lead to 12-4 is Alex Smith slinging it and a fourth rusher. And yes, that's possible.

Man, I hate this question. Not because it's a bad question (it's a great question), but because it forces me to acknowledge the reality that the Chiefs face some tough decisions coming up.

Any answer starts with Justin Houston. He's an animal. He's a beast. He was the third most productive per-rush outside linebacker in the league last season while being a stud against the run AND being competent in coverage. No one does that except Justin Houston. No one. He's a guy you absolutely build a defense around.

After that, it gets murkier. I love Brandon Flowers and Tamba Hali, and I think Alex Smith is a highly competent quarterback. What's more, Hali is approaching the end (though I don't think he's nearly as close as some seem to think), and Brandon Flowers is coming off his worst year since 2009.

My heart wants to choose Hali. He's the hardest working player on the team. He's an incredible overachiever who has absolutely maximized his physical talent. He used his big payday to bring family to America. He tweets in all caps. He plays his guts out every week.

But ... if I'm answering with my head, it's Smith. Because the only scenario I see where he finishes his career here is if he's playing great football. And nothing is more important than your quarterback playing great football.

Hey, a happier question!

The only honest answer here is "I have no idea." With only one set of OTAs behind us, it's impossible to say. For all we know one of the rookies will shine at camp and explode in the preseason. These things happen.

If I had to put money on someone right now, though, it would be a tough choice between De'Anthony Thomas and Dee Ford. Ford's ceiling is exponentially higher, but Thomas is more of a sure thing.

Thomas is going to make an impact this year even if he doesn't see a single snap on offense. His speed combined with the mad genius of Dave Toub is going to help this team in a big way. Unlike Dexter McCluster, Thomas is fast enough to see the field on kickoff returns as well. Because of this, he's almost a guarantee to do some things that make you say "Man, I'm glad we drafted that guy."

Ford is a bit tougher. There's no guarantee he sees more than a few hundred snaps on defense this season, and even that could be a stretch. What if Bob Sutton and Andy Reid decide to have Ford's rookie year basically be training? He could very easily be a mostly non-impact player this next year. That said ... if Ford catches on quickly (and from the sounds of it he's a guy who works at it) and is able to be versatile in his game (in other words, drop in zone coverage), he could be the missing pass rusher in nickel / dime I referenced earlier.

IF that happens (or if Sutton figures out other ways to get him out there for passing downs) Ford will destroy every other rookie. The problem is I have no idea if that will happen. So for now, I'm rolling with Thomas.

This one is out of my league, so I turn that over to the BBQ masters of Arrowhead Pride to answer. Who and why? What makes a great  grill man?

And with that, we've already gone 400 words over where I intended this mailbag to end. Keep the questions coming, we'll do this again next week.

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