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The Chiefs Tough Schedule?

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Ok, time to do some last minute house cleaning prior to the kickoff of the regular season.  I understand how our schedule can be viewed as a much more difficult one than last year.  This year we get to rumble with the likes of the Steelers, Jets and Packers rather than the Browns, 49ers and Rams.  I get it.  It would seem that many fans, based on this schedule, have decided that no matter what the Chiefs do they simply will not repeat their win total from last season.  It's just too difficult, they say, for a team that fell apart at the end of last season and has played poorly in four consecutive 'meaningless' preseason games to overcome this atrocity known as the Chiefs 2011 game schedule.  It's DOOM time.  Pack up the kids, shutter the house and run (DO NOT WALK) to the storm shelter and let's wait out this mother of all storms until the sun shines on us again in 2012.  I've even seen the first installment of the 'time to consider a new Head Coach' posts and we haven't even kicked off for the first game in 2011!  

Sound silly?  I think so. It's just as silly as the consensus on 'another' Chiefs fan message board I saw that thinks the Chiefs will struggle to win 6 games this year. I realize that it is hard to stare adversity in the face and feel good about your team when you didn't get to see a preseason where the starters took the field for one or two possessions, moved the chains, scored with little effort, yawned and went back to sit the bench and wait for the first 'real' game.  

By the same token, it is hard to look at our schedule, see all the changes that have occurred since last season (both on the Chiefs and their opponents) and not recognize the improvement (paid for with blood, sweat and tears) of our team over the last two seasons. How that equates to the Chiefs being able to play with and defeat any other team in the league on 'any given Sunday' of course, remains to be seen.  Let's take a look at the swamp before we descend into the bog and start wrasselin' 'gators.

Coach Haley recently described how difficult the final cuts were to make this season.  The fact that they were that difficult should make every fan excited because it means that we have indeed improved our depth. One reason for the abysmal season in 2009 (besides a complete lack of discipline) was a simple lack of depth.  If a starter went down, we were in big trouble. Now, after three drafts and their associated free agency periods, this is no longer true.  The Chiefs have many of their 'starters of the forseeable future' and they have solid backups in many spots to help 'tote that barge' if the need arises. All this means is that we shouldn't see such a dramatic drop off if someone hits the skids with injury.  

Besides the improvement of the team, there have been some changes on our opposition's teams as well.  Some may make them better and then some maybe not so much.  Let's take a look at what has happened to our first four opponents and see where we are headed.

Buffalo 

I watched a bit of the preseason game between Buffalo and Detroit.  It looked to me like Fitzpatrick was having a difficult time finding receivers because there was a lot of gray and blue uniforms in his face.  The Buffalo offensive line is suspect right now.  Their latest moves concerning the waiver wire show that they are still looking for help at OT. The Bills picked up OT Sam Young off waivers from Dallas on Tuesday. From Inside the Bills Blog:

"But we’ve only got one backup tackle and he’s a rookie (Chris Hairston). He’s trying to back-up both sides and that’s tough because it’s more learning for him. We think he’s going to be a really good one. But if you put him in one place and leave him he’ll help you quicker.

"So that’s our thinking with this guy [Young]. He’ll be at right tackle and he’ll be our backup at right tackle if he does what he did in Dallas.

Besides this issue, Buffalo traded away Lee Evans to Baltimore in the off season.  Given their group at WR, this makes them much like the Chiefs of the last couple of years--fairly one dimensional with Stevie Johnson as their primary wide out.  Their other WRs are Donald Jones, Roscoe Parrish, Marcus Easley, David Nelson and Brad Smith.  Jones has been dubbed the number two receiver in his second season.  The down side to him at this point is that he has missed two preseason games with a concussion.  Parrish is a seven year veteran who improved as a slot receiver last year, but his height (about 5'8") and size has been an impediment to getting off jams at the line.  Easley is in his second season (the Bills fourth round pick in 2010) and challenges Jones for the second spot, but there is just not a lot of experience in this receiving corps.  Brad Smith is one of those guys that can play a role as a utility player, but since the MIZZOU QB has been converted to a WR in the NFL, he's been fairly quiet. No reason to believe that this will change drastically now.  More likely, Smith will be used as a wildcat QB or an additional slot receiver in one of Chan's make lemonade out of lemons offensive strategies.

In addition to all of this, it appears that there just may be a bit of a controversy brewing in the Buffalo backfield.  From Brian Murphy at FFtoolbox.com:

C.J. Spiller may have the game-breaking speed and first-round pedigree, but it's Fred Jackson who was the Buffalo Bills' best running back last season. However, after Spiller got the start in Saturday's preseason game and amid reports that the starting job is Spiller's to lose, not Jackson's, the veteran isn't happy with how he's being handled.

"I feel like a No. 1 back, and I should be treated like one," Jackson said. "As far as what's going on, you would have to ask them. I'm going to come out here and compete. I feel like I have been competing. I feel like I have done everything I can. It's been like that for two or three years, and nothing has changed."
Jackson also said that if a trade was a possibility, he would be "open to it."
"Like I said, I feel like I'm a No. 1 guy and should be getting touches like a No. 1 guy," Jackson said. "Let me know what's going on. I don't feel like I should be kept in the dark on anything. I have no idea. I would like to know where I stand.

Larry Johnson anyone?  Really, this kind of stuff makes it hard for a team to build good chemistry.  Couple this with offensive line struggles and you get the Buffalo version of 2.7.  If Fitzpatrick goes down we'll be treated to the latest version of the Thigpen and Gailey show.

How about the defense?  Well, the Bills finished last in the league vs. the run in 2010.  Because of that they have gone out and made a large number of changes in an effort to improve their standing.  From Buffalobills.com:

Buffalo's defensive front is considerably larger, due chiefly to the addition of top draft choice Marcell Dareus , who at 6'3" and 340 pounds is a load on the edge at left defensive end. Veteran Dwan Edwards (301 pounds) and Pro Bowl DT Kyle Williams (301) hold down the rest of the defensive line.

With fast improving second-year players like Torell Troup (326) and Alex Carrington (305), who added 12 pounds and 23 pounds of lean muscle this past offseason respectively, and Spencer Johnson (305) and Kellen Heard (346) the front looks better far better equipped to execute a 3-4 system.

It would just seem too early in the process to expect to see a wholesale change in their ability to stop last years number one running team, wouldn't you think?  The Bills other claim to fame would be adding Shawne Merriman from San Diego.  While Merriman may indeed help that defense, it is very hard to imagine that they will be able to contain Jamaal Charles.  They couldn't do it last year and they will be hard pressed to do so this season as well.  Combine that with having more WR targets for Cassel this season and the Bills should be concerned when they board the plane for the trip to Arrowhead.

All in all, the odds seem to favor the Chiefs in their home opener.  I feel much more confident in a W here than I did last year at this time.  Let's just say there is a very good chance we will start out the season with a win.

Detroit

Detroit has continued on their trek to build a respectable football team.  The problem, for them has been their injuries. Mathew Stafford looks to have the arm and accuracy to be a solid NFL QB--if he can keep his shoulder(s) together.  Don't you know that Tamba is quite ready to use Stafford for Mr. Football practice?  

Seriously, the injury bug just continues to bite in Eminem's back yard.  Javid Best suffered several injury problems while at Cal and it seems that they may have followed him into the NFL.  He suffered from turf toe problems last year and under performed in his highly anticipated (he was the 30th overall pick in the 2010 draft) rookie season.  He's already suffered a concussion during this preseason (vs. cleveland) as well.  Couple this with the fact that Mikel Leshoure (Detroit's second round pick this season) tore his achilles tendon ending his season, and you can understand why the Lions signed our old friend Jerome Harrison on August 9th.  Don't you know that Glen Dorsey is ready for a little pay back for what Mr. Harrison did to the Chiefs the last time Dorsey missed a game due to injury?  With the problems that Detroit is having on their offensive line, you just might find them having a rough go of finding a running game.  

Can you say one dimensional?  Sounds kind of like the Bills, huh?  In this case, however, we are dealing with a dude they call Megatron.  He is one receiver that can give a secondary some trouble.  Brandon Carr we are looking at you.  The Chiefs will most likely have to roll coverage to prevent this receiver from doing too much damage on us.  In so doing, who do they put in man to man coverage?  Nate Burelson and Rashied Davis.  Both are journeyman type players with several years in the league and both are solid receivers when they are on top of their game. Burelson missed the final preseason contest because he busted open the incision from off season elbow surgery in the previous weeks win over the NE Patriots.  Will he be 100% for week 2?  Who knows but the way the injury bug bites in Detroit you would think that it hasn't had a meal in 20 years! Pass coverage will be the key to stopping their offense.  Romeo is going to need Houston, Sheffield and Tamba to be very effective in that game to gain the upper hand.

Defensively, Detroit looks very solid on their D-line.  That said, they looked very solid during preseason when (so I've been told) the games are meaningless. I guess that means the we don't really know what to expect from them, right?  Wrong. Gunther Cunningham.  There is more than one fan around these parts that thinks that Gunther is more than capable of scheming a solid defense.  The problem is that for all the hype about Detroit coming on strong this off season, all the talk is about the offense not the defense.  It was reported today that Kyle Vanden Bosch is not practicing today with a sore shoulder.  Nick Fairly (their first round pick at DT) had to have foot surgery earlier this month (the injury bugs strikes yet again) and will miss the season opener at Tampa Bay on Sunday.  That leaves Cory Williams to start next to Suh. Is it enough?  Well...

The lions also added corner back Nick Wright from cleveland, and two supposedly run stopping linebackers (Steven Tullouch, and Justin Durant) in an effort to shore up their run stopping ability.  So far, this unit is untested on regular season offensive schemes, but the hope in Detroit is that this will be able to thwart opposing running games.  Hmmm...just what the doctor ordered for Matt Cassel and his new found receivers?  We'll just have to wait and see.  To me, this game looks like a coin flip. If you give Detroit the 3 points for home field, I think you still wind up with the Chiefs as a one point underdog after their performance versus the Bills.  If Haley gets creative on some fourth down stuff, we may just bring home another W.  Two weeks and two wins?  It's just not that hard to believe.

San Diego

San Diego lost Darren Sproles in the off season and is desperate to get Ryan Mathews on the field to see if Norv can get the losing coach albatross from around his neck.  Unfortunately, Norv has decide to go with Tolbert.  Tolbert is a chunk and he is hard to bring down when he gets rolling.  The question is, can he get rolling quick enough.  Norv will do his best to confuse the team concerning which RB should be the starter this season, we can count on that.

The biggest issue we have to deal with here is the return of VJax.  The guy is getting his money this year but he has not signed a long term contract.  He should be trying very hard to lock down the big money for the next 4-5 years.  That makes him dangerous.  Having Phyllis Rivers back there tossing him the ball makes him even more so.  The Chiefs haven't beat the Chargers in San Diego since week four of the 2007 season.  On that day, Dave Rayner had three FGs, Tony G and Dwayne Bowe each had a TD grab (Bowe caught 8 Damon Huard passes for 164 yds that day) and Tyrone Brackenridge returned a fumble 50 yards for a TD to combine for 30 points.  Combine that with four turnovers for the Bolts and you get a KC victory--final score 30-16.  This IMHO is a watershed game for this years Chiefs.  IF they can go into qualcom and smack back Phyllis's ears they have what it takes to move up another rung on the quality football ladder.  I look forward to this game with huge expectation.  I threw my fortune tellers bones in the air here and came up with KC winning this game in OT by a final score of 41-38.  The world will shake in San Diego that day but it won't be a 'quake.  It'll be Phyllis throwin' the biggest tantrum you ever done seen!!

Minnesota

And the final game of Haley's first quarter will involve what Randy Quaid referred to in the movie "The Long Riders" as the Minnesota square heads.  What about'em?  Well let's peel the onion.

Is Donovan McNabb a good QB?  I think most of us would have to say that he is pretty good.  The problem is that any QB has to have reliable targets in order to make completed passes.  McNabb may have found himself in a situation where he has fewer now than every before.  Percy Harvin is the main man in Minny but after that things get a bit thin.  Devin Aromashodu, Bernard Berrian, Greg Camarillo and Michael Jenkins will all try to take the pressure off Harvin, but I have a feeling that they are going to look a lot like the Bills and Lions in this regard.  Fairly one dimensional.  McNabb will try, but Tamba just loves to run down old, slow QBs that think they are still young and fast.  Minny's o-line has had some tinkering done since last year.  Mainly the addition of Charlie Johnson as their new LT.  Johnson played the last five years in Indy and was unceremoniously released for a 10.5 million dollar three year deal with the Vikes.  He is a bit undersized, weighing 305 and is in a new offense with a new QB.  Sometimes it only takes one weak spot on an O-line to spell disaster.  Johnson is an unknown that many will be watching this season.  Be that as it may, combine the lack of targets and a possible problem with a new LT and Minny looks to ride Adrian Peterson for 2011.

Can AP handle the load?  So far he has given no reason to believe that he can't.  The problem for the Vikings is that other teams should be able to put 8 in the box in running situations to control Mr. Peterson and try to force McNabb to beat them through the air. Teams with strong secondaries should be able to win the day.  Hello, KAN-SA-CITY!

From the defensive side of things, the Vikings will start the season without three-fourths of their imposing, run stopping defensive front that consisted of Pat Williams, Kevin Williams, Ray Edwards and Jared Allen.  Pat Williams is a free agent at 39 years of age, Kevin Williams will serve a two game suspension and cannot practice until September 19th, and Ray Edwards was picked up in FA by the Atlanta falcons.  What does all this mean?  To me it means that this once imposing, brusing, run stuffing defense will be severely challenged this year to keep up with the Joneses.  Who does that bode well for? Well, KC plays them in KC in week 4 and we will get a chance to see just how well our defense can shut down Mr. McNabb and how well Matty, Jamaal and a bunch of over achieving WRs will do against a less than stellar defensive unit in terms of ability and preparation.  Jared Allen will still be there, but I can't think of a nicer thing to send him back to Minny with than a loss to tell his buddies about!

KC wins this game 32-20!

Sorry this thing got so long and out of control!  I need to end it now before everyone who is sitll awake falls asleep.  The most important thing for Chiefs fans to remember is this:  

In just the same way that our team changes from year to year, so to do all the others.  Do your research and see what you think.  It just might be that the 2011 KC Chiefs schedule is not quite as rough as you think.