The story of the 2012 Kansas City Chiefs and the progression of Matt Cassel are really one in the same. Despite the rest of the successes and failures attributed to this team, the final result will ultimately rest on the preparation and right arm of Cassel.In 2010, Cassel went to the Pro Bowl as an alternate, throwing for 27 touchdowns while minimizing mistakes with just seven interceptions. He barely cracked 3,000 yards but was the leader of a team that won the AFC West. While many forget, the critical game down the stretch that year was against St. Louis on the road. The same game from which Cassel came back from an appendectomy and won.
In 2011, the wheels came off. Cassel was pathetic in the first three games of the year, costing the Chiefs heavily in a game they could've won against San Diego. Then he rebounded somewhat, playing better before landing on injured reserve with the team 4-5.
Now the question becomes, who is the real Matt Cassel?
Negative: Cassel has never shown he can be an elite quarterback. Even when he went to the Pro Bowl, Cassel was aided by the best rushing attack in football. Without a solid run game, Cassel was dead in the water.
His other issue was also showcased in that game: the inability to beat good defenses. Cassel has proven he can dominate against sub-par teams, but has yet to show he can do that against top-tier groups. With the expectations higher than they have been since a man named Marty roamed the sidelines, that needs to change.
Positive: On two teams that haven't been either awful or destroyed by injuries, Cassel has won 11 and 10 games. It's easy to say that he was along for the ride, but that's unfair. Cassel had to make plays in each of those seasons and did so. In short, he was a winner in those seasons.
His other attribute that gets overlooked occasionally is the mental side of things. Cassel has never seemed unprepared or lazy, something that's not always the case with pro athletes. He's also one of the toughest guys in the NFL. I'm not talking about avoiding injuries, I'm talking about the willingness to take a shot if it means making a play.
My Take: Cassel won't throw for anything close to 4,000 yards, but he'll have better than a 2:1 TD/INT ratio.
Cassel's greatest strength is his mind. He's a hard worker and knows what he needs to do. The problem is him needing to always be in a prime position to succeed. Under Brian Daboll's offensive system he can do exactly that. The 30-year-old will finally have the opportunity to exploit what he sees instead of what the defense dictates. This can't be overstated.
Last but certainly not least, the team is absolutely loaded. Cassel has no fewer than eight targets to throw the football at including Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, Jon Baldwin, Dexter McCluster, Tony Moeaki, Kevin Boss, Peyton Hillis and some guy named Jamal Charles.
If healthy, he'll also have a terrific rushing attack again not only thanks to Hillis and Charles, but the best offensive line he's ever had the privilege of playing behind.
Cassel may not make it back to the Pro Bowl, but that's okay. The team doesn't need him to put up numbers that would land him there.
The Chiefs, and Cassel, would much rather not have the option of playing in it anyway.