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Preseason Power Rankings No. 21: Kansas City Chiefs

Romeo Crennel AP

After making a surprise trip to the playoffs in 2010, the Chiefs took a surprisingly big step backward in 2011, resulting in the firing of head coach Todd Haley and the promotion of Romeo Crennel to replace him. The biggest question for the Chiefs heading into 2012 is whether last year’s big step backward was mostly the result of bad luck with injuries, or whether this roster needs a fundamental overhaul.

What Chiefs fans have to hope is that injuries really were the primary culprit behind last season’s disappointment. And there’s a good argument that that’s the case: Safety Eric Berry, the Chiefs’ most talented defensive player, was lost for the season with a torn ACL in Week 1. Running back Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs’ most talented offensive player, was lost for the season with a torn ACL in Week 2. Throw in promising young tight end Tony Moeaki missing the entire season after a torn ACL in the preseason, and starting quarterback Matt Cassel suffering a season-ending hand injury in the ninth game of the season, and the Chiefs could make a good case that they were hit with more bad luck on the injury front than any team in the league. If they’re healthy in 2012, the Chiefs should be better.

On the other hand, Cassel wasn’t playing particularly well before he got hurt. And Berry and Charles rely heavily on their speed and ability to cut, and it sometimes takes such players more than a year to get all the way back to form after an ACL injury. So even if those injured players are all on the field for 16 games this season, the Chiefs may be in for another disappointing year.

Strengths.

If Jamaal Charles is healthy, his presence in the running game is a major strength for the Chiefs’ offense. Over the course of his four-year career, Charles has averaged a stunning 6.1 yards a carry, a number no running back in NFL history has achieved. Of course, Charles has carried the ball only 499 times in four seasons, thanks to last year’s injury and former coach Todd Haley’s underuse of Charles when he was healthy. If Charles can keep running the way he did before that ACL injury, and if Peyton Hillis can be effective when splitting carries with Charles, they should be strong in the running game. (It’s easy to forget after both players’ disappointing 2011 seasons that Hillis and Charles were two of the best running backs in the NFL in 2010.)

Assuming franchise player Dwayne Bowe signs in time to be ready to go for Week One, the Chiefs have a very good playmaker as their No. 1 receiver, but they’ll hope to get more out of their talented young No. 2 receiver, Jonathan Baldwin, a first-round draft pick last year who was limited to 21 catches for 254 yards as a rookie.

Although the Chiefs’ defense fell apart when Eric Berry went down in the first game, giving up 41 and 48 points in losses to the Bills and Lions in the first two weeks of the season, the defense actually recovered and played pretty well for most of the season. Tamba Hali has emerged as one of the best pass rushers in the league, and on the other side Justin Houston came on strong late in the year with 5.5 sacks in the last five games. With Berry back, the Chiefs have to think their fortunes are looking up on defense.

Weaknesses.

Just about everything on offense was a weakness last season, although it’s open to debate how much of that was the result of all the injuries. The biggest concern for the Chiefs has to be that Matt Cassel is a weakness. After a very good season in 2010, with 27 touchdown passes, seven interceptions and a 93.0 passer rating, Cassel struggled mightily in 2011, with his touchdowns declining to 10, his interceptions increasing to nine, and his passer rating falling to 76.6. The way Cassel played last season, it’s hard not to view him as a weakness.

Kansas City’s three-man defensive line has three first-rounders starting, with 2008 first-round pick Glenn Dorsey and 2009 first-round pick Tyson Jackson manning the ends, and this year’s first-round pick Dontari Poe at nose tackle. That means the Chiefs have talent on the defensive line, but so far Dorsey and Jackson’s talent hasn’t translated to a whole lot of production. And that was the knock on Poe in college, too: He’s enormous and explosive, but he didn’t really wreak havoc while playing against mediocre opposition at Memphis, so how confident can the Chiefs really be that he’ll wreak havoc against much better offensive linemen in the NFL? Drafting Poe makes the defensive line bigger and stronger, but not necessarily better.

Cornerback Brandon Carr, who started all 64 games in his four seasons with the Chiefs, has departed for the Cowboys in free agency. The Chiefs signed Stanford Routt, formerly of the Raiders, to replace him, but the loss of Carr makes cornerback look like a weakness.

Changes.

Upgrading at right tackle isn’t a sexy change, but it’s an important one for the Chiefs: Barry Richardson left to sign with the Rams and was replaced with free agent Eric Winston, and that’s an improvement, especially in run blocking. It was a surprise when the Texans released Winston to give themselves more salary cap room, and a pleasant surprise in Kansas City when Winston arrived.

Also arriving is Peyton Hillis, the free agent running back from the Browns who was one of the most disappointing players in the NFL last season with the Browns. In Kansas City he’s reunited with Chiefs offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who was the Browns’ offensive coordinator when Hillis had his breakout 2010 season. Daboll and Hillis arriving together give the Chiefs some interesting possibilities on offense.

And the biggest change may turn out to be that Romeo Crennel, and not Todd Haley, is the head coach. When Haley was fired late in the season and Crennel appointed to interim head coach, the Chiefs seemed to get a spark, playing their best game of the season in a Week 15 win over the Packers. The team seemed worn down by Haley early last season, and energized by Crennel late last season. Crennel needs to keep that energy going into 2012.

Camp Battles.

The Chiefs’ coaching staff has talked about the competition improving everybody at the quarterback position. That doesn’t mean Cassel is in much danger of losing his starting job during training camp, although it does mean they want backups Brady Quinn and Ricky Stanzi to push Cassel, and push each other for the No. 2 job.

Peyton Hillis and Jamaal Charles are so different as runners that they’re not really battling for the No. 1 job as much as they’re planning to complement each other in the Chiefs’ offense. Still, each of them will try to show in camp that he’s the guy who’s ready to get most of the running workload.

And between the quarterback and the running back, there will be an interesting training camp battle at fullback, where Shane Bannon and Taylor Gentry are competing for a spot in the starting offense. The Chiefs might use some packages where Hillis lines up at fullback in front of Charles, but during minicamp and OTAs, the indications were that the Chiefs see Hillis as a halfback and want to have a fullback who can lead Hillis and Charles through holes.

Prospects.

We have the Chiefs just outside the Top 20 teams in the NFL, which is right around where they were when it was all said and done last season. At 7-9 in 2011, the Chiefs were a last-place team, but last place was only a game out of first place in the mediocre AFC West. With a healthier roster, Kansas City might have made the playoffs last season.

Unfortunately, it probably won’t be as easy to make the playoffs in the AFC West this season, and the questions about Matt Cassel’s effectiveness as a starting quarterback and the loss of a very good cornerback in Brandon Carr make the Chiefs look like a team that’s going to miss the playoffs again this season.

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37 Responses to “Preseason Power Rankings No. 21: Kansas City Chiefs”
  1. villa41 says: Jul 14, 2012 3:47 PM

    Wow. This is funny. After the Raiders, I have the Chiefs with the second best roster in the division. We all know where this is going with San Diego next somewhere on the list and Denver the highest ranked team in the division.

    Sorry, guy. Denver has a roster full of holes that even a healthy Manning can’t cover up. SD has been declining for years, and I don’t see this season being any different.

    This is how it will shake out this season. We’ll see who’s right when the dust settles, pal.

    1) Oakland
    2) KC
    3) SD
    4) Denver

  2. nflfollower says: Jul 14, 2012 4:00 PM

    I didn’t like the poe pick at all, never produced in college why should he in the league? But this roster still has plenty of talent, they were just decimated with injuries last year.

  3. radrntn says: Jul 14, 2012 4:06 PM

    Raiders will be ahead of the chiefs…..say what you want about Palmer, but there was a reason why he was the overall #1 pick, and a heisman trophy winner….now it’s time for a lombardi trophy.

  4. chuckxx says: Jul 14, 2012 4:06 PM

    Very good article and right on with every note. One of the best articles I’ve read. Now this is coming from a super die hard Chiefs fan ever since SuperBowl #1. I also want you to know that Iam not a homer. I don’t care for those folks because they let their love for the team get in the way of logical thinking. I say they go 9-7 and just miss the playoffs by one game. Let me say also if Cassel has a miserable year this year I would venture to say that Pioli will do some “serious soul searching” in the off-season. And if that happens in 2013 you might see some “shocking changes”. This team has a TON OF TALENT. No reason why they can’t go 9-7.

  5. raidadon says: Jul 14, 2012 4:21 PM

    O V E R A T E D! This team is a mirror image of Romeo’s brownies

  6. 1nationraidernation says: Jul 14, 2012 4:21 PM

    Go Raiders!

  7. hedleykow says: Jul 14, 2012 4:29 PM

    Dick Vermeil (heavy emphasis on “dick”) ruined what once was a highly respected Chiefs team. The defense has never recovered from that train wreck. Still to this day, it’s a miserable life as a Chiefs fan thanks to the dick!

  8. 561bengal says: Jul 14, 2012 4:36 PM

    I can see the Chiefs competing for the West.

  9. kcchiefs10 says: Jul 14, 2012 4:49 PM

    You must be crazy! We will easily have a top 5 defense this year. Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey, while not great passrushing threats, have been consistently some of the better run-stoppers in the NFL. If Dontari Poe can assist them in shutting down the opposition’s running game, our LB can provide pass rush. Our LB corps is top five with Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, Justin Houston, and the winner of the camp battle between Branden Siler and Jovan Belcher. We also have one of the best secondaries in the league with Brandon Flowers, Eric Berry, Kendrick Lewis, and (considering he was playing well before being forced to replace Nnamdi as #1 corner in oakland) Stanford Routt. The big issue last year was an offense that could not score points. Admittedly, Matt Cassell is a question mark. But the reality is that he has more weapons on offense this year than he has had ever before in KC. The return of Jamaal Charles and the addition of Peyton Hillis will keep opponents from keying in on the pass (as they did when our rushing game consisted of Thomas Jones and Jackie Battle). The return of one of his favorite targets, Tony Moeaki, as well as the addition of Kevin Boss should give him some reliable safety valves. Dwayne Bowe can be inconsistent, but he is certainly a top 10 WR in the league. Last year’s first rounder, Jonathan Baldwin, missed 5 games due to a scuffle with Thomas Jones. This injury, as well as the lack of offseason, drastically hurt his ability to be a playmaker at WR last year. The Killer B’s (Bowe, Baldwin, Breaston) along with a solid TE group should give Cassell some options. On top of all this, the addition of Eric Winston on the OL will dramatically improve both the running and passing games. The reality is that Barry Richardson was a sieve last year at the RT position. All this said, Matt Cassell has this year to prove that he has what it takes to be a good NFL QB. The weapons are there, the question for KC is whether Matt Cassell is the answer at QB.

  10. riverhorsey says: Jul 14, 2012 4:52 PM

    “and energized by Crennel late last season”

    …right, that’s why the Raiders rolled them at Arrowhead with 1st place in the division on the line.

  11. yelix says: Jul 14, 2012 5:00 PM

    @hedleykow Dick Vermeil didn’t ruin the Chiefs. The defense was bad when he got there. Carl Peterson ruined it. The Chiefs were in prime position to draft Troy Polamalu in 2003, and Vermeil wanted a defensive player. Instead, King Carl traded the pick to Pittsburgh and drafted Larry Johnson instead.

    When you look back at the decisions Carl made, it’s amazing that Schottenheimer and Vermeil had any success.

  12. chiefsfan88 says: Jul 14, 2012 5:24 PM

    This list is a joke we were a field goal away with winning our division with all our injuries fixed our o-line and you think we won’t be better whoever makes this list doesn’t know anything about football

  13. mauicat1 says: Jul 14, 2012 5:34 PM

    Are all Raider fans drinkin’ from the same bottle of Kool Aid? Look, I don’t really hate the Raiders now. I hated them when they were good, and would like to see them relevant again. But that is three years from now. Your roster has been decimated because of what Al Davis did with his draft picks, and of course the Carson Palmer trade. And what is this silly comment about the Raiders “rolling” the Chiefs? If you mean with a blocked field goal attempt, not exactly getting rolled. The rolling came earlier when the Chiefs blew up Palmer and his backups for six picks, or did you forget that one? Raider fans just don’t know a lot about the real game of football. Look, Chiefs fans know all too well that our season is in the hands of Matt Cassel. If he plays well, not great, we win the division. We have enough talent on both sides of the ball to go 10-6. The Raiders are a four win team. Go back and look at your roster and tell me that they have enough quality players to even be competitive. If they go better than six wins, there otta’ be an investigation.

  14. mmcdan133 says: Jul 14, 2012 5:41 PM

    If Cassel can pull an Alex Smith kind of season off, which he’s done twice before, this is the definition of a dark horse team.

  15. acanniv says: Jul 14, 2012 6:12 PM

    “Denver has a roster full of holes that even a healthy Manning can’t cover up.”

    Examples, please. Just another Raider homer. Denver has better players at like 17 of 22 positions.

  16. jimmylions says: Jul 14, 2012 6:23 PM

    My friends who are Chiefs fans are all very optimistic about this year, and feel like last year was a fluke – without the injuries they take their division without breaking a sweat.

    But – everyone also seems to hate the Dontari Poe draft choice. If Poe really is the bust everyone expects, the question I have is whether the Chiefs have kept up with the improvements made by other teams or fallen behind?

  17. mushin9 says: Jul 14, 2012 6:25 PM

    Your sleeping on them.

    But it doesn’t matter what either of us think in July. See you in arrowhead in September and we’ll see.

  18. chargerzz says: Jul 14, 2012 6:29 PM

    Chiefs are a joke

  19. istateyourname says: Jul 14, 2012 6:32 PM

    I think the Chiefs should be rated at least at 19.

  20. upby3 says: Jul 14, 2012 6:34 PM

    I’m a RAIDERS fan and disagree with this ranking. If the queefs O-line keeps Cassel upright and limit injuries to key players….they could very well see some post season action.
    The AFC west will be fun to watch this season. The addition of Payton alone makes it a little bit more interesting. Cry me a Rivers is no slouch and Norv is gonna have to let it all hang out. Raiders have a new regime and system. KC is just always a pain in the A_ _
    Tell you what KC fans, Raiders play the Donks before you, we’ll soften up Manning and let you finish him off. (joking, I don’t like to see season ending injuries but you know what I mean)

  21. shootscuz says: Jul 14, 2012 6:36 PM

    Vila41 you are funny. Reverse the order that you have for the finishing order of the division and you will be on the right track.

  22. joerevs300 says: Jul 14, 2012 6:38 PM

    This is about right, I can’t imagine trying to rank the 4 teams in this division. San Diego is simply too hard to figure out. Oakland has hardly been relevant since their SB appearance early last decade. Denver has Manning, sure, but all it’s going to take is one pop to the neck and it’ll be all downhill.

    Where to rate the Chiefs? I don’t think the Steelers could have lost Mendenhall, Polamalu and Miller for the season at the same time and make the playoffs. So injuries are definitely a big part of the equation as to why KC missed the playoffs. And if Crennel was such a fantastic HC, what the heck happened in Cleveland then?

    I swear, 8-8 could easily win this division again. This reminds me of how the NFC West was a couple years ago. No real standout team. Let’s face it: Whoever wins this division is simply going to be fodder for the higher WC seed anyways, because they all have big enough weaknesses that teams like Pittsburgh, Baltimore and New England (especially) can exploit and take advantage of.

  23. sterilizecromartie says: Jul 14, 2012 6:52 PM

    This team was very competitive down the stretch for Romeo. Add a healthy Berry, Charles, Moeaki, and Cassel to that team and they are suddenly very dangerous. I say 8-8 at a minimum, maybe even a playoff berth if they can stay healthy.

  24. giantsfanlewis says: Jul 14, 2012 7:09 PM

    I understand that the cheifs were banged up last year but great teams can overcome injuries. The giants won the super bowl with a one of the most injured teams in the NFL.last season. So we will see if the chiefs can prove last year was a fluke but until then they are a talented team that can’t overcome afew bumps

  25. holdthebeans says: Jul 14, 2012 7:16 PM

    Don’t forget after starting off 0-3 and the decimating injuries to Berry and Charles Cassel led the Chiefs to four straight wins then he went down. Then Todd Haley had his love affair episode with Palko which sank the ship basically and cost him his job.

    KC will have a top ten or better defense (finished 11th last year) and the offense will be much improved with Cassel back and weapons on the outside. Remember in ’10 all KC had was Bowe and they went 10-6 behind an awesome running game. Now we have a better oline and more weapons to burn teams who stack the box.

    All I say is look out. Don’t be surprised if these guys win 12 or 13 games. I’m expecting 10-6 because they have a pretty tough schedule but San Diego and Oak lost too many players and didn’t replace em with guys as talented and Denver doesn’t scare me in the least. Peyton won’t have Wayne, Clark, Harrison to toss the rock too and after a couple weeks will be wondering why the hell he decided to go to Denver. Then of course he’ll get his game check and remember. lol

  26. blue67ccm says: Jul 14, 2012 7:36 PM

    I’m a lifelong Raiders fan. My son asked me the other day what I expect from the AFC West. I said I thought Kansas City had the most room to improve if Charles and Hillis can give them a solid 1-2 running punch, and, as much as I hated to say it, I thought the Raiders are in for a long season, maybe as low as 4-12. Carson Palmer is not the answer, losing Michael Bush hurts, there were no additions of any magnitude…..

    In the end, the Raiders will be below #21 and the Chiefs may hit the postseason. It’ll probably be another year of 9-7 winning this once proud division….

  27. odawg31 says: Jul 14, 2012 8:53 PM

    KC will be alright as long as their star players dont get lost for the season like last year. This is our Division to lose. Oakland will be last, they just dont have the players to contend with a deep Chiefs roster. (no notable draft picks, or free agents pickups) SD lost a lot of players on both sides of the ball. Denver will test the Chiefs for 1st but with their defense as their anchor, Manning needs some time to adjust with is new team/Fox offense. Also unrealistic to expect him to pickup where he left off after being out for a year, and with a far less talented team on offense.
    I like what KC did on the offseason. They added a gang of depth to their team, and filled some major holes with Eric Winston, and Kevin Boss. As long as the Defense develops the way they did with Crennel late last season. An I expect they will with Berry back, Justin Houston complementing Hali, Carr will be missed but routt should do fine as CB#2 behind Flowers. Our D-ling is the biggest question mark on Def. but they will be better with Crennel running the show. We will have a top 5 defense. Our offensive production should increase with Winston helping the O-line protect Cassell, and Charles. Add the Killer B’s Bowe Breaston, Baldwin, and Boss, a healthy Moeaki, and Hillis to change the pace. The explosiveness of DMC McCluster and rookies Devon Wylie and Junior Hemingway. This offense has some scary talent at the skill positions. We even added a QB that I feel can push Cassel and even succeed him. The only other concern is the development of Rodney Hudson and Jon Asamoah on the Offensive line. CHIEFS should take this division! PERIOD

  28. kcrobert10 says: Jul 14, 2012 8:54 PM

    With all do respect to all u haters the chiefs with all those injuries still almost won the division. Have u heard the interviews with Charles and berry they sound like they are ready to have huge yrs. This is still the yougest roster in the divison with there best yrs still to be the next 3 yrs. While agree cassell was bad last yr the yr before he was a pro bowler. Mark my words the chiefs win the west this yr.

  29. raidernationkc says: Jul 14, 2012 10:55 PM

    RAIDER NATION gonna win it all! F the chefs!

  30. negaduck says: Jul 14, 2012 10:59 PM

    “Safety Eric Berry, the Chiefs’ most talented defensive player, was lost for the season with a torn ACL in Week 1.”

    If their best defensive player is a safety that should tell you all you need to know about what their chances were going into last season.

    And I would disagree with the person who said the Steelers would not make playoffs without Mendenhall, Polamalu, and Miller.

  31. blogatron2000 says: Jul 15, 2012 6:28 AM

    “The biggest question for the Chiefs heading into 2012 is whether last year’s big step backward was mostly the result of bad luck with injuries, or whether this roster needs a fundamental overhaul.”

    Fundamental overhaul? You’re kidding right?

    Even the most skeptical pundits acknowledge that the Chiefs roster is loaded with quality young talent and capable of competing for the AFC West title.

    Matt Cassel has enough protection and weapons this season that he will not be the weakness everyone is assuming him to be. He has proven before that he can perform if he has protection and he will do it again this season.

    Possibly the biggest factor no one is talking about that will push this team to the AFC West title is the stability brought to the organization by the ouster of Haley and subsequent promotion of Romeo Crennel. We saw a glimpse of it late last season and as a result I’m really stoked to see what this year is going to bring. Underestimate them all you want right now but be ready to admit you were wrong when the season gets underway.

  32. lionsfan415 says: Jul 15, 2012 7:03 AM

    I think the Chiefs will win the AFC west, their roster is solid, i dont think they are a superbowl capable team but they can at least make the playoffs in a pretty weak division.

    And delusional Raiders fans, i saw first hand how bad your team was first hand as you blew a big lead to my Lions and Calvin Johnson had his way your little red headed corner backs, your defense is just so bad.

  33. elohim7ks says: Jul 15, 2012 10:39 AM

    kccheifs10 said it all. We are ranked much higher. With the injuries and all that happened last season if it were based on that soley i can see their point. As a hole, K.C. has the talent of a top ten team, it’s just time to put up, and quiet the mouth of the critic’s and the band wangon riders. Go K.C…

  34. originalsteelcurtain says: Jul 16, 2012 10:40 AM

    AFC West is the most balanced division now.

    I see any of the four teams cabaple of winning the West…with Oakland being the longest shot.

    Here’s my guess:

    1) SD – Wacky team seems to play great and horrible within each season. How does Norv still have a job?

    2) KC – Nice roster, but Cassell limits their ceiling

    3) Den – The D got a lot better last year, the Peyton experiment is a big gamble.

    4) Oak – Improved but the roster churn will hurt. Palmer is just a guy.

  35. itsmammoth says: Jul 16, 2012 12:14 PM

    unbiased Cowboys fan here.

    I think they Chiefs can make some noise this year. That running back committee is just too sick!

  36. dannyreneau says: Jul 16, 2012 3:37 PM

    The funny thing is that if Manning had gone with the Chiefs they’de have a top 5 ranking, but with Cassell its 21. Doesn’t sound right to me. Cassell isn’t bad enough to completely ignore the powerhouse that is the rest of this young team.

  37. sullijo1 says: Jul 30, 2012 5:46 PM

    19 years without a playoff win….that’s brutal!!!!!!!

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