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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 21: Kansas City Chiefs

Former Eagles coach Reid poses with Chiefs owner Hunt after a news conference introducing Reid as the Chiefs new coach in Kansas City, Missouri Reuters

The instinct is to treat the Chiefs’ awful 2012 season as an aberration, and that’s probably the right call.

Even just a cursory glance at the club’s depth chart suggests that last season’s 2-14 mark won’t be repeated this year. After all, Kansas City had six Pro Bowlers in 2012, and the roster was strengthened this spring via free agency and the draft.

For new Chiefs coach Andy Reid, Kansas City represents a fresh start after two sour seasons to finish a Philadelphia tenure filled with more good moments than bad. The Chiefs’ new starting quarterback, Alex Smith, also gets to the turn the page after being forced out by Colin Kaepernick’s emergence in San Francisco.

There’s little doubt Reid and Smith will help lead a turnaround of some sort relative to 2012. If nothing else, the Chiefs are likely to move out of the AFC West basement. But are the Chiefs capable of quintupling their win total from a season ago? That’s probably what it will take to contend for a playoff spot.

Strengths.

The Chiefs’ defense does not lack for talent. Outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston combined for 19 sacks in 2012 and joined inside linebacker Derrick Johnson and strong safety Eric Berry as Pro Bowlers. Cornerbacks Sean Smith, Brandon Flowers and Dunta Robinson are skilled and experienced.

The offense has some top-end players, too, with running back Jamaal Charles (1,509 rushing yards in 2012) a premier game-breaking threat and wideout Dwayne Bowe a legit go-to target. At quarterback, Smith should be an upgrade over Matt Cassel, and the addition of No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher at left tackle strengthens the offensive line. The Fisher-Brandon Albert tackle tandem should be a real asset for the Chiefs.

With the additions of Reid and Smith, the NFL’s worst passing offense from a season ago has new life. That, in turn, should help a running game that thrived even without defenses having to worry much about the Chiefs’ passing attack.

Finally, Reid’s presence should be a major asset both on the sidelines and in the organization. The Eagles won 10 playoff games and registered nine winning seasons in his 14-season tenure. In that same span, the Chiefs didn’t register a single playoff win and had nine losing seasons.

Weaknesses.

While the Chiefs have some very skilled performers on defense, opponents nonetheless had success attacking Kansas City with the run and pass in 2012. To wit: the Chiefs finished 30th in yards per pass and 25th in yards per rush surrendered a season ago. The secondary should be better with Smith and Robinson joining the cornerback corps, but the run defense — especially right up the heart of the front seven — needs to be monitored. Per NFL statistics, opponents gained 4.78 yards per rush up the middle vs. the Chiefs in 2012.

On offense, the concern is the next wave of players beyond the starters. Kansas City is a little thin at the skill positions, especially at running back, where there is no clear-cut backup to count upon if Charles were to exit the lineup. Swift rookie Knile Davis has the talent to be a key contributor in the backfield, but he struggled with injuries and fumbles at Arkansas.

The depth at wide receiver is somewhat shaky until proven otherwise, too. Beyond Bowe, the top options are Donnie Avery, Jon Baldwin and Dexter McCluster. Avery is fast but comes durability concerns. Baldwin, the Chiefs’ 2011 first-round pick, hasn’t delivered on his potential. McCluster is quick but undersized.

On defense, the primary depth concerns are at outside linebacker, safety and along the defensive line.

Changes

Reid, renowned his work with quarterbacks and a proponent of the West Coast offense, is charged with reshaping the offense. Smith, who’s still not even 30 years old, could benefit form Reid’s tutelage and not having to worry about job security. There is no real threat to replace him on the roster.

In addition to Fisher, new faces on offense include Avery, tight end Anthony Fasano and quarterback Chase Daniel. Avery and Fasano project as regulars, while Daniel, formerly Drew Brees‘ understudy, will be the top backup to Alex Smith.

Rangy Sean Smith, signed from Miami, will start opposite of Flowers at cornerback, with Robinson expected to be the third corner. Robinson should be effective in this role; his experience and physicality ought to serve him well in the latter stages of his career.

The Chiefs will continue to use the 3-4 as their base defense, but Bob Sutton has taken over at coordinator, and some new wrinkles are to be expected.

Camp battles.

For a 2-14 club with a new head coach, the Chiefs don’t figure to have much camp-competition drama. Most starting spots are ably filled.

The offensive line could be the most unsettled position on the team. At center, third-year pro Rodney Hudson would seem to have the edge at center; he began 2012 as the starter before suffering a broken leg that ended his season. However, second-year left guard Jeff Allen got some work in the middle in the offseason, per the Kansas City Star. Allen started 13 games a season ago but graded out as the second-worst run-blocker among qualifying guards in Pro Football Focus’ rankings. Geoff Schwartz and Donald Stephenson are other potential options at guard.

Inside linebacker is another position that could have some intrigue if rookie Nico Johnson can push ex-Eagle Akeem Jordan.

Finally, Davis will get a look at kickoff returner, a position where the club could use more playmaking ability. However, he needs to hold onto the ball.

Prospects.

If Kansas City is playoff-caliber, it will show early. The Chiefs face one 2012 playoff team (Houston) in their first nine games. Five of their first six AFC games before their Week 10 bye are against the Jaguars, Titans, Raiders, Browns and Bills — teams Kansas City should be able to beat.

The Chiefs are going to need to take care of business in the first two months. Their post-bye schedule includes two games against Denver in three weeks. Kansas City also draws Washington and Indianapolis down the stretch. The season finale at San Diego won’t be easy, either.

Overall, though, it’s a manageable schedule for the Chiefs. And it’s probably safe to assume the bottom doesn’t fall out again this year – though we wouldn’t blame Kansas City fans for knocking on wood, given how last season went.

Really, though, the Chiefs’ 2012 form was so bad it cannot be taken at face value. Clearly, they are capable of more.

How much more is the question.

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Report: Ray Rice appeal will argue NFL made decision based on edited video

Ray Rice AP

The NFL has not said who will hear Ravens running back Ray Rice’s appeal of his indefinite suspension, but we may have some idea about what Rice will be arguing when the time comes.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that one of the central arguments that Rice will make is that the NFL handed down additional punishment based on an edited video of what happened in the elevator rather than on the complete tape of what happened in Atlantic City that night. PFT has confirmed that this is a major part of Rice’s strategy and the Associated Press has previously reported about the existence of a longer video from the elevator.

On the video, first shown by TMZ, Rice is seen hitting Janay Palmer Rice with a left hand that sends her headfirst into an elevator railing before falling unconscious to the floor. Per Schefter, sources have told him that the TMZ video was “a cleaned-up, whittled down and condensed version” of what actually happened. No further details about what Rice contends went down on the night in question have been revealed.

Schefter adds that Robert Mueller is expected to have access to the full video as part of his investigation into the handling of the Rice case.

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Browns TE Jordan Cameron returns to lineup Sunday

Jordan Cameron AP

After a week out of action because of a shoulder injury, Browns tight end Jordan Cameron will suit up for the club on Sunday vs. Baltimore, the team said on its Twitter feed this morning.

Cameron made the Pro Bowl for Cleveland a season ago, hauling in 80 passes for 917 yards and seven TDs. He had a 47-yard reception in the 2014 season opener at Pittsburgh before departing with his injury.

While Cameron is back for 1-1 Cleveland, the Browns are again without tailback Ben Tate, who is officially inactive with a knee injury. Tate was ruled out earlier in the week. Terrance West will get the start at tailback for Cleveland.

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Robert Woods, Keenan Allen will play in Bills-Chargers clash

Keenan Allen AP

The Bills and Chargers each came into Sunday’s matchup with a key wide receiver listed on the injury report and both teams announced good news regarding them on Sunday morning.

Robert Woods is good to go for the Bills after missing practice one day and being limited the other two because of an ankle injury. Woods has five catches for 83 yards in the first two weeks of the season and should join Sammy Watkins at the forefront of the team’s passing attack against San Diego.

Keenan Allen landed on the injury report as the week progressed because of a groin injury and was limited in practice on Thursday and Friday, but he’ll be active as well. He’ll be joined by linebacker Jerry Attaochu and safety Jahleel Addae, both of whom were also listed as questionable on Friday’s final injury report of the week.

Allen and others in the passing attack may be called on more often this Sunday as the Chargers will be playing without running back Ryan Mathews, who was ruled out during the week because of a knee injury.

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Bernard Pierce inactive for Sunday’s game at Cleveland

Bernard Pierce AP

One of the Ravens’ primary tailbacks has been ruled out of Sunday’s game at Cleveland.

Running back Bernard Pierce (thigh) is among Baltimore’s inactives for today’s matchup vs. the Browns, the team announced.

With Pierce out, Justin Forsett could see the majority of the work on Sunday, with rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro the second option in the backfield.

Pierce leads the Ravens in carries (28) and is second in rushing yards (113) through two games.

Safety Terrence Brooks, inside linebacker Arthur Brown, wide receiver Michael Campanaro, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, offensive tackle Jah Reid and offensive guard/center John Urschel are also inactive for Baltimore (1-1) on Sunday.

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DeSean Jackson will play today, or at least try

DeSean Jackson AP

It was going to be hard to keep DeSean Jackson out of his first game against the Eagles.

Whether he’s able to contribute fully or not, he’s going to get a chance.

Jackson is active for Washington today, meaning he’ll have an opportunity to make plays against his former team.

But as Florio mentioned this morning, it might not be a great idea, as his shoulder injury will obviously limit him.

It also makes you wonder if he’d have been playing against any other opponent.

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Maurice Jones-Drew inactive for Week Three

Maurice Jones-Drew, Sharrif Floyd AP

Raiders tailback Maurice Jones-Drew (hand) is inactive for Sunday’s game at New England, the club said this morning.

This marks the second consecutive game Jones-Drew has missed with the injury. Darren McFadden is in line for the bulk of the carries against the Patriots.

Jones-Drew joined the Raiders this offseason after eight seasons with Jacksonville. He started at tailback in the Raiders’ season-opening loss vs. the Jets, gaining just 11 yards on nine carries and catching two passes for 12 yards.

The Raiders’ other inactives are guard Tony Bergstrom, cornerback Chimdi Chekwa, offensive tackle Matt McCants, linebacker Sio Moore, linebacker Nick Roach and quarterback Matt Schaub.

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Terry Bradshaw off after death of son-in-law Rob Bironas

bironas AP

FOX broadcaster Terry Bradshaw will not appear on television today following the death of his son-in-law, former Titans kicker Rob Bironas, in a car accident last night.

“Terry will not be on today’s edition of FOX NFL Sunday. He flew home to take care of his family,” a FOX spokesman told PFT in a statement.

This has been a tough year for Bradshaw’s family. Terry also missed FOX’s broadcast of the Super Bowl after the death of his father.

The 36-year-old Bironas was in a single-car accident late Saturday night near his home in Nashville. Police said he lost control of his SUV, hit several trees and was pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital. There was no evidence of alcohol at the scene.

Bironas spent nine years as the Titans’ kicker. He owns the NFL record for most field goals in a game, kicking eight (including the last-second game-winner) in a game against the Texans in 2007.

Rachel Bradshaw, the Hall of Fame Steelers quarterback’s daughter, married Bironas in June.

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Arian Foster inactive for Texans today

Arian Foster AP

The longshot didn’t come through for the Texans, which means they’ll be without one of their horses today against the Giants.

As expected, Texans running back Arian Foster is inactive this week because of a hamstring issue.

Foster has been back to old form this season, gaining 241 yards in a pair of games for the undefeated Texans.

Now, they’re going to have to rely on Alfred Blue against Big Blue.

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Report: Shane Vereen likely to play Sunday

Shane Vereen AP

The Patriots’ top pass catching back is reportedly set to play Sunday vs. Oakland.

Tailback Shane Vereen, who was questionable with a shoulder injury, is “expected” to suit up against the Raiders, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported this morning.

The 25-year-old Vereen has rushed 13 times for 76 yards and a touchdown and has caught five passes for 35 yards this season for New England, which is heavily favored against 0-2 Oakland.

Vereen and Stevan Ridley are the Patriots’ top two tailbacks, with Ridley the top option when the Patriots want to grind it out on offense. But Vereen’s versatility is a real asset to New England’s multifaceted attack.

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New domestic violence policy ignored biggest challenge in implementing it

Goodell Getty Images

When rolling out the new domestic violence policy in late August, Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted that, as to the Ray Rice investigation, the NFL didn’t get it right.  But in preparing the new domestic violence policy, the NFL got it wrong, again.

The new domestic violence policy wasn’t a policy; it was a formula for penalties to be imposed on players who have committed domestic violence or sexual assault.  For a first offense, the player will be suspended a baseline amount of six games, with the number possibly going up or down based on the surrounding circumstances.  For a second offense, the player will be banished for life, with the opportunity to reapply after one year.

But the new domestic violence policy said nothing about how an offense would be defined.  In the aftermath of the announcement of the new policy, ESPN reported that an offense would be determined once the legal process had ended.  The league disputed that, telling PFT by email, “Each case will be addressed individually on its merits.”

In crafting the new formula for punishment in cases of domestic violence and sexual assault, the league apparently gave no consideration to the handling players in the murky waters between arrest and trial.  The problem became evident days after the policy was unveiled, with 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald being arrested for domestic violence and the team jumping behind the shield of “due process.”  Then came the Ray Rice video, and everything changed in an instant.

With McDonald and Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy and Jonathan Dwyer, the league has seemingly groped in the dark for a light switch, reaching and flailing and hoping for the best.  The outcome has shown the league at anything but its best, woefully unprepared for the challenges of implementing its new domestic violence policy and totally oblivious to the notion that, in the wake of the Rice case, waiting until a player’s legal case has ended no longer will be good enough.

“When there is evidence of misconduct by anyone in the NFL, we need to carefully consider when to act and on what evidence,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said during his Friday press conference.  “Everyone deserves a fair process.  You know I feel passionately about working in the NFL in any capacity is a privilege.”

That’s a consideration that should have been considered long ago.  Meanwhile, there’s still no clear set of rules for dealing with players accused of domestic violence or sexual assault, which invites more situations in which some players get to play and others don’t get to play — and fans are left to wonder whether the make-it-up-as-they-go approach is creating competitive advantages and disadvantages.

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Jordan Cameron expected to be in lineup for Browns

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

The Browns won last week without tight end Jordan Cameron in the lineup, but it looks like they’ll have him back as they try to make it two in a row against the Ravens.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the team expects Cameron to play after being listed as questionable because of the shoulder issue that’s bothered him since the preseason. Cameron was able to play in the season opening loss to the Steelers and caught two passes for 47 yards before leaving the game because of the injury.

The Browns rallied back in that game without Cameron before winning last week, but there’s little doubt that the team’s offense is better off if they can have a healthy Cameron in the mix. How healthy he’ll be after being limited in practice during the week remains to be seen, however.

Baltimore may not get such a positive outcome after listing running back Bernard Pierce as questionable with a calf injury. Multiple reports on Sunday morning indicate that Pierce will miss the game, an eventuality that the Ravens prepared themselves for by calling Fitzgerald Toussaint up from the practice squad this weekend.

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Matt Schaub not with Raiders on Sunday

Matt Schaub AP

If the Raiders need to turn to a quarterback other than Derek Carr on Sunday, it won’t be Matt Schaub.

The team announced that Schaub will not be in New England for the game with the Patriots. Ed Werder of ESPN reports that Schaub returned home to be with his wife after she had an emergency caesarean section to deliver the couple’s baby.

The birth was premature, but both mother and child are said to be doing well. Everyone at PFT hopes things remain that way and offer our congratulations to the Schaub family on their new arrival.

Matt McGloin will back up Carr on Sunday. The Raiders travel to London for a Week Four date with the Dolphins and it’s unclear at the moment whether Schaub will be joining them for that trip.

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Whether he plays or not, shoulder injury will limit DeSean

DeSean AP

When Washington receiver DeSean Jackson landed hard on his shoulder last Sunday and then walked to the locker room with his arm drooped and dangling, it appeared likely he’d miss his Week Three return to Philadelphia.

Officially dubbed day-to-day, it appeared that Washington coach Jay Gruden was trying to put a banana in Eagles coach Chip Kelly’s tailpipe.

But Jackson practiced Friday on a limited basis, and he’s officially questionable for today’s game.  If (and it could be a big if) he plays, what can we expect from him?

“A moderate AC joint sprain (separated shoulder) is a frustrating injury for a WR,” former NFL athletic trainer Mike Ryan, a contributor to Pro Football Talk on NBCSN, told PFT via email.  “Strength and range of motion of the shoulder are typically not a major factor.  For the next three weeks, his biggest challenge will be reaching across his body and landing on the outside of his sore left shoulder.”

If Jackson plays today, don’t be surprised if Jackson wears something bigger than the Halloween costume version he usually employs.

The bigger surprise could be Jackson playing at all.

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Bruce Irvin fined $8,268 for late shove of Philip Rivers

Bruce Irvin AP

Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin drew a $8,268 fine for a late hit of Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers in Week Two, the NFL has confirmed to PFT.

Irvin was penalized for shoving Rivers after the Chargers’ quarterback had run out of bounds short of the first down marker on a third down play in the third quarter. As Rivers took his second step off the field, Irvin gave him a two-handed shove. Rivers fell to the ground, and the result was a personal foul on Irvin and a first down for San Diego, which would capitalize with a touchdown in its 30-21 upset of Seattle.

The 26-year-old Irvin has a combined four tackles in two games for Seattle, which hosts Denver in a Super Bowl XLVIII rematch on Sunday.

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Ravens’ strategy should be simple, clear

Cass Getty Images

The Ravens believe the lengthy ESPN report that dropped less than two hours after Roger Goodell’s press conference contains plenty of mistakes.  Some minor ones have been pointed out privately; at least one (a suggestion that center A.Q. Shipley watched the Week One game with Ray Rice even though Shipley was playing center for the Colts) apparently has been quietly scrubbed from the story.

But the story has two primary contentions:  (1) director of security Darren Sanders had the contents of the second elevator video described to him by an Atlantic City police officer only hours after Rice Rice knocked out Janay Palmer; and (2) team president Dick Cass (pictured) had been told by Rice’s lawyer that the video was “f–king horrible,” that Rice “knocked her the f–k out,” and that Cass urged Rice to enter a pre-trial intervention program, in part to keep the video from ever becoming public.

While the Ravens have deferred listing the alleged inaccuracies in the report until after Sunday’s game at Cleveland, it should be easy to address the key contentions in the story, if the Ravens contend that those contentions are in dispute.  Sanders needs to say that the allegations relating to him aren’t true.  And Cass needs to say that the allegations relating to him aren’t true.

That’s precisely what Saints G.M. Mickey Loomis did in April 2012.  After ESPN’s Outside the Lines claimed that Loomis had tapped into the in-game conversations of opposing coaches, Loomis went on the record and flatly denied it.

Nothing ever came of any of it, and by all appearances the Outside the Lines report landed outside the lines, literally.  While it’s open to debate and discussion regarding whether the apparently erroneous report about the Saints undermines the new report about the Ravens, the point for now is that, when Loomis faced allegations that he deemed to be untrue, he said so.  Loudly.

The longer the Ravens wait to do that, the harder it will be to get anyone to believe it.

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