The Chiefs followed a disastrous 2-14 season with an unlikely trip to the playoffs, followed by an even less likely 38-10 lead at Indy, capped by an even less likely second-half collapse.
For Year Two of the Andy Reid/John Dorsey regime much higher than a year ago, the bar moves higher. Possibly, too high.
Here are five questions we (or at least I) have about the 2014 edition of the Kansas City Chiefs.
1. Did they take too many hits in free agency?
A whopping 60 percent of the team’s offensive line bolted for bigger dollars in free agency, led by left tackle Branden Albert. The team now hopes that Eric Fisher, the first overall pick a year ago, will be able to play better on the left side of the line than the right, where he struggled as a rookie.
Also gone is Dexter McCluster, a versatile weapon who may or may not be replaced effectively by rookie De’Anthony Thomas.
On defense, lineman Tyson Jackson and safety Kendrick Lewis signed elsewhere, and cornerback Brandon Flowers was cut late in the offseason.
The departures, which weren’t offset by many free-agent arrivals, will make it harder to run the streak of playoff appearances to two.
2. Can they put the playoff collapse behind them?
Maybe it’s good that so many of the old players are gone. It’ll make it a little easier to get past the playoff collapse if guys who weren’t part of it aren’t still around.
But plenty are still there, and they’ll need to learn from what happened against the Colts without having a wedge arise between the offense and the defense. Otherwise, whenever the offense builds a lead in 2014 and the defense starts to blow it, “Here we go again” will be the refrain (spoken or otherwise) up and down the Kansas City sideline.
The offense will likely follow the lead of quarterback Alex Smith on this point, especially since his stellar day (378 passing yards, 57 rushing yards, four passing touchdowns, no interceptions) was barely noticed in the aftermath of one of the most deflating losses in franchise history. If he stays positive when the defense starts to show signs of falling apart, others will be inclined to do the same.
3. Is Alex Smith the answer at quarterback?
There’s a chance Smith eventually won’t be the guy leading, or cutting off, resentment of defensive failures. Andy Reid has shown over the last 15 years a knack for getting great performances out of any and every quarterback he coaches, and rookie Aaron Murray could easily become Big Red’s next star pupil.
Smith has one year left on his contract, with the two sides still far apart. If Smith won’t do a deal on the team’s terms, the team could turn to Murray.
And if the 2014 season goes south quickly, Murray may get a chance at some point to show what he can do before the Chiefs have to essentially choose between Smith and Murray.
4. How good will Dee Ford be right away?
If Ford lives up to either of those assessments, the Chiefs will be able to let Justin Houston walk in free agency and install Ford as the four-letter complement to Tamba Hali.
Or maybe it’s Hali who’ll become expandable after the 2014 season, with the Chiefs opting for the two youngest options at pass rusher. If we’ve learned nothing else in the past few years, it’s that no high-priced veteran on any team is safe.
5. Are they nearly done with Dwayne Bowe?
Speaking of high-priced veterans who may be in danger of not being with the team, receiver Dwayne Bowe could be on the outs. With $11 million in cash due come 2015, Bowe may be on the verge of being a former Chief if he doesn’t increase the production in 2014.
His first season under a five-year, $56 million contract resulted in only 57 catches for 673 yards. That’s 13 fewer catches and 20 yards less than running back Jamaal Charles, who also ran the ball for 1,287 yards.
Bowe knows that his time is running short if he can’t produce a better return on the investment the Chiefs made not long after Reid and Dorsey arrived. Otherwise, that cash and cap space will go to someone else.