It's the fear that every fan holds once their tumultuous franchise finally turns a corner. The Colts looked incredibly fragile in 2011, and fans have to wonder just how much longer this window remains open. The Bucs look like up-and-comers, yet the growth curve in the NFL can be harsh. The Rams and Lions took major steps forward last year, but is it possible that they end up right back in the cellar?
Perhaps as much as any other franchise, fans of the Chiefs must grapple with the question of expectations. Ten wins and an AFC West divisional championship marked a completely unexpected season where rookies played above expectations and younger veterans took the proverbial leap forward. A questionable offensive line came together and paved the way to lead the NFL in rushing, while Matt Cassel minimized turnovers and teamed with Dwayne Bowe on 15 touchdowns.
Tamba Hali became an elite pass rusher and a young secondary stepped up to become one of the most promising units in the NFL. Questions linger along the defensive line, perhaps, but individual players in the front seven -- from Glenn Dorsey to Derrick Johnson -- made good on their athletic talents and became playmakers at their respective positions.
Then the schedule comes into play and the other side can make its case. The Chiefs schedule goes from cupcake to harsh in the matter of a year, and while opponents' grades change year after year, it's easy to see the Chiefs have an uphill climb next season. The Chiefs also fared well in the injury department last season, so that's another factor to consider. Of course, no fan wants to think in such gloomy terms when it comes to their favorite team, but even the most faithful have to admit the Chiefs have their work cut out for them to repeat.
That's what Mel Kiper is getting at in his latest column when discussing the vulnerability factor of several teams in the AFC and NFC and their potential to drop. Specifically he writes:
I've built up too much faith in Scott Pioli to believe this team is due for a backslide. The Chiefs have to add an offensive lineman, and could use help at nose tackle, as well as pass-rushing help opposite of Tamba Hali, but remember that Kansas City exposed a lot of young players last year and still came out with 10 wins. I think Pioli now has the mindset that he can find the right pieces, rather than a legion of new talent, and the team will continue to get better.
Kiper lists the Colts, Bears, Falcons and Seahawks as much better cases for a drop than the Chiefs, but it's a crapshoot in the NFL year after year. Given the state of this off-season, this next season should be even more unpredictable.