The Kansas City Chiefs weren't as far away from returning to the playoffs as you might have thought just a couple of weeks ago. In reality, their season came down to a coin flip.
In the Chiefs' overtime loss to the Raiders in Week 16, Kansas City never got the opportunity to win the game with a possession because of a 53-yard reception by Darrius Heyward-Bey early in the Raiders' first possesion of overtime.
That's how close the Chiefs were this year. Even with all the injuries. Even with all the blowout losses. Even with a head coaching change, the Chiefs were probably a coin flip away from winning the AFC West for the second straight year.
So what can the Chiefs do to get back on the right side of a .500 record in 2012?
1. Get healthy and stay healthy
The biggest problem for the Chiefs this season was devastating injuries to some of their most important players. Jamaal Charles, Tony Moeaki and Eric Berry all tore their ACLs within the first two weeks of the regular season, so it will be interesting to see how they all bounce back and how long it takes for each of them to get back to 100%.
For a team that lacked playmakers, getting three of their most dynamic players back from injury next year will be nothing but positive. How many times can Chiefs fans remember Sabby Piscatelli, Rashard Langford or John McGraw getting burned deep on a play that Eric Berry would have made? How great would it have been for Matt Cassel to have a good outlet guy in Tony Moeaki for the whole year? The Chiefs are talented, but they just need to stay on the field.
2. Draft for depth if you can't get a quarterback in the first round
My first point should direct the front office's attention to begin drafting for depth. Perennial contenders in the AFC such as the Patriots, Steelers and Ravens rarely draft for need because most of their starting spots are covered by players that deserve to be there. I'd say this is beginning to be the case in Kansas City, with good young players littered all around the defense and at skill positions on offense.
The ideal situation for the Chiefs would be having Robert Griffin III fall into their laps during the draft so they can address their only extremely pressing need at quarterback(or trade up to select him), but in reality that probably wont happen and the Chiefs aren't exactly known for drafting quarterbacks in the first round of the draft. Yeah, they need some help along the offensive line and at nose tackle, but Scott Pioli shouldn't be a reach for a player at that position just because of the need.
3. Keep Kyle Orton and dump Matt Cassel
As discussed in the last point, the Chiefs really do need to address the quarterback position. Matt Cassel had too many weapons (Dwayne Bowe, Jonathan Baldwin, Steve Breaston, Dexter McCluster, etc.) to have the kind of season he had (1,700 yards, 10 TD, 9 INT in 9 games). It's obvious when you watch Cassel that he isn't a franchise quarterback and he isn't the best option for the Chiefs.
One direction Scott Pioli could go is keeping Kyle Orton. In three starts, Orton threw for 779 yards, 1 TD and 2 INT's, but looked a lot more dangerous than Cassel ever did even with little time to get acclimated with the offense.
Orton is one way to go, but the Chiefs could also try and go young in the draft with Robert Griffin in the first round or someone like Nick Foles or Ryan Tannehill in the second. They could even try and develop Ricky Stanzi, who was drafted last year. There are plenty of options, but none of them should involve Matt Cassel.
4. Rely on a young and stout defense
The offense of the Chiefs still needs a lot of work, but you can't really say the same about Romeo Crennel's defense.
Even with the injury to Eric Berry early in the season and some major lapses in coverage throughout the year, the Chiefs ended the season 11th in yards per game allowed (333.3) and 12th in points per game allowed (21.1). Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali were legitimate Pro Bowlers, Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr form one of the better cornerback tandems in the NFL and players like Justin Houston and Kendrick Lewis are just starting to come into their own as playmakers.
If the Chiefs do most of these things, I can't see why they wouldn't be back on top of the AFC West, which figures to be weak again in 2012.