In 2010, the Kansas City Chiefs won the AFC West in a surprise season that accelerated a rebuild year and bolstered confidence in the current core of players. In 2011, the Chiefs fell apart due to injuries to key personnel and drama between the front office and coaching staff. Oh yeah, Tyler Palko as starting quarterback might play into it as well. But a major factor rarely discussed for both seasons is the schedule — just how easy it was in the first year and how it was considerably harder in the second.
With the 2012 NFL regular season schedule unveiled last night, the Chiefs can now look ahead and know what they are up against. While it’s impossible to tell what to expect in April, here’s our early take on all 16 games.
Week 1- Atlanta Falcons
The Tony Gonzalez homecoming to Arrowhead should be sweet, and that will be a major storyline heading into the opener for the Chiefs. But this will actually be one of the biggest tests on the Chiefs schedule and it comes immediately.
The team’s strengths match up very well, and the Falcons offense will be high octane all season after Julio Jones gets his first full offseason to work with Matt Ryan and the coaching staff. With multiple receivers and a strong running game, Stanford Routt gets a very early test on how well he can replace Brandon Carr. Whoever wins here should gain some early nods from analyst on being a playoff darkhorse since both are loaded and ready to make a statement.
Chiefs 24, Falcons 21
Week 2 – @ Buffalo Bills
The Chiefs enjoy a very favorable turn here by playing in Buffalo early in the season. A road game against the Bills could turn ugly in December, but instead the Chiefs will face a young team trying to find out who they are. Buffalo definitely has some exciting pieces in place with Marcel Dareus and another top ten pick this year. However, the Chiefs defense should prove to be too much here.
That said, it needs to be noted that the Bills started red hot last season and have the capability of surprising. Anyone who watched the season-opener in 2011 can tell you just how poor the Chiefs looked against them. Still, it’s hard to believe Crennel will be surprised again.
Chiefs 13, Bills 10
Week 3 – @ New Orleans Saints
The Saints could conceivably be a mess in 2012. Suspensions will likely take out several defensive players, although the Saints have done well to replace them with solid FA signings (Brodrick Bunkley, David Hawthorne, Curtis Lofton). Sean Payton is out. Drama surrounds the entire franchise at this point. But when it comes to football, the Saints should be just fine in the Superdome.
This is the game that could cause the Chiefs fits. Drew Brees will challenge the Chiefs secondary in a major way, while the Saints’ defense will feel the impetus to make a statement outside of Gregg Williams. That could spell trouble for the Chiefs in their first loss of the year.
Saints 21, Chiefs 14
Week 4 – San Diego Chargers
It’s impossible to know what to expect from the Chiefs-Chargers games, as the split from last year will reveal. Games that should be easily put away are left open at the end, and other times the “more talented” team won’t show up. The Chiefs were already knee-deep in injuries for both games last year, so the Chargers will hopefully see KC firing on all cylinders in 2012.
That said, the Chargers have moved on from several key offensive players yet they’ve also stuck with the same head coach through some hot seat drama. Norv Turner has some new pieces so it’s hard to tell how they will fit. At this point, the Chargers have the division’s best quarterback but a semblance of other pieces from there. On paper, the Chiefs are finally the better team.
Chiefs 20, Chargers 17
Week 5 – Baltimore Ravens
There’s a chance the Ravens begin to take a fall in 2012. They lost defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano to the Colts as the team’s new head coach, and the team lost several key defensive players along the way including Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding. Ben Grubbs is also gone from the line to the Saints. In short, the team has some things to figure out this offseason.
That said, the core players are here for a playoff contender for some time. The Ravens front office is just that good, and this is the first game that the quarterback issue could kill the Chiefs if they remain with Cassel. The improved offensive line will also play a major role here in giving the Chiefs offense a chance to move. Winston is a great addition, but the Chiefs haven’t climbed to that next tier of teams just yet.
Ravens 13, Chiefs 6
Week 6 – @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs spent the offseason throwing money at the wall to see what sticks. Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks make any unit better, but bringing in what seemed like the 23rd candidate on the list for head coach and then loading him up with high priced veterans seems like a formula to stay in last place. Josh Freeman holds potential here, so the Bucs definitely have a shot at winning (like any given Sunday in the NFL).
However, the Bucs secondary remains among the worst in the league, and Cassel should enjoy a nice outing throwing to Dwayne Bowe, Jon Baldwin, Tony Moeaki and Steve Breaston in this one. If the Chiefs can stay focused they can head into the bye week with another win on the road.
Chiefs 20, Bucs 10
Week 7 – BYE
Week 8 – Oakland Raiders
The Chiefs see every divisional opponent at home before heading on the road to meet them, and this is the first look at Dennis Allen’s new Raider franchise. In the long run, the team will be healthier, less dramatic and more fundamentally sound. In the short term, unless you believe Carson Palmer is the answer at quarterback, the Raiders could be hurting.
While we’re obviously biased, this is the year I’m predicting the Raiders absolutely tank and get Matt Barkley in the 2013 NFL Draft. That means two wins for the Chiefs this season, who are clearly the better team matched up one-on-one.
Chiefs 30, Raiders 14
Week 9 – @ San Diego Chargers
Once again, this game is a toss-up, so it’s impossible to tell just how good (or bad) the Chargers will be. There’s something to be said for continuity on the coaching staff, but SD has a ridiculous number of new pieces in the offense. Robert Meachem, Le’Ron McClain, Roscoe Parrish, Eddie Royal and Donte Rosario are all new additions here.
That said, the Chiefs will have played the Raiders just four days earlier in an afternoon game and then travel for Thursday Night Football in the first of two primetime games. Since the teams are likely to split anyway, it makes sense that the Chargers could take advantage of a weary Chiefs team.
Chargers 17, Chiefs 7
Week 10 – @ Pittsburgh Steelers
The second primetime match-up features the reunion against Todd Haley and a Monday Night Football audience. The good news is that the Chiefs have 11 days to get ready for this game given their Thursday night appearance from the week before. Crennel versus Haley will be a very intriguing subplot.
The Steelers, however, are still the Steelers. Baltimore and Pittsburgh provide the two teams on the Chiefs schedule who represent the gatekeepers, if you will, into the next tier of success in the league. If the Chiefs can even take one of these, that’s a positive step. This will be tough, but playing at Heinz is always a tough contest.
Steelers 21, Chiefs 20
Week 11 – Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are an interesting story of a team that went from pitiful (picking fourth in the 2011 NFL Draft) to playoff contender in a tough division. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green certainly look the part, so Cincy now seems like a very tough opponent. Every year, however, the NFL inflates and deflates at least one franchise that’s left wondering what happened. The Bengals look like good candidates for this year’s edition.
The league is not kind to new quarterbacks in their second season. Sam Bradford learned hard way last year. Matt Ryan struggled in 2009. Promising rookies can hit the wall in their second year, and the Bengals could have a rough road ahead. This will be close, but Arrowhead proves the difference.
Chiefs 13, Bengals 10
Week 12 – Denver Broncos
There’s no way to predict this outcome. Let’s be honest. If Peyton Manning is healthy, he made wine out of water in Indy so the Broncos should be difficult to beat. Then again, he was out all last season with four neck surgeries in the last year. Will he even still be playing by this time? Impossible to tell.
If Peyton is up and at ‘em, then this game will really be interesting. If the experiment hasn’t worked out, then the Chiefs should roll here. Given Manning’s history, I’m not inclined to bet against him until it’s official.
Broncos 28, Chiefs 20
Week 13 – Cam, er, Carolina Panthers
This will be the week that everyone wants to go to Arrowhead to see one player in particular, where every fan will look back and say, “I remember when I saw Cam Newton in person.” While the Panthers looked resurgent last season, they also played a cupcake schedule. Remember this: they had the first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft for a reason.
Newton will be fun to watch and he will likely frustrated Crennel’s defense. But Daboll’s offense will likely be rolling in the second half of the season (i.e. Miami in 2011) and the Chiefs are a much stronger team top to bottom.
Chiefs 24, Cam 16
Week 14 – @ Cleveland Browns
If the Raiders have a team fighting them for first position in next year’s draft, it could be the Cleveland Browns. It’s not that promise isn’t on the roster. It is. In fact, the team is likely just a quarterback away from playing good football. For now, however, the team just won’t be ready for success despite two first round choices in the upcoming NFL Draft.
One quick prediction here: this could be the upset of the season here if the Chiefs aren’t ready for it. If the Browns take Trent Richardson and another impact player, the Browns could impress near season’s end as they mature. Every NFL season features one or two games where you wonder what happened to your team. This could turn into one of those. Just sayin’.
Chiefs 13, Browns 3
Week 15 – @ Oakland Raiders
League’s worst team. Raiders go 3-13 on the season.
Chiefs 10, Raiders 0
Week 16 – Indianapolis Colts
Hrmm… let’s rethink that league’s worst team line. Actually, everyone chides the Colts for shedding so many players from their years of incredible success and point to a roster that is in disarray. The future should be solid with Andrew Luck at the helm, and the Colts are likely a couple years away from resembling anything like the Colts of old. That said, they will be better than some people realize.
Bruce Arians is a solid offensive coordinator and Luck is an exemplary student. The pairing will challenge the Chiefs defense at Arrowhead enough to scare here, but the Chiefs are clearly the better team. Just a note to say that the Colts won’t be as bad as everyone believes.
Chiefs 17, Colts 14
Week 17 – @ Denver Broncos
I hate picking the Broncos. I can’t get around it and admitting it seems like the right thing. That said, John Fox’s defense boasts a dangerous pass rush on one side and now he has Peyton on the other. If everything works as John Elway hopes, they could be looking at the AFC West title.
After reading through all of this, it’s clear that I believe the Chiefs will be a strong team in 2012. But against the Broncos, it’s hard to pick against Manning on a team with a strong defense and a real running game — especially at Mile High.
Broncos 20, Chiefs 7
Sum Total: 10-6 record predicted in 2012