The Kansas City Chiefs suffered from numerous injuries last season, more than the typical season, and in so doing lost the AFC West. No team can withstand the losses that the Chiefs absorbed and remain standing, so it was no surprise when the Chiefs finished outside of the playoffs in 2011 after losing Eric Berry, Matt Cassel, Tony Moeaki and Jamaal Charles for the season. Now that they're back, however, expect expectations to rise again.
The Chiefs won the division in 2010 and that same young, developing core is now entering its prime. The team has several playmakers on both sides of the ball, and the team has the best offensive and defensive lines since Scott Pioli arrived. But nothing can make a greater impact, perhaps, than the return of the Chiefs offensive spark as Charles bounces back from a lost 2011 season.
Pro Football Focus' Khaled Elsayed places Charles among his top three players in the NFL returning from injury to watch -- a list led by Peyton Manning, of course:
He didn't do much as a rookie, but when he was handed the starting spot for the Chiefs in Week 9 of 2009, you suddenly started to see a very rare and special talent. For the next season a half, Charles would take what little the Chiefs' offensive line gave him and turn it into something as he squeezed through gaps, cut past defenders and out-sprinted everyone. It was as if rushing the ball became an art and Charles was delivering master classes week after week.
Sure, Arian Foster did have more yards but just look at that 6.3 yards per carry. There are times when numbers lie, but this wasn't one of them. If he's anywhere near back to his best, prepared to be wowed.
The Chiefs certainly hope he's back and ready, but they've prepared for Peyton Hillis to also take some of the carries as well. Expect the Chiefs to let Charles along slowly until he's confident and ready once again. If so, the team should enjoy the spoils of one of the best backs in the NFL once again.