Fortunately for football fans everywhere, we won’t have to hear Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt pine over an expanded playoff bracket this year. His Chiefs squad will not only make the playoffs, it will win Super Bowl XLI and bring the Lombardi Trophy home to Kansas City.
The Chiefs narrowly missed the playoffs in 2005, finishing with a 10-6 record, which led Hunt to make a push for a seventh playoff spot in each conference. Nothing came of Hunt’s request, but that won’t matter, as Kansas City will keep the aforementioned Lombardi Trophy in the AFC with a Super Bowl victory.
Kansas City has boasted one of the league’s most potent offenses over the past four seasons – finishing in the top five in points per game each year – and show no signs of slowing down this season.
The Chiefs boast one of the league’s premier running backs in Larry Johnson. The Penn State alum tallied 1,750 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground in only nine starts last season and could make a push for a 2,000-yard season in 2006. Johnson can attribute a portion of his success to the line blocking in front of him. Kansas City returns two Pro Bowl offensive linemen in guards Will Shields and Brian Waters who will continue to open up gaping holes for Johnson to run through.
Trent Green will begin his sixth season under center for the Chiefs this year as one of the most durable, and underrated, quarterbacks in the NFL. He has started every game as a member of the Chiefs and became only the fourth signal-caller in the history of the league to throw for over 4,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. Green keeps his turnovers down and is very efficient with his throws as he is the only quarterback in the NFL to boast a 90-plus passer rating over the last four years.
Green’s receiving corps is headed by tight end and perennial Pro Bowler Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez went over 900 yards receiving for the fifth time in his career last season and with his contract up at the end of this season, he’ll be poised to put up big numbers to ensure that next big paycheck. Dante Hall adds another dimension to the Kansas City roster, as he is capable of breaking a big play at any moment, whether it is on kick returns or within the flow of the offense.
While the Chief’s offense has been one of the best in the league in recent years, the defense has been the Achilles Heal of the franchise. The defensive side of the ball was always an afterthought during the Dick Vermeil regime but that’s sure to change under defensive guru and new head coach, Herm Edwards.
The Kansas City defense made great strides last season and that should only continue under Edwards. The Chiefs went from fourth worst in points allowed per game in 2004 to 16th-best in 2005, allowing seven fewer points per game. The Jet defense was consistently one of the best in the league under Edwards and that trend should follow Edwards to Kansas City.
The Chiefs’ primary problem on defense last year was defending the pass but that should change this season with the installation of the Cover 2 defense, the presence of Edwards – who was a Pro Bowl cornerback during his playing days – and the addition of Pro Bowl cornerback Ty Law. Law made his fifth trip to the Pro Bowl last season after picking off a league-best 10 passes and will form one of the best cornerback duos in the league with Patrick Surtain. Kansas City’s starting secondary of Law, Surtain, Sammy Knight and Greg Wesley intercepted a combined 22 passes a year ago, the most of any of this year’s starting defensive backfields.
The Kansas City front seven is led by the young linebacker trio of Derrick Johnson, Kawika Mitchell and Kendrell Bell. All three are young, sideline-to-sideline ‘backers with the ability to rush the passer. Those three, along with tackles Ryan Sims and Lional Dalton, were major reasons why the Chiefs finished seventh in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game last season. Defensive end Jared Allen posted a team-best 11 sacks last year and has 20 over his first two seasons in the league and will only continue to develop his pass rushing skills. The combo of Eric Hicks and first round draft pick Tamba Hali will also provide a consistent pass rush from the end positions.
The Chiefs played in one of the toughest divisions in football last year but still managed to go 4-2 against division rivals Denver, San Diego and Oakland. They should fare even better this season as all three teams face questions from the quarterback position. Denver’s selection of Jay Cutler in the draft should wreak havoc on Jake Plummer’s already fragile psyche, San Diego’s Philip Rivers has completed only 17 passes in his career and Oakland’s Aaron Brooks is a turnover waiting to happen. If Kansas City could go 4-2 within the division last year, it’s entirely possible it could go undefeated within the division this year, which would be a big step toward winning the division and securing a spot in the playoffs.
The rest of Kansas City’s schedule looks promising, starting with the season opener at home against Cincinnati. Carson Palmer may not be ready to play by the start of the season, which will make for an easier game and will set the tone for a solid season. The Chiefs also get potential AFC playoff teams Baltimore and Jacksonville at home and will welcome Seattle to town in Week 8. Denver, San Diego, Oakland and San Francisco will also visit Arrowhead Stadium, where the Chiefs own a .844 home winning percentage since 1992, the best in the NFL over that span. The only major potential trip-ups could come in Week 2 at Denver, Week 6 at Pittsburgh and Week 10 at Miami.
The Chief offense will remain among the elite this season and a much improved defense will be good for at least two more wins. A softer division and an easier overall schedule will also improve Kansas City’s chances of a playoff birth and, potentially, home field throughout the playoffs. If the Chiefs can secure home field advantage, the road to the Super Bowl becomes clearer as they are nearly unbeatable at Arrowhead. Once Kansas City reaches the Super Bowl, recent history is in its favor as an AFC team has won the season’s finale seven of the last nine years.
All of these factors will lead to a Super Bowl celebration and a parade through the streets of downtown Kansas City. Hopefully these circumstances will enable Hunt to do something other than complain.