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2013 preview: Kansas City Chiefs
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
2012 Record: 2-14. Missed the playoffs.
Which player is under the most pressure?
The team had to upgrade one position without question this offseason, and Alex Smith was identified as the quarterback to do just that. Smith has won 19 games in the past two seasons — more than he won in his first six seasons combined and has thrown 30 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions during that time. He completed better than 70 percent of his passes in 2012 and provides the Chiefs with a level of consistency that they were lacking last season.
In Kansas City’s last four seasons, former Chiefs starting quarterback Matt Cassel never completed more than 60 percent of his passes and threw just five more touchdowns than he did interceptions.
The myth about Smith is that he doesn’t take any chances down the field, but his 8 yards per attempt average makes Cassel’s 6.5 look like pee-wee league, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be without a fair share of pressure in Kansas City. This is the first year since he was the No. 1 overall pick in which he is the clear-cut starter and future of the franchise, but can he be that guy outside the nurture of Jim Harbaugh?
What must the team accomplish to consider the season a success?
This is an interesting question, because the 2012 Colts proved that it isn’t impossible to take what should have been a rebuilding year and turn it into a playoff run. Just like the Colts, the 2013 Chiefs had the No. 1 overall pick. The Colts made a very unexpected postseason appearance and ended up losing to the eventual Super Bowl champions.
You could argue that the Chiefs are poised to make a similar run, if not better. Unlike the Colts, the Chiefs aren’t rebuilding from scratch as they return six Pro Bowlers and play in a relatively easy division other than Denver.
If the Chiefs make the postseason, it wouldn’t be surprising, but it would still have to be considered a success.
Which rookie stands the best chance to succeed?
Although the Chiefs spent the No. 1 overall pick on offensive tackle Eric Fisher, they did well to bring back Brandon Albert.
Both Albert and Fisher can anchor the end of the line of scrimmage for the next decade, although I’m not sure they won’t flip sides before it's all said and done.
Fisher was easily the most impressive lineman at the Senior Bowl, and I can’t think of one time he got beat during the entire practice week, even in one-on-one pass rushing drills that heavily favor the defensive player to begin with. Fisher is a great athlete with quick feet and good hands, but he plays with more finesse than he does raw power.
And while the lines continue to blur with defensive coordinators moving their best pass rushers all over the defensive front, teams still try to keep their best pass protectors on the left side of the line. That is probably where Fisher is a more natural fit, while Albert is a little more powerful and therefore a better candidate for the right side. Either way, having two franchise tackles isn’t a bad problem to have, but keeping them happy may be the challenge.
Albert has already questioned moving to the right and wants to be paid like a left, so that may become more of an issue than his actual fit on the field.
What is the team's biggest addition/loss from the previous season?
Flowers and Smith appear to be the two starters at corner for the opening day roster. With a team like Denver in their division, it is almost imperative that they have three starting caliber corners. With Robinson being the nickel, the Chiefs have the ability to cover three excellent receivers and can still afford to bring an extra player in a blitz to force an early throw.
Where do you predict the team will finish in the division?
I like the Broncos to win the division, but I still believe that Kansas City has a real shot in the overall playoff picture. Here is how I see it shaking out with the Broncos, Patriots, Ravens and Texans all winning their respective divisions and therefore leaving the Bengals, Colts and Chiefs to fight for the remaining two wild-card spots.