Today's absurd prediction:
For the first time this millennium, the Chiefs' defense finishes ranked higher than their offense.
Last season, thanks to the departure of offensive coordinator Al Saunders, the injury to Trent Green, and the retirement of Willie Roaf, along with the progress of the defense under Gunther Cunningham, both units finished with a #16 rank in yardage. The defense will be better this year, but the offense will be worse. I see the defense ranking as high as 10th, and the offense falling to the bottom 12. The Chiefs have a ton of questions on the offensive side of the ball, and some of them don't have a good answer.
Here's the breakdown for the Kansas City Chiefs:
Coaching Changes: N/A
Head Coach Herm Edwards and Offensive Coordinator Mike Solari return for their second season together in K.C., and Cunningham is back for a third. But the losses and changes to the personnel on offense negate the advantage of the coaching continuity.
Their biggest need was (and has been for a while) wide receiver, and they did the right thing by taking Dwayne Bowe. Having a good possession receiver like Bowe who will fight for the ball in traffic is what a young quarterback needs. Plus, they already have a speedster in Samie Parker who can stretch the field, so Bowe's relative slowness isn't a problem. Their next two picks could be the subject of a sitcom, "Turk and Tank." Both are defensive tackles, one from Tennessee, one from N.C. State. Turk McBride is a little small for his position and can't handle a double-team, but is strong and plays tough, and was considered a longshot potential steal. It was a little surprising to see him come off the board so early (2nd round). DeMarcus "Tank" Tyler has ideal size and strength, and was the focus of his defense, so he's used to double-teams and can handle himself. But his endurance is a concern. He was expected to be an early-to-mid 2nd-rounder, and it was actually surprising that the Chiefs took McBride when Tyler was available. But he was still there when they picked in the 3rd, so they have two to choose from, and at least one should be able to start in 2008 at the latest. Still, they had other needs and didn't have to take two DTs so early, especially considering how badly they need line help. They spent one of their fifth-round choices on a kicker, Justin Medlock, who is expected to take over the kicking duties from day one. The Chiefs also got a good prospect at running back in the fifth, Kolby Smith. He didn't see much playing time in Louisville until Michael Bush got injured, so he's a little rough around the edges, but with good coaching he could be an excellent NFL back in time. In a few years, Smith and Bush could be squaring off as the starting RBs in Oakland and Kansas City twice every season.
Player Movement: D
The one that's going to hurt the most is Will Shields' retirement. The loss of Roaf last year significantly dropped Larry Johnson's yards-per-carry, and now that two members of one of the best lines in football history are gone, Johnson's numbers could be downright pedestrian. Damian McIntosh, Brian Waters, Casey Wiegmann, John Welbourn and Chris Terry don't form a terrible line, but it's a far cry from what they had two years ago. McIntosh is new to the team, so it may take time to gel. They stole Donnie Edwards back from San Diego (he played for KC his first 6 years), and nabbed Napoleon Harris, giving them two linebackers who have played for other AFC West teams. Jordan Black, last year's attempt to replace Roaf, is now under contract in Houston. KR Dante Hall is gone, which many around FanNation are lamenting, but in truth he was well past his prime, and they got a fifth-rounder for him. Finally, longtime QB Trent Green is off the team after a long, drawn-out trade standoff between the Chiefs and Dolphins. It may have been a painful move, but it was the right move - it's time for the Chiefs to find out what they have in Brodie Croyle.
If the Chiefs have any hope to return to the playoffs, they'd better be 6-1 at the bye. They have Denver twice, Indianapolis, and San Diego in a five-week span. They have a history of doing well at home at the end of the season, but only one of their last four games is going to be played in Arrowhead. They draw the Jets and the Bengals, my wild-card picks, and play the mixed bags that are the AFC South and NFC North. This isn't a schedule that favors the Chiefs, since the easiest part of it is at the beginning of the season, when I expect they'll be working out a lot of kinks with Croyle and the new O-line.
The situation at running back is very interesting. First, you've got Larry Johnson, who had an epiphany and said, "Hey, wait. I'm touching the ball more than practically anyone in history and I'm still getting paid like a #2 guy in an RB platoon. It'd be perfectly reasonable for me to ask for more money." And then he said, "I want to be paid like LaDainian Tomlinson, one of the best RBs in NFL history, because two years ago my name kept getting mentioned in the same sentence as him and Shaun Alexander." Then you've got the rookie, Smith, who Peter King seems to think is well on his way to making LJ expendable. Then, thanks to a dream he had, Priest Holmes decides to return and fight for a Hollywood ending to his career. (The movie's already in progress - they're thinking of casting Morgan Freeman as Holmes.) My advice to the Chiefs: start talking to Green Bay. If they'll trade you next year's first-rounder for Johnson, take it. Give Holmes his chance at a blaze of glory, and work on Smith so he'll be ready to start next year. My advice to Green Bay, by the way, is to offer said trade. Brett Favre will be much happier, and it might get you back into the playoffs. Moving on from running back, there's also the question of Croyle vs. Huard-the eternal question of planning for the future or aiming for success-and of course, the questions about the line. On a more positive note, the Chiefs suddenly have one of the league's scarier LB corps with Edwards, Harris, and Derrick Johnson. Cunningham has assembled an impressive depth chart: he's got two solid veteran cornerbacks in Ty Law and Patrick Surtain, great linebackers, and two great young DEs in Jared Allen and Tamba Hali. Speaking of Allen, it's also worth pointing out that he's suspended for the first two games of the season. The Chiefs are pretty thin at end, which makes me wonder if they're planning on moving Turk McBride. They're deep at DT and shallow at DE, so it would make sense, and McBride is sized more like a DE. A position change would slow his development, but they're going to need to start someone in Allen's place.
The Record: 6-10
This is a very unstable number, largely dependent on Croyle as well as what happens with the LJ situation. If Croyle surprises us all and plays some great football, obviously they'll do better. If he's awful, and gets benched in favor of Huard, they will also do better. If he performs like most first-year starters do, 6-10 is very likely. As for Johnson, if he even plays for the Chiefs this year, he's going to have a lot of attention devoted to him and it'll be very hard to get the kind of numbers he's gotten the past two years.