Patriots West is off to a dubious start in Year One.
Former New England boss Scott Pioli fled to Kansas City for complete control this season, traded for quarterback Matt Cassel and the Chiefs have won three games.
That's roughly $3 million per win for Cassel. No, not quite the investment Kansas City expected in mortgaging everything for the one-year Pats wonder.
The key to a Buffalo win is no secret — hassle Cassel. A victim of his own surroundings, Cassel has been a mistake-prone placeholder this season. Last week he was benched after totaling only 84 yards on 29 pass attempts. The good news? His name is not JaMarcus Russell.
In short, this isn't Priest Holmes' Chiefs. The days of scoring 40 points without thinking are long gone. With Dwayne Bowe suspended, KC is relying on a mixed bag of castoffs. Chris Chambers, Bobby Wade and Mark Bradley — slot receivers at best — may be the least lethal bunch of receivers Buffalo's secondary has faced all season.
As a whole, Kansas City receivers have dropped 37 passes. That makes Terrell Owens blush.
So the trick to a win is simple. If the Bills get a push up front — a near guarantee considering KC has been tidalwaved for 40 sacks this season — look for the secondary to feast. Cassel hit rock bottom in KC's 44-13 loss to Denver last week, getting yanked for Brodie Croyle. Yes, Brodie Croyle. Ouch. That's kind of like Opie being named Peter Griffin's superior at Pawtucket Brewery. The Chiefs, welcoming a full-fledged rebuilding project, are struggling mightily on offense. Pioli insists on doing it the long-term way. Cleaning house and building slowly. No quick fixes here.
For one day at least, Jairus Byrd will have opportunities in deep center. Believe it or not, the secondary has quietly crept into the top five against the pass. Maybe it's deceiving. The run ‘D' is gashed weekly, slowly and painfully keeping opposing offenses on the field. But take solace in that the Bills' secondary is not bleeding big plays as it has in recent memory.
The team's jumbled front office has gotten one thing right. It never overpaid for Nate Clements and constructed a ball-hawking back four. The Bills' top defensive backs are young and all under contract. Week after week, they grant an anemic Bills offense juicy field position. On the season, Buffalo has 21 picks (2nd most in the NFL).
Expect them to be the difference Sunday. While Cassel's confidence may be wrecked after last week, Chiefs head coach Todd Haley hopes the benching is a positive. Classic late-season desperation, really.
"In my opinion, the experience he had to go through in coming out of the game and watching his backup play is more important than actually being in there for that last quarter," Haley said.
Somehow the Chiefs will prolong its impressive streak of games without a blackout to 156. Kansas City hasn't had a game blacked out since the late 90s. Not that fans would be missing much at home. Sunday packs the intrigue of a 4 a.m. infomercial. Just a bland, bland product. For the Bills and Chiefs, this has been a season to forget. At best, Sunday is a chance at reprieve. A chance at a deep breath. A chance to plant some form of momentum.
Kansas City's best shot to win is to pound Jamaal Charles all day. At some point, though, Cassel will need to step up. Maybe someday, he'll justify his absurdly rich contract. But not Sunday. Not with this duct-taped supporting cast. Look for Buffalo's swarming secondary to resurface. Byrd has been quiet lately but he'll make a play this weekend.
Buffalo's offense temporarily rises from the dead and the defense forces an eye-sore of turnovers. Hide the women and children. This game probably will not be pretty.
Prediction: Bills 24, Chiefs 9
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