Chiefs Roundtable: Playing to Win

In our New Years Eve edition of our Chiefs Roundtable, we discuss the importance of winning o Sunday and which Chiefs player was snubbed for the Pro Bowl. Plus will any of KC's top coordinators be candidates for an NFL Head Coaching job?

How would you handle the game on Sunday? Play to win, or rest the starters?

Nick Athan: Play to win. It's important that the Chiefs remain the #3 seed in the playoffs. Assuming they can defeat the New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens or the Pittsburgh Steelers next weekend, they don't want to face the New England Patriots the following week.

Yes, I'm getting way ahead of the process, but I can't see any of the aforementioned teams defeating the Chiefs at Arrowhead the second weekend of January. If the seedings hold, the Colts would likely face the Patriots in the second weekend of the playoffs, while the Chiefs would travel to Pittsburgh or Baltimore. And I like their chances, because their offense can score points, to reach the AFC Championship game against the Patriots.

So, yes, winning Sunday against the Raiders is imperative.

C.E. Wendler: The Chiefs are on a roll heading into the playoffs and it needs to stay that way. There are too many examples of teams taking a week off before the playoffs and meeting their disaster seven days later. Maybe if the Chiefs were a veteran team that had been around the block a few times, they could get away with resting starters. Not this team.

And of course, there's the matter of the No. 3 seed. Why would you give the Colts a chance to gain a higher seed? If the unlikely scenario of the Chiefs and Colts meeting in the AFC Championship game comes to pass, wouldn't you want that matchup played at Arrowhead?

Conor Crawford: If I were Todd Haley, I would have the team's starters play at least the first quarter or even the first half. Beyond that, they should be extremely careful, especially against a physical Oakland Raiders team. The timing of this Chiefs-Raiders game is a bit risky considering that these matches get quite brutal, and I'm sure that the Raiders, knowing that the Chiefs are headed to the playoffs and they aren't, may inflict some cheap shots in order to derail their rivals' postseason plans.

Jamaal Charles is within reach of the rushing title, so Todd Haley may let him try and notch enough yardage, but Charles' availability in the postseason is definitely more important.

Michael Ash: I would try to walk the tightrope as best as I could and attempt to pull off both. In terms of winning, there's obviously importance to not just the playoff seeding, but keeping momentum going in the Chiefs' favor. I'm sure nobody wants to write this game off as a loss.

But the health of the players is paramount. Look what happened to the Patriots last season – they lost Wes Welker to a blown-out knee in Week 17, and then got hammered 33-14 at home a week later in the opening round of the playoffs. If the Chiefs lose Charles, or Cassel, or any other player of importance to injury, is anyone going to care what seed they are?

Basically, I guess I'd treat it like a third preseason game. I'd have everyone out there at the beginning and I'd try to keep them in the game for the first half or so. But if circumstances allowed it – K.C. jumps out to a big lead, for instance – I'd start pulling guys sooner.

It looks like quite a few head coaching jobs will be open. Do you think other teams may come after Weis or Crennel? How much would it impact the team if one of them left?

Nick Athan: By my count, there could be as many as thirteen head coaching vacancies in the NFL in early January. Those teams, in no particular order, are as follows: San Francisco, Houston, Miami, Minnesota, Oakland, San Diego, Arizona, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Cleveland, New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, and Carolina Panthers could be potential fits for Weis or Crennel.

With as many as 13 NFL coaching vacancies possibly opening up at some point next week, Charlie Weis could draw some interest from more than one team.
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I've heard that Weis would like another head coaching gig. The fact he and Haley haven't seen eye-to-eye for most of the season leads many to believe that Weis could be a popular figure among some NFL teams. However, I was told that Weis might not be willing to leave on his own volition based on the relationship he's formed with quarterback Matt Cassel.

As far as Crennel, I can't see that happening. In my view, he's one of the best defensive minds in football. Plus, if he left he would be missing the one thing that he loves to do more than anything else, which is teaching young players. He had his shot and I just don't see him leaving Kansas City for any other head coaching job.

C.E. Wendler: I don't think either coordinator is interested in a head coaching job now or at any point in the future. Crennel is getting on in years and Weis has numerous health issues. The stress of a head coaching position doesn't appear to be something that would appeal to either man.

As for the impact of their absence, it would be huge. With no major upgrades on defense other than the rookie class, the Chiefs have made enormous strides on defense simply because of Crennel's coaching. And does anyone even want to think about what taking away Charlie Weis would do to Matt Cassel's production?

Conor Crawford: I don't think a team would necessarily have Weis or Crennel at the top of their lists. But if the ‘big fish' like Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden don't land back in the NFL, the Chiefs' coordinators will get long looks from team owners.

I can see Crennel becoming an NFL coach before Weis would because Crennel has been there before. Also, defensive-minded coaches are more likely to get recognition because the NFL has definitely become an offensive-heavy league as of late. I would say that if either or both of them were to leave the Chiefs, there would be promotions within the team to replace them, and I don't think the Chiefs would hit a significant road bump in their departure. Crennel and Weis would leave a void, but coaching assistants are much easier to replace than head coaches.

Michael Ash: I'd be extremely surprised if an NFL team tried to hire Weis as their head coach just one year after he got booted from the college ranks. His health has also been in question this year, which would further make it unlikely.

And if I'm a fan of a team that needs a fresh start, I don't know that Crennel would excite me much as a potential head coach. Given his age and the perception that he's at his best as a coordinator, it wouldn't seem to be a terribly inspiring hire. So I'd also be surprised if a team went after him to any great degree.

But obviously nobody knows what will happen. If either of them did leave the Chiefs, it would be a serious blow. I'd say losing Crennel would hurt more than losing Weis, if only because the new offensive coordinator would have Haley to lean on.

How good are the Chiefs compared to the rest of the AFC playoff field? Which teams could they beat, which teams should we hope to avoid playing?

Nick Athan: I like the Chiefs' matchup against any of their first round opponents. Going forward, should they play Pittsburgh in the second round, I like the fact that they're going to be facing a gutty quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger. The fact he's not very mobile should play into the Chiefs' hands should they chose to be very aggressive with their pass rush.

Should things hold as they are after Sunday, NY Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan will bring his struggling team into Arrowhead in the first round of the playoffs.
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Should they do that, it sets up an interesting battle against the New England Patriots. It will be the game of the year in the postseason based solely on the connection between the Chiefs' Scott Pioli and the two coordinators that all came from the Bill Belichick tree of Super Bowl champions.

C.E. Wendler: The Chiefs are the third seed, but probably only the fourth best team. The Patriots, Steelers and Ravens are clearly superior. The Colts and Jets are both on Kansas City's level.

If at all possible, it would be nice if the Chiefs avoided Baltimore. They don't match up well with players like Haloti Ngata and Ray Lewis, and the Ravens' offense is so balanced across the board, it would be a difficult test for KC's defense. For the same reasons, the Steelers are an unfavorable matchup for Kansas City. The thought of Ben Roethlisberger picking his teeth while Kansas City's pass rush disappears isn't inviting.

Conor Crawford: The Chiefs' best matchup is against the New York Jets. While their defense is one of the best in the league, the Jets' most glaring weakness is quarterback Mark Sanchez. Sanchez relies heavily on that defense and has a strong tendency to fail when the team relies on him. Plus, the Jets barely escaped the Lions and Browns and had to win in overtime in order to do so. Meanwhile, against the best of the best, such as the New England Patriots, they get blown out.

I won't go so far to say that the Chiefs measure up with a team like the Patriots, but Kansas City's defense is enough to rough up Sanchez and keep the Jets offense off the field. With the Chiefs' offense on the field for a majority of the game, we'll see the Jets' defense get gassed trying to stop Jamaal Charles, Thomas Jones, and Dwayne Bowe. Speaking of which, the Jets may have one of the best corners in the league in Darrell Revis, but one stud cornerback isn't going to be able to contain Bowe, Charles, Dexter McCluster, and Tony Moeaki all in the open field.

The team the Chiefs should absolutely hope to avoid meeting the postseason is the Patriots. They can only hope that the Patriots get upset in the divisional round so that they don't have to travel to Foxboro. It would be great entertainment to see the Patriots cast-offs in Kansas City playing their former bosses in New England, but to be safe, the Chiefs (who face three games in the postseason) won't have enough energy to play a Patriots team that had a first-round bye and home-field inside track to Super Bowl XLV.

Michael Ash: The Ravens, Steelers, and Jets are all difficult matchups for the Chiefs. All three teams have top ten defenses and all of them would probably load up the box to stop the Chiefs from running. No matter how well Cassel has been playing, becoming one-dimensional against a top-ranked defense isn't the position the Chiefs want to find themselves in.

The Jets would seem to present an even stiffer challenge defensively, because in addition to stacking the box, they could also limit Cassel's options in the passing game by using Revis to take Bowe out of the equation. But their defensive advantage could ultimately be offset by the fact that the Jets' QB is easily the weakest one the Chiefs would face. Still, Sanchez is coming off a pair of decent road performances in Pittsburgh and Chicago, two tough places to play. The idea that he'd walk into Arrowhead and fall to pieces is just wishful thinking.

On a neutral field, I don't think I'd pick the Chiefs to beat any of those teams. But anything is possible at Arrowhead. The matchup I'd really like to see is the Chiefs against the Patriots. For one thing, it probably wouldn't happen until the AFC Championship game, and seeing the Chiefs make it that far is reason enough to hope this matchup occurs. But while the Jets, Steelers, and Ravens all have top defenses, New England's is ranked 27th. Moving the ball against the Patriots shouldn't be a problem.

The major issue would be slowing down Tom Brady, which is obviously much easier said than done. But if any team might have an advantage, you'd think it could be the one with two former Patriot coordinators on staff. Plus, the Chiefs' running game should help keep him on the sideline.

Which Chief got snubbed worse in the Pro Bowl voting: Cassel? Flowers? Hali? Someone else?

Nick Athan: I touched on this in my Five Things column this week. I think Cassel got jobbed. For what he's done for this team, he should have been given the nod over the Chargers Phillip Rivers. But I don't think Tom Brady will end up going to Hawaii after his Super Bowl winning performance, so there's a chance that Cassel will be the alternate.

Though LB Derrick Johnson has had a monster season for the defense, Tamba Hali's was even better.
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As far as Hali, he should have made it as well. To see what he's done without another pass rusher on the opposite side of the defensive line tells me he was All Pro worthy. However, I don't think that Flowers was near as worthy as Hali.

I've been very disappointed with his play this year. For a man that is supposed to be a shut down corner, he needs to be far more physical at the line of scrimmage to be an All Pro performer. Since coming back from injury, he's been routinely beaten by some average wide receivers.

Until he can effectively jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and improve his closing speed, he's not going to Hawaii any time soon.

C.E. Wendler: Hali deserved the Pro Bowl more than any other Chief who was snubbed. You take him out of the equation, and Kansas City's defense is helpless against the pass. He's as valuable to KC's defense as Dwayne Bowe and Jamaal Charles are to the offense.

Even further, Hali was left out of the Pro Bowl thanks to Terrell Suggs, who had a statistically inferior year whilst playing surrounded by more talent. Perhaps Tamba can take it out on Michael Oher in the playoffs.

Conor Crawford: I think Tamba Hali was the biggest snub because he's meant the most to this team's defensive stability. He had tough competition in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis from Indianapolis, but I think Tamba clearly outshines Jason Babin from Tennessee. Cassel, on the otherhand, will likely earn a trip to Hawaii because two of the quarterbacks in front of him – Tom Brady and Peyton Manning – could very well participate in the Super Bowl this year. Super Bowl players don't play in the Pro Bowl, so Cassel may earn a trip as an alternate.

Michael Ash: It doesn't bother me that Cassel didn't make it. He's obviously not going to replace Brady. Rivers had a tremendous year despite Vincent Jackson missing 95% of the season and Antonio Gates being hobbled with injuries. And even if he hasn't played up to his usually sky-high standards this season, it's going to take a couple years of substandard performances before someone with Peyton Manning's reputation stops getting voted in.

Hali is the only omission I'd object to. For one, he deserves it on merit alone. He has 12 sacks, which we all know. And while statistics like QB pressures and QB hurries aren't ones the league officially tracks, the outlets that do track them have Hali atop the AFC, if not the entire NFL.

For another thing, the alternate at outside linebacker is Baltimore's Terrell Suggs, who mostly plays at defensive end. This issue arose a couple years ago when the Ravens franchised Suggs, but wanted to classify him as a linebacker because the price of the tag was cheaper. Suggs objected, pointing out that he played more at defensive end, which brings about a heftier salary.

Nothing has changed since then – Suggs still lines up mostly as a DE. So why is he counting as a linebacker for the Pro Bowl? Put him where he belongs with the defensive ends and then a spot opens up for Tamba.

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