1. Matt Cassel
The Chiefs 2011 season will fail or succeed based off the success of Matt Cassel. Getting Cassel going early takes on even greater importance Sunday because the Bills are one of the weakest teams on KC's schedule and a slow start by Cassel could be disastrous.
Cassel is entering his third season as the Chiefs' premier signal caller and returning from a Pro Bowl season in which he threw 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The bar is set high for Cassel in 2011 and there are still doubters as to whether he can be a legitimate franchise quarterback. If Cassel goes out and puts up a good performance on Sunday it will send an impressive statement to all his naysayers.
2. Jamaal Charles
You don't come off one of the best seasons for a running back ever without a few expectations being placed upon you. Charles finished the 2010 season with a 6.38 yards per carry average which puts him second all-time, sandwiched between a few names you may have heard of: Jim Brown (6.40) and Barry Sanders (6.13).
Charles is one of the top picks in almost every fantasy football league but the NFL is no fantasy camp. Very real expectations will be placed on Charles in 2011 but in talking to Charles on Thursday he sounds like someone ready to throw the Chiefs on his back.
But living up to what he has accomplished in the past is a lofty goal. Whether or not he can duplicate last year's success will be a question not answered until late in the season but the Bills were one of the worst teams against the run during preseason and Charles has a great opportunity to prove he is the best running back in football.
3. Tyson Jackson
Warpaint Illustrated was one of the first this offseason to voice our concerns over Jackson's ability to handle duties on the left side of the defensive line. As the preseason went on however, it was glaringly obvious that Chiefs opponents saw a chink in KC's defensive front and exploited it over and over.
There is no debate at this point - Jackson has struggled to live up to expectations. While he has the potential to be great, he has a lot to prove. Jackson has all of the physical tools and has shown some fire at times, but he just hasn't shown it on a consistent basis.
There is no doubt in my mind that you will see the Bills attack Jackson early and often on Sunday. How he responds will likely determine his ultimate fate here in Kansas City.
4. Offensive Line
The Chiefs' biggest weakness through four disappointing preseason games has been the offensive line. So why did they release a Pro Bowl lineman who was still under contract this offseason? If a veteran offensive guard coming off a Pro Bowl season hit the free agent market today, wouldn't you be clamoring for the Chiefs to take a flyer on him, especially after the offensive line struggles during the preseason?
The Chiefs wanted to get younger on the line and players like Jon Asamoah and Rodney Hudson can only get better by being on the field, but Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli is taking a great risk here. The Chiefs took everything they excelled in last season, tore it up and started over. What does Matt Cassel and his broken rib think about lining up behind an offensive line on Sunday that has proven unreliable at best?
If the offensive line cannot solidify, and struggles early, Cassel might not make it out of the first half healthy.
5. Pass Rush
One of the Chiefs' biggest weaknesses heading into the season was their need for a pass rush. Sure, they have the AFC's reigning sack leader, Tamba Hali, returning to the lineup but he can't carry this defense on his own. The Chiefs allowed too many big passes last season and getting to the quarterback was a major part of the problem. While Kansas City has a potentially dominant secondary, just because you are an Olympic swimmer doesn't mean you can survive if dropped in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
The Chiefs need not one, but possibly two or three guys to make a major impact in terms of rushing the quarterback if this defense is going to be successful in 2011. The first that comes to mind would be Justin Houston. He won't start, but it would be nice to see him play a decent amount of reps just to see if he can build on what he did during the preseason. At this point it's hard to make a case that he doesn't deserve it.
WARPAINT ILLUSTRATED MESSAGE BOARDS:
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