Five To Watch: Chiefs v. Bengals

Let's get this out of the way right now. I'm predicting an 11-5 regular season for the Chiefs. What happens after that is based on luck, injuries, playmakers and coaching. Sunday, Herm Edwards will run out the Arrowhead tunnel for the first time as head coach. He's done everything possible to get his team ready. This game won't be easy for the Chiefs because the Bengals are ready for a fight.

Where has the offseason gone? Just eight months ago the Chiefs ended their 2005 season with a thumping of the same Bengals that'll be in town this Sunday. In that game, Larry Johnson ran through Cincinnati's swiss cheese defense and Carson Palmer rested after two series only to be injured a week later in a loss to Pittsburgh, the eventual Super Bowl XV champions.

But he's back after recovering from knee surgery. In the exhibition season, Palmer played roughly three quarters and showed no ill effects from the injury. In fact, he looked better than ever and that's not good news for Chiefs fans on Sunday. The majority of his success came against second and third-team defensive players, but he's still one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the game today.

Palmer enters Arrowhead with a full compliment of offensive talents that vividly remember last year's 37-3 blowout loss. Palmer said the final score of that game wouldn't provide any extra motivation for Cincinnati, but nobody likes a team that runs up the score.

With the game likely still in doubt in the fourth quarter, that issue won't be on either team's mind. This will be one of the better games of the opening weekend.

The Bengals want to bury the memories of their bitter playoff loss to the Steelers. The Chiefs need to show that their vanilla, four-game exhibition season where they scored only 40 points is not representative of their real offense.

The Chiefs have plenty of weapons that are capable of scorching the Bengals defense. The recipe for defeating Cincinnati from an offensive standpoint is pretty simple. If the Chiefs can hold onto the football, they'll win this game. If not, the Bengals will.

The Bengals led the NFL in forcing turnovers last year, and that ball-hawking style allowed them to win six of eight games on the road. The Chiefs are still one of the NFL's best home teams, and though they've faltered some on opening day, the Bengals will not going to find it easy to win in Kansas City.

For the boys in red, this game will be the first showing of an improved defense. Newcomers Ty Law, Tamba Hali and the young safeties, Bernard Pollard and Jarrad Page will get a stern first test. If they play well, the defense will gain some much-needed momentum for a trip to the Mile High City to face the Denver Broncos one week from Sunday.

The bottom line is that this game could boil down to a coaching decision in the fourth quarter. Can Marvin Lewis make the right decision with the game on the line or will Edwards match wits and pull a rabbit out of his hat to snatch a victory for the hometown crowd?

In two days, we'll find out.

FIVE TO WATCH:
1. Herm Edwards - I know he's not a player, but this game is HUGE for the man who has been entrusted by the organization to lead them back to the playoffs. Edwards spoke all offseason about winning the first game. He's been preparing for this contest since he walked up to podium in January and took the coaching mantel from Dick Vermeil. He has a lot to prove and he's working with a group of players that are a combination of the ones he drafted and signed and the ones that Vermeil left behind. The outcome of this game might be decided by how well those two entities work together.

2. Samie Parker - It's time for the third-year wide receiver to step up his game. He's a tougher player now than he was when he came into the league. Trent Green made an interesting observation about his willingness to go over the middle. He's done more of that in practice, and that's something this offense needs. It can't just rely on Tony Gonzalez to catch the ball down the middle of the field. Parker has the hands and speed to torture Cincinnati's secondary.

3. Kyle Turley - After Sunday, I don't think many will be talking about the absence of Willie Roaf. Turley might be the best tackle in the NFL at using his upper body strength to ward off incoming defensive ends. What's even more interesting is his demeanor. Trent Green told Warpaint Illustrated beat writer Mike Nugent in River Falls that he was surprised at how calm Turley was in the locker room and on the field. But something tells me the tiger will come out of the bag on Sunday, and that'll be a huge shot in the arm for this offense.

4. Greg Wesley - I've not been the biggest Wesley fan in recent years. He has the talent to be an All-Pro, but he appears at times to have lost his edge. He hit harder when he was younger. With rookie Jarrad Page breathing down his neck, Wesley needs to step up his game. Of the two starting safeties, Wesley is much faster than Sammy Knight, but he's not as football savvy. He can be an interception machine at times, but I want to see him lay out Chad Johnson when he comes over the middle. That's when I'll be convinced Wesley is back to his bruising ways.

5. The Sea of Red - I think the 12th man might be the most important element of this game. The fans who make Arrowhead the greatest sports cathedral in the NFL are somewhat confused about this team. They all know the defense will be better, but they're not sure what to expect from the offensive legends that have been dominating the game for four seasons. Now they're going to be asked to root for an offense that's a bit more conservative and respect that fact its purpose is to chew up the clock and play the field position game. The days of the pinball style of offense might be dead.

Nick's Prediction:
Chiefs 27, Bengals 21

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