The Dirty Dozen – Part I

Last July we covered 12 fearsome players the Chiefs wound up encountering during the course of the 2007 season. Seven of them - Tommie Harris, Adrian Peterson, Shawne Merriman, Brett Favre, Vince Young, LaDainian Tomlinson, Warren Sapp - hurt KC's offense or defense to some degree.

The Chiefs have an easier schedule in 2008, but you can bet they'll face an equally dangerous dirty dozen this season. Today we'll look at one-third of that group. Once again, credit for the origin of this topic goes to former Warpaint Illustrated writer Mike Campbell, who first discussed the subject in our magazine.

1. WR Randy Moss, New England

In recent meetings, the Chiefs bottled up Moss as an Oakland Raider, holding him to a meager 134 yards in three meetings. Now that Moss is a New England Patriot, his presence – and that of quarterback Tom Brady - is just a tad more intimidating.

There's no one defender on KC's roster capable of consistently covering Moss one on one. This September, it's a good bet the Chiefs will play a ton of Cover Two against the Patriots and hope the pass rush gets to Brady in time. If not, it's difficult to picture Moss doing anything but racking up yards and touchdowns on his way to ESPN's highlight reel. Oh, but there is good news – the Patriots won't be videotaping any defensive signals this year.

Stat to note: Moss has eight Week 1 touchdowns.

2. DE John Abraham, Atlanta

After being traded from New York to Atlanta two seasons ago, Abraham suffered through an injury-plagued initial season with the Falcons, logging just four sacks. 2008 was a rebound year for Abraham, however, as he recorded 10 sacks and four forced fumbles as Atlanta's only real pass-rush threat (the Falcons recorded only 25 sacks as a team).

Abraham and his ability to force fumbles (27 for his career) will be the first big test for quarterback Brodie Croyle and rookie left tackle Branden Albert this year, especially inside the Falcons' noisy Georgia Dome. How Albert handles Abraham's relentless speed and athleticism off the edge will go a long way toward determining if the Chiefs come out of Atlanta with a win. Herm Edwards, Abraham's former head coach, is well aware of this fact, so don't be surprised if Albert receives some help from a tight end in Week 3.

Stat to note: Nine of Abraham's 14 career sacks as a Falcon have come at home.

3. DE Julius Peppers, Carolina

It's true that Peppers recorded only a meager 2.5 sacks last year, his worst season as a pro. It's true that most likely, he was loafing quite a bit while the Panthers went 7-9. As one league insider put it, "Julius Peppers knows he's going to break the bank. He's already made more money than you could ever dream of. The way he played this year, it showed. He was just going through the motions. He was content being blocked."

Peppers' future riches are the key, however. He's a free agent after this season, meaning 2008 is a contract year. Don't be fooled by Peppers' lackluster 2007 – he still has plenty of ability, and is only 28 years old. Most likely, he'll do well enough this season in his effort to get one last huge payday.

Peppers is a concern for the Chiefs because he's strong enough to give Damion McIntosh fits on passing and running downs. McIntosh is a finesse pass blocker and average run blocker who doesn't play nearly as big as his 320-pound frame might suggest. If McIntosh wins KC's starting job at right tackle (his position this week as Kansas City began offseason workouts) he would face Peppers, a left defensive end, when the Chiefs visit Carolina in Week 5.

Stat to note: Peppers logged six tackles and two sacks in a 2004 game at Arrowhead Stadium.

4. RB Chris Johnson, Tennessee

A rookie on our list? Yes, but only because Johnson complements Jeff Fisher's already terrific running game so well.

The Titans ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing a year ago, leading the league in attempts and pounding the Chiefs for 148 yards in a Week 15 meeting. Tennessee improved their offensive line this offseason by adding guard Jake Scott. Enter Johnson, the perfect complement to starter LenDale White, the Titans' version of Jerome Bettis.

Johnson, who ran a blazing 4.24 40-yard dash at the NFL combine this offseason, will likely have a role similar to the Chiefs' rookie runner, Jamaal Charles - screens, draws, misdirection, anything that might take advantage of his great speed and serve as a change of pace from White's bruising style.

The Chiefs couldn't stop the Titans' ground game a year ago. If they can't stop it this year, we might see Johnson burning past a tired KC defense in the fourth quarter in Week 7. If that's not scary enough, the rookie running back may also return kicks for the Titans.

Stat to note: Johnson led the NCAA with 227.69 all-purpose yards per game last season.

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