Five to Watch: Chiefs vs Patriots

We're going to find out in a hurry if the 2008 Kansas City Chiefs have made enough changes at the coaching and player levels to belong on the same field as the New England Patriots. Most people believe these teams are on the exact opposite end of the NFL power rankings, but it might be closer at the end of the season than it is Sunday.

There isn't any question in my mind that the Chiefs are not the worst team in the NFL, but every single power ranking has them listed somewhere in the bottom three. Is that fair? Maybe, if you've never seen a single OTA session, a single training camp practice or watched a few plays from each of the Chiefs four preseason games.

I've seen the Chargers ranked at the top of a lot of these rankings, but the fact that anyone truly believes San Diego is the best team in football is laughable, to be honest. Some also believe, like me, that the Dallas Cowboys will win the Super Bowl. The Chiefs opponent this weekend, the New England Patriots, are the pick of many experts. But what do these rankings mean?

When the New York Jets traded for legendary quarterback Brett Favre, I thought many would put them in the top ten. That didn't happen, and ironically, some of these same polls actually gave the Green Bay Packers higher spots on the rankings after Favre was traded. Are you kidding me?

Where does this leave our Chiefs football team? They enter the season opener with little or no expectations. Most of the local media have already written the 2008 Chiefs off and are planning to fill their Sunday social calendars with other events that don't include the Chiefs.

The bottom line is that nobody knows how good or bad the Chiefs will be this season. Despite that, most are going the safe route and picking Kansas City to finish dead last in their division and in the hunt for the number one overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Where do I stand? I'm certainly not going to say the Chiefs are in the bottom five of the NFL, but I certainly can't say they are in the top five, either. Realistically, I rank them about 20th.

That's a good starting point based on watching this team practice and play since May. Anyone who covers this team knows this is a different Chiefs team. The roster changes by Herm Edwards were by design, and so is the new offense.

In the world of politics, all we've heard for 18 months now is the word "change," and it's ringing every single day at One Arrowhead Drive, too. It starts at the top with Team Owner Clark Hunt, President Carl Peterson, Edwards and trickles down to the coaches and players.

This isn't the same old Chiefs that many on the national scene have grown accustomed to seeing the last two seasons - most of those players gone.

What remains is a young team that will go into New England Sunday with virtually zero pressure. On our Dustin Colquitt/Dwayne Bowe radio show last night, KC's punter said the Chiefs have to win this football game. He, along with Bowe, truly believe they can win tomorrow.

So Sunday, we'll learn if the power rankings are accurate. If the Chiefs win, they'll climb. If not, it's Raiders week and this topic will remain hot mong media and fans.

Five to Watch:

QB Brodie Croyle - This is it for the young gunslinger from Alabama. It's his time to lead the charge and get the job done. The entire organization has backed him and not to put too much pressure on him, but as he goes the rest of the team will follow. I'm a Croyle supporter and think he can be a solid NFL quarterback, but he has to prove it. If KC's offensive line can give Croyle some clear lanes to throw the ball he can manage the offense and this can be a game in the fourth quarter. If I were Croyle, I'd open the game with a long bomb to Dwayne Bowe.

RB Larry Johnson - The chip on his shoulder is back and it's been raging since training camp began. Though he was rested more than at any point in his career in practice and the preseason, Johnson is chomping at the bit to show he's the beast the Chiefs need him to be. Against the Patriots, he'll have the ability to run into the secondary on virtually every carry, because I think KC's offensive line can handle the Patriots' front three. Johnson needs to get into a rhythm early and he'll need to block for Croyle.

LB Derrick Johnson - This is going to be a defining game for him. It's Johnson's time, after three years in the league, to show he can be a dominating linebacker from the first series to the last. He had a solid exhibition season and having Gunther Cunningham coach him on a daily basis hasn't hurt his development. I expect a monster game from Johnson Sunday.

CB Brandon Carr - Why single out the Chiefs' third cornerback? Because the Patriots will show four and five receiver sets and Carr could be the guy who covers Wes Welker. Nobody goes over the middle and runs out of the slot position to get open as well as Welker does, so this match-up could be big on third down.

OC Chan Gailey - Over the last couple of months I've watched Gailey work with the offense. I've seen him talk to his coaches and had the honor of being in his film room. He dissects a defense like Cunningham does with opposing offenses and develops his scheme based on who he is playing each week. In other words, there is no set way to do it each week. Gailey knows the Patriots are a team he can run on and I bet he knows that if Croyle can complete passes over the front seven, he'll have some success. But one thing is certain - if it's not working in the first quarter, he'll change it.

Nick's Pick:

Though I'd love to pick the Chiefs in this game, it's a tall task for this young bunch to open the season against an angry Patriots team with a nasty taste in their mouth from the Super Bowl. Though Tom Brady isn't 100 percent for this game, he has enough juice to get the job done in the fourth quarter. This will be a game into the latter stages of the third quarter, but New England wins, 30-17.

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