Warpaint Roundtable – Offseason Edition XIV

This week we discuss the schedule, kick returner and the key to a championship.

Do the schedule makers just hate the Chiefs? How many NFC East opponents can they actually beat?

Nick Athan: Without a doubt they hate the Chiefs! All those playoff teams to start the season? Leaving the Cowboys/Chiefs game out of prime time? Inexcusable! But, honestly, the Chiefs have nobody to blame but themselves. Two terrible seasons leads to zero prime time games.

However, the Chiefs could get a flex game and my guess would be the matchup with the Steelers at home on November 22. To answer your other question, if the Chiefs want to win the AFC West, they have to go 3-1 versus the NFC, but at this point I'd take 2-2.

Michael Ash: Why all the complaining about the schedule? Is Dick Vermeil back in Kansas City? Is he leading the charge on this? The Chiefs' opponents for 2009 were set the day the season ended. It's a tough slate of games, no doubt, but there aren't any surprises in there. There's nothing particularly unfair about the way the games are set up – the Chiefs aren't on the road for three straight weeks or anything like that.

What's the big deal? That the Chiefs have to play some good teams? The Pittsburgh Steelers had the toughest schedule in the league last year. They went out there, played their games, and ultimately won the Super Bowl. If a team needs to rely on a favorable schedule to help them out, it just means they'll get exposed down the road.

C.E. Wendler: Every year, the schedule comes out, and every year, Chiefs fans complain. It will never change. But I've always held to the ethos that the tougher the schedule is, the better. All it does is make for a better, more tested football team.

As for primetime games, who cares? The league has zero reason to put the Kansas City Chiefs on in primetime. Where is the big superstar? Where is the legacy of greatness? Who wants to watch the Chiefs besides their own fanbase? Besides, who really likes waiting an extra day, or even a few extra hours to watch the Chiefs? Not me.

After looking at the schedule, what do you think our record will be? I think that after the bye we can realistically go 7-2/6-3 to finish 9-7/8-8.

Nick Athan: At first glance, I felt the Chiefs could end up 2-5 in the first seven but I've changed my tune. I like KC's chances against Oakland, Philly and the NY Giants. They won't beat the Ravens or Cowboys but I like their chances against Washington. Asking them to win two on the road will be tough. So that leaves the Chargers game, where I think Kansas City will romp this year, giving them a 4-3 mark heading into the bye week.

Put the Chiefs down for 9-7, with wins in the second half over Oakland, Pittsburgh, Denver, Buffalo and Cleveland. That would give them nine wins and that will win the AFC West.

Michael Ash: How can anyone see eight or nine wins out of this schedule? If the Chiefs can pull out five, I would be pretty impressed. Now maybe things will change – perhaps Matt Cassel will play even better than he did a year ago and the Chiefs' offense will be one of the best in the league. Or maybe the defense will stiffen up from last year, and the team will be able to squeak out 3-4 extra wins. But I'm not going to predict it.

Realistically, the Chiefs can probably expect to win at least one game against Denver and Oakland. They beat both of those teams last season, and nearly beat San Diego twice, so pulling off a win against the Chargers wouldn't be too surprising. They get Cleveland at home in December, that might be winnable. That's four wins. If they pull off another win somewhere along the way, that's five.

C.E. Wendler: The homer in me is coming out despite the tough schedule. Put the Chiefs down for season sweeps of the Raiders and Broncos. I don't have a problem giving them the edge in either of those matchups because of the quarterback situation on both teams. Mark the Chiefs down to split with the Chargers. That's five wins.

The rest of the schedule is brutal, but throw in wins against Dallas (overrated), Buffalo, Cleveland and Cincinnati, and you get to 9-7. That seems awfully optimistic, but you can turn a team around quickly in today's NFL. However, 9-7 is still a little too high, even for this homer. But 7-9 or 8-8 doesn't seem out of reach whatsoever.

With the Chiefs obvious emphasis on improving special teams, do you expect them to look for a legit kick returner or is Kevin Robinson really a viable option?

Nick Athan: Robinson is the answer if they give him the chance. Now if the Chiefs draft Jeremy Maclin, which I hope they do, then all bets are off on Robinson. A new approach on special teams will help him. The Chiefs have signed several players who can play great special teams and with the wedge rules changing, every NFL team is going to need a returner with speed and power. Robinson is that guy.

Michael Ash: If the special teams unit plays better, the return game will improve on its own. Just about any great kick returner you can name also had a good blocking unit around him. Last year's special teams was made up of players who might not make most teams' practice squads, and it kept getting reshuffled with each roster change.

Better players on special teams and some continuity among the blockers will allow the kick returns to improve. Will it improve enough to be "game changing?" Maybe not. But unless a strong kick returner becomes available in free agency, I wouldn't expect them to actively target that position just yet.

C.E. Wendler: Troy Brown, Kevin Faulk, Deion Branch, Bethel Johnson, Tim Dwight, Laurence Maroney, Wes Welker, Ellis Hobbs. What do those players have in common? They all returned kicks, punts, or both, over the last eight seasons in New England. Most had some degree of success.

Like right tackle, I believe good general managers can find kick returners almost anywhere. If your return unit is good enough, all you need is a guy who can handle the mechanical aspect of the position well enough. If he brings elite speed like Johnson, or elite quickness like Faulk or Dwight, that's a bonus.

This year is about making the team Haley's, and behind the scene, Pioli's. Both have proven designs on the best way to build champions. Besides quarterback, what position do you think they must address to allow this team to find it's identity and start playing with the attitude of a champion?

Nick Athan: The Chiefs must get their defensive line in order. The linebackers will be fine with Zach Thomas, Mike Vrabel and Derrick Johnson. But right now, assuming the Chiefs put Tank Tyler in the middle of the defense, they still need two ends.

Right now I'm down on Turk McBride and Tamba Hali and we don't know enough about Brian Johnston. But if this team is going to be champions, they better fix the front three.

Michael Ash: With the Chiefs shifting to a 3-4 defense, they have to find a nose tackle and an outside pass-rushing linebacker. The defense isn't going to have an identity until both of those positions are set. As the question said, hopefully they've already filled that need on the offensive side of the ball by acquiring Cassel.

C.E. Wendler: This might sound weird, but looking at recent champions, safety. The Colts had Bob Sanders, the Patriots had Rodney Harrison, the Steelers had Troy Polamalu. Hard-hitting, talented strong safeties always make the best defensive leaders because they can affect every area of the defense.

The Chiefs have two young safeties with talent and attitude. But neither have reached a level of consistent productivity that really allows them to set an example for other players. Until the Chiefs have that presence at safety, I'm not sure they'll have a championship-caliber defense.

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