Reading KC's Fortune: Week 1

We continue the extended glimpse into our crystal ball by taking a look at the Chiefs' schedule for the upcoming season. Specifically, we'll examine the first several games and try to get a read on what we can expect in 2009.

This week, we examine Week 1 and the Chiefs' matchup with the Baltimore Ravens.


Overview

At first glance, a Chiefs team that finished last season with a 2-14 record wouldn't appear to have much chance against the Ravens, who went 11-5 and played in the AFC Championship.

Second and third glances confirm that notion.

Of course, with a brand new coaching staff, a new quarterback, and a new defensive scheme, the Chiefs that take the field against Baltimore shouldn't bear any similarities to the team that sleepwalked through last season's finale in Cincinnati. But even taking into account the numerous changes made this offseason, has enough really been done to give the Chiefs a shot at pulling off the upset?

Since we have no idea what to expect from the offense or the defense, the easiest way to answer that question might be to look for holes in Baltimore's game. If any exist, we'llcross our fingers and hope the Chiefs can exploit them.


Why The Chiefs Could Win

For the last decade, the calling card for the Baltimore Ravens has been their defense, which ranked second in the NFL last season. For the Chiefs to have a chance in Week 1, they have to hope the Ravens' defense isn't firing on all cylinders.

As slim as the odds are, there might be an outside chance of that happening.

Since the Ravens began operations in 1996, only three coordinators have overseen their their defense – Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, and Rex Ryan. But with Ryan leaving Baltimore for the New York Jets, the Ravens will have a new defensive general for the first time since 2005.

To get an idea of how the Baltimore defense will fare under new coordinator Greg Mattison, we need to look at what happened in the past when the Ravens introduced a new coordinator.

Under Lewis, the team's first defensive coordinator, the Ravens' defense thrived and ultimately led the team to a Super Bowl title in 2000. A year later, in Lewis' final season with the team, Baltimore had the NFL's second-ranked defense (277.9 yards per game) and ranked fourth in points allowed (16.6 per game).

Although it's merely a blip on the Ravens' radar, when Lewis left the team, his replacement Mike Nolan – now in Denver – struggled in his first go-round as coordinator.


How will the Ravens respond to Mattison?
Rob Carr - AP

On Nolan's watch, the 2002 Ravens fell all the way to 22nd in total defense, allowing over 56 more yards per game than they had the previous year. Their scoring defense dropped to 19th, as they gave up 22.1 points per game – a mark just 2.8 points lower than the infamous ‘02 Chiefs defense allowed that same season.

Nolan eventually found his way and the Ravens rebounded, but there was clearly an adjustment period. However, when Nolan left Baltimore and Ryan took the job, the adjustment was hardly noticeable – the Ravens allowed two more points per game, but actually gave up about 15 fewer yards in each contest.

Perhaps Ryan's transition was easier because he'd been on Baltimore's staff for several years as a position coach. By contrast, Nolan had only been with the Ravens for one season.

The good news for the Chiefs is that, when examining those two transition periods, Baltimore's current circumstance seems to trend closer to the situation with Nolan.

Mattison, the new coordinator, has been part of several successful defenses at the college level, but had never coached in the NFL until he was brought aboard John Harbaugh's staff last year. Now, much like Nolan, Mattison finds himself running the Ravens' defense after just one season with the team.

Unlike Nolan, though, this will be Mattison's first time running an NFL defense. Before Baltimore, Nolan had been a coordinator with the Giants, Redskins, and Jets. Mattison has no previous NFL experience.

The logic of "if it's not broken, don't fix it" is often cited in these cases, as all Mattison should need to do is exactly what made the Ravens' defense so good in the first place. But that same logic would have applied to Nolan in his first year and the Ravens still suffered a setback.

Perhaps the one thing the Chiefs will have going for them in this game is the element of surprise – namely, the fact that no one will know what to expect from their offense under Todd Haley. The Chiefs aren't the Cardinals, and the Chiefs' offense of years past has revolved heavily around Tony Gonzalez, so what we see in the opener should be an entirely new attack.

If that attack proves successful, and if it happens to coincide with the Ravens not yet having their feet under them defensively, maybe it will be enough to squeak out a win.


Why The Chiefs Won't Win

The Ravens had the fourth-ranked rushing offense in 2008, gaining just under 150 yards a game on the ground. The Chiefs defense, on the other hand, went through stretches where it seemed they couldn't stop an opponent's running game if their lives depended on it.

The odds of the Chiefs suddenly transforming into run-stoppers in the first game of the season aren't terribly high. If second-year quarterback Joe Flacco can connect on a few key throws now and then, the Ravens should be able to move the ball without much trouble.

Even if the Chiefs' offense finds success as discussed above, Baltimore's strong running game should be able to limit time of possession. It's just not a good matchup for Kansas City in the opener.

Most Likely Result: Chiefs start the season 0-1.

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