Week 1 - San Diego Chargers
A lot of Chiefs' fans are looking at this game with considerable optimism. It's Monday Night Football, the unveiling of the new Arrowhead, and the biggest game in Kansas City in quite a few years. Plus, the Chargers tend to start slow under Norv Turner, and speculation abounds that receiver Vincent Jackson could be suspended for the game.
Put it all together and the stars are aligned for a big win to start the season. Right?
I just can't see it.
The Chargers completely demolished the Chiefs last year, beating them 37-7 in the first encounter and 43-14 in the second. The final scores were bad enough, but the losses were particularly disheartening because of how well the Chiefs had played the Chargers during the Herm Edwards years.
For whatever reason, Herm and company seemed to give the Chargers fits. In Edwards' first two years, the Chiefs split the season series with San Diego. In 2008, they lost both games to the Chargers, but the losses were by a combined total of two points.
Arguably, the biggest reason for those strong performances came from the defensive side of the ball. Gunther Cunningham didn't accomplish much in his return to K.C., but if nothing else, he definitely seemed to have Philip Rivers' number.
Prior to 2009, Rivers had thrown more interceptions than touchdowns against the Chiefs, and was sacked an average of 2.5 times per game. In fact, back in 2008 when the Chiefs set the all-time sack futility record, half of their ten sacks came against San Diego.
Last season, however, Rivers threw for 5 touchdowns and nearly 600 yards against Kansas City, without being sacked or intercepted a single time.
What accounts for such a sudden turnaround? Were the Chargers really that stymied by Herm's Cover 2 defense? Did Todd Haley and the new coaching staff have such little respect for Edwards and Cunningham that they didn't bother to incorporate any of the game plans that had tripped up Rivers over the last few years?
Whatever the answer to that question is, we have to hope the Chiefs have found it over the offseason. Nobody wants to see the big Monday night game marred by a one-sided beating.
Haley has yet to show that he can make the Chiefs competitive in this series, let alone capable of pulling off a victory. If he and Charlie Weis come out with a few tricks up their sleeve, and Romeo Crennel can get the defense back in Rivers' face, then anything is possible.
But it's too hard to predict this one as a victory.
Prediction: Loss (0-1)
Week 2 - @ Cleveland Browns
Barring a total offseason upheaval with the opposing team, I generally find it difficult to pick the Chiefs to beat someone that just beat them the previous season. Particularly if that loss came late in the year, as the Chiefs' loss to the Browns did. Worse yet, the Chiefs were at home when they lost that game, and now they're playing Cleveland on the road.
Josh Cribbs torched KC last season.
However, due to the circumstances of that loss, this is an occasion where I feel pretty comfortable saying things will be different.
I mean, what are the odds of the Chiefs giving up two touchdown returns to Josh Cribbs again? OK, he's a great returner, so we have to admit that it's possible. But even if he has another huge game, would the Chiefs make it worse by letting another running back rush for nearly 300 yards?
And even if they somehow found a way to repeat both disasters, would the receivers really sabotage the offense again by dropping another nine passes?
All three of those things happened to the Chiefs last season, and they still only lost by a single touchdown. There haven't been many times over the last few years where we've been able to say "Boy, they should have won that game", but… boy, they should have won that game.
Factor in the addition of Browns' new quarterback Jake Delhomme, who threw 18 interceptions in just 11 games last year, and perhaps this game will mark Eric Berry's coming-out party in the NFL.
Prediction: Win (1-1)
Week 3 - San Francisco 49ers
After several seasons of "down" years, the 49'ers went 8-8 last year, giving them their best record since 2002. And now that Kurt Warner has retired in Arizona, San Francisco looks like the odds-on-favorite to win the NFC West.
Frank Gore could dominate KC's Defense.
Getty Images/Jed Jacobsohn
Critics point to the fact that half of their victories in 2009 came against the league's worst teams – they beat the Rams twice, and had wins over Detroit and Seattle. But a simple look at their schedule illustrates the failure of that logic.
The 49'ers lost by just 3 points to eventual NFC runner-up Minnesota after Brett Favre threw a last-second, desperation touchdown pass. They lost to the AFC champion Indianapolis Colts by 4 points. They lost by 6 points to Green Bay, another playoff team. And all three of those close losses came on the road.
Along the way, San Francisco also beat the Chicago Bears and swept the division champion Arizona Cardinals.
Boasting Pro Bowlers like Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, and Patrick Willis, the 49'ers are a team on the rise and clearly pose a definite problem. No doubt, many Chiefs fans also view their team as one on the way up, but San Francisco is several steps further along in the process.
The most impressive aspect of their climb is that they're doing it without a clear-cut answer at quarterback. Along those lines, the good news for the Chiefs may be that Alex Smith's only experience at Arrowhead was the stuff nightmares are made of. He was sacked four times, picked off twice, and threw for just 92 yards in a 41-0 beatdown back in 2006.
Smith is far from being one of the league's elite quarterbacks, so if he allows the unpleasant memories of that encounter to throw him off his game, it will definitely play into the Chiefs' hands.
But beyond that thin ray of hope, it's hard to see where the Chiefs have many advantages.
Prediction: Loss (1-2)
Week 4 – Bye
The Chiefs haven't had their bye week this early since 2006, when it came during Week 3 of the season. Coincidentally, 2006 was also the last time the Chiefs made the playoffs.
Could it be a sign of things to come?
Probably not. But, hey, you never know.
Next Time: Weeks 5-8