We haven’t even had the NFL draft yet and rosters are light-years away from being finalized.
But after viewing the Kansas City Chiefs’ 2016 schedule that was released on Thursday, you have to like their chances of returning to the playoffs.
They’d like to do it as a divisional champion. True, Denver lost Peyton Manning to retirement and is in a quarterback quandary. But the Broncos’ defense is still so good that I’m sure it will be the AFC West favorite going into the season.
As always, the Chiefs have two games with Denver, and two with AFC West foes Oakland and San Diego. The rebuilding Chargers actually bookend the season, as the teams open in Week 1 at Arrowhead, then finish up with the season finale in San Diego. And keep an eye on Oakland. The bumbling franchise finally has some direction after losing its way for the last dozen years.
But the rest of the schedule would seem to me to guarantee at least 10 wins.
The Chiefs have road games against 2015 playoff teams Houston (which it manhandled twice last year), Super Bowl runner-up Carolina (a probable loss) and Pittsburgh (almost a guaranteed loss, the Chiefs never seem to win in Pittsburgh).
In addition to three AFC West games on the road, the Chiefs also play at Indianapolis (a probable playoff team with a healthy Andrew Luck) and Atlanta (maybe a .500 team at best).
The Chiefs entertain the Jets (which should have been in the playoffs but blew it), New Orleans (Drew Brees is in his twilight), Jacksonville (should be a gimme), Tampa Bay (ditto to the Jags) and Tennessee (the worst team in the NFL last year). I can’t see the Chiefs going any worse than 6-2 at home.
Coach Andy Reid and GM John Dorsey have worked hard during the offseason to retain their core group of players, though Sean Smith defecting to rival Oakland was a bitter pill to swallow. Smith was regarded as a top corner because of his height and length. He was a nice complement to Marcus Peters, the AFC’s Rookie of the Year.
There’s red flags on defense though. Justin Houston probably will miss the season, despite his contention he’ll be back earlier. Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali are going to need some help from Dee Ford at linebacker considering their age and lack of range. The secondary probably will be weaker and the line was hurt by the retirement of Mike DeVito, though it’s an area where the Chiefs have a lot of depth.
Offensively, it figures to be more of the same. The Chiefs have made some moves to shore up their offensive line, which was a top priority. They ran the ball well last year even after Jamaal Charles was lost early on and have retained Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware just in case his rehab doesn’t take. The oft-criticized Alex Smith has delivered the Chiefs a winning percentage and two playoff appearances and while he doesn’t throw deep, he manages the game well and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.
The Chiefs probably won’t get a whole lot from the draft as they pick late and given their limited cap space, they might be done in the free agent market. But given the schedule and talent on hand, anything less than 10-6 or 9-7 will be a disappointment.