As the 2013 NFL Season creeps closer, the Place to Be Nation staff has you covered with complete team by team coverage and predictions. Visit the full archive here.
Kansas City Chiefs
If there is any team in line for a major, drastic turnaround from 2012, it is the Chiefs of Kansas City. Wrecked by injuries, bad luck and some poor personnel and management, the Chiefs were a trainwreck last season, finishing up the campaign with just two wins. With a solid frame of talent in place, the franchise looked to overhaul the infrastructure to build from within. Out went embattled GM Scott Pioli shown the door and in over his head head coach Romeo Crennel gone as well, the Chiefs hired Andy Reid to take over control of the entire operation. After a long stay in Philadelphia, Reid needed a change of scenery and KC seemed as good a place as any thanks to existing talent, a strong fanbase and top dratf pick in the team’s cupboard. In order to make a run at the postseason, the Chiefs would have to really pull off a big time turnaround. However, with a weakened AFC and rebuilt roster, KC may just be able to pull it off.
Key Additions & Losses
Additions: Andy Reid (HC, PHI), Alex Smith (QB, SF), Dunta Robinson (CB, ATL), Donnie Avery (WR, IND), Sean Smith (CB, MIA), Mike DeVito (DL, NYJ), Eric Fisher (OL, R)
Losses: Eric Winston (OL, ARZ), Matt Cassell (QB, MIN), Steve Breaston (WR, NO), Scott Pioli (GM, N/A), Glenn Dorsey (DL, SF)
We mentioned Reid above, and he really is the biggest free agent addition, both literally and figuratively, for the Chiefs. The team has lacked a strong focus and voice within the football side of the operation, something that Reid will bring plenty of. With overpaid QB Matt Cassell gone to Minnesota, the Chiefs traded for 49er backup Alex Smith. Smith has plenty of starting experience and is known for being smart and protective of the football, something the Chiefs badly need after finishing at the bottom of the league in takeaway/giveaway differential. Smith may not win games on his own, but he certainly won’t lose the team many. Reid also went about shoring up a defense that allowed 425 points in 2012, importing CBs Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith and DL Mike DeVito. Robinson may be on the back nine of his career, but he has been an iron man over the past five years and had a near career high in tackles last season as well. Smith was a great signing, coming off four productive years in Miami. DeVito was underrated for most his tenure with the Jets, but he is a high level player when it comes to stopping the run and should help anchor the defensive line. Rookie Eric Fisher will slot right in at tackle, and despite battling some nagging injuries, should be a force in protecting Smith.
The Chiefs did not lose much of consequence, as they replaced the hole left by Eric Winston with Fisher. Glenn Dorsey never quite lived up to the hype and is coming off an injury plagued season that held him to four games. He takes that potential to San Francisco, but after he last two season, many Chiefs fans were not sad to see him go. Cassell signed a big money deal after being traded from New England but never even sniffed the stats he put up in Foxboro in 2008. Smith will be a significant upgrade in QB competence and ball control.
New York Giants (Week Four), Houston (Week Seven), DENVER (Week Eleven), Denver (Week Thirteen)
The AFC West is very clearly a two team division as Oakland and San Diego both have way more holes than pieces. If KC can hold serve and win their games against the bottom of the division, they could find themselves battling Denver for the division crown. Their first big test of the year comes in week four when the Giants comes to Arrowhead. Reid knows Big Blue very well, so this could be an early showing of what Reid brings to the team as far as game planning and preparation. Three weeks later, Houston arrives in town for a big conference game for both teams. The biggest games of KC’s season come within three weeks with their home and home series with Denver. If KC can hang around through the first ten weeks, their game at Mile High could be their biggest in a couple of years.
Player to Watch
Smith is easily the player to watch for the Chiefs. After years of cycling through offensive coordinators, systems and personnel, Smith finally began to shine under the watchful eye of Jim Harbaugh. In 2011, he emerged as careful QB that was safe and smart but could also complete a big pass when needed, especially in the playoffs. In 2012, Smith was on his way to duplicating that effort, but went down to injury in the middle of the season. He was replaced by Colin Kaepernick and never regained his starter’s job after Kaepernick showed how dynamic a player he could be. If Smith can bring that cool demeanor and smart QB play to KC, there will be instant and significant upgrade to the Chiefs offense. Luckily for Smith, while not as great at overall game management as Jim Harbaugh, his new coach is well known for his creativity on offense as well.
Better or Worse
2012 Finish: 2-14, Fourth Place
2013 Prediction Finish: 9-7, Second Place
With an increase in talent, a breath of fresh air on the sidelines and a little bit of luck, I think the Chiefs could be this season’s Indianapolis Colts. While in no way is Smith on the level of Andrew Luck, he is blessed with a much stronger defense and running game than Luck was. Jamaal Charles is looking to bounce back from injury and will be toting the rock from all angles under Reid. He will help take pressure of Smith, who will be targeting his throws to his WR corps led by the returning Dwayne Bowe. I also base this prediction on the relative softness of the AFC and their own division in particular. There are only three legitimately strong AFC teams as the season dawns, which leaves the door open for a team like KC to sneak in through the backdoor and into postseason football. They may not earn a berth, but KC fans can rest assured that this year’s team will be much more competitive than the squad from a season ago.
There is quite a bit of optomism in the air at Arrowhead, and it is legitimate. The team has upgraded in a handful of areas and with some luck and health, they should be battling right until the end. Denver is too strong for KC to have a sniff at the division, but Denver is also one Peyton Manning injury away from KC possibly being a division favorite. As is, they should be in the Wild Card picture right down to the final weeks as nine wins could be good enough to get an AFC team into the postseason in 2013. Even if the Chiefs fall short, there is a plan and a future in place, and that is a good thing for one of football’s best, and most deserving, fanbases.
– Justin Rozzero
San Diego Chargers
It seems like it’s been nearly a decade since the San Diego Chargers drafted Eli Manning with the 1st overall pick, only to immediately trade him to the NY Giants for multiple draft picks, including the #4 pick they used on quarterback current QB Phillip Rivers. That’s probably because it has been nearly a decade. While the Chargers didn’t make the move completely by choice – Manning forced the move by claiming he wouldn’t sign with the Chargers – one has to wonder if they wish they had just tried to work things out with Eli, who now holds two Super Bowl rings, while the Chargers still wait for Rivers to bring them to the Promised Land.
This year may be Rivers’ last chance. After two consecutive seasons of statistical drop off and three without a playoff appearance, Rivers now has a new coach in Mike McCoy who will be looking to build a winner from the ground up. Ideally, the 31-year old Rivers would be a big part of that, but if he delivers another bad season there is a good chance the team will decide to move on. Despite their woes, the Chargers have been competitive every season in recent memory, and the McCoy is hoping a mix of veterans and draft picks will bolster the team and get them to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Key Additions & Losses
Additions: Danny Woodhead (RB, NE), Dwight Freeney (DE, IND), DJ Fluker (OT, 1st Round) Manti Te’O (ILB, 2nd Round),Keenan Allen (WR, 3rd Round)
Losses: Louis Vasquez (G, DEN), Antoine Cason (CB, ARI), Quentin Jammer (CB, DEN), Shaun Phillips (DE, DEN)
Phillip Rivers wasn’t entirely to blame for the Chargers woes last year, nor for his declining statistical numbers. It’s difficult to play QB in the NFL when you are lying on your back, and Rivers was sacked 49 times last year, second only to Aaron Rodgers. The Chargers had a horrendous offensive line last year, and losing Louis Vasquez to the Broncos doesn’t help matters. This prompted them to reach for OT DJ Fluker in the 1st round of this year’s draft. The problem here is that Fluker, while a great run-stopper, wasn’t all that great at protecting his QB in the SEC last year, and is limited in that he can only play the right side. The Chargers didn’t do much more to get Rivers help on offense. Danny Woodhead will give him a nice pass-catching option at RB, but doesn’t really provide the type of downhill running game they will need when Ryan Matthews inevitably gets injured. For Rivers to improve, the Chargers needed to shore up the offensive line and running game, and they didn’t seem to do either. Keenan Allen has the potential to be a great steal in the 3rd round at receiver, but he’ll need to have the ball thrown at him to have any chance at an impact, which may prove difficult.
On the other side of the ball, the Chargers seemingly lost half their defense to the Denver Broncos. Quentin Jammer and Shaun Phillips may be on the downside of their careers, but their veteran presence will be sorely missed on what is now a very young and questionable defense. The Chargers are placing a bet that Dwight Freeney can turn back the clock to become one of the top pass rushers in football again after a down year resulted in his release from the Colts. Can a rejuvenated Freeney and the rookie ILB Manti Te’O help stop the bleeding of what was often a porous defense last year? Coach Mike McCoy has his fingers crossed, because if not it will be a very, very long first season.
Dallas (Week 4), @Washington (Week 9), @Denver (Week 15)
In Week 4 the Phillip Rivers will face off against another talented QB who keeps falling short of the Big Win, in an important home game against Tony Romo and the Cowboys. The Cowboys are expected to field a potent offense, and the San Diego’s new defense will be put to an early test. How the Chargers play in that game will be very telling as to whether or not they can contend this year. If they are still in the hunt midseason, it will be essential that they come out of the bye week strong against what should once again be a tough Redskins defense on the road. Finally, the Chargers face their greatest challenge of the season on the road against the Broncos in Week 15. While there is a good chance this game will be meaningless if the Chargers fall out early, the situation changes if they are on the cusp of a playoff spot. A matchup against what I predict to be the best team in the AFC will not only determine if the make the playoffs, but gauge whether they have the ability go all the way to the Super Bowl.
Player to Watch
Manti Te’O got more media attention than any rookie this offseason, and for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with football. But now that the media spotlight over the “fake girlfriend” scandal has died down, it’s important to remember why this kid ever mattered in the first place: he is a great football player. Concerns about Manti’s character stemming from the scandal caused him to fall to the 2nd round in what could be an absolute bargain for the Chargers if Manti can put all of the drama aside and focus on football. All reports from camp are that he is doing just that. If the Chargers defense is successful this year, Manti Te’O will be a big part of the reason.
Better or Worse
2012 Finish: 7-9, 2nd in AFC West
2013 Predicted Finish: 6-10, 3rd in AFC West
Despite their holes, the Chargers do have significant talent, which is how they managed to still reach a 7-9 record last year in spite of their issues on offense and defense. They still have a lot of talent on the team, and if Phillip Rivers can recapture the magic of his first five years in the NFL, and get some protection along the way, they should be competitive. Unfortunately for Rivers and new coach Mike McCoy, the AFC West belongs to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, and I don’t believe any team in the division has a chance of dethroning them. While it’s possible the Chargers could sneak into a wild card spot, this team has too many question marks to predict a better finish than last year. With a division that includes the aforementioned Broncos and an improved Chiefs team, along with a new head coach trying to instill a new system, I see this team taking a slight step back, finishing with six wins and 3rd place in the AFC West behind the Broncos and Chiefs.
For years fans and pundits alike have blamed head coach Norv Turner for the Chargers failures. While there is certainly some merit to this, the Chargers issues are numerous and new head coach Mike McCoy will really have his work cut out for him trying to patch the holes. There is some reason for hope for the future – Manti Te’O, Keenan Allen, and Ryan Matthews, if he can stay healthy, are all very talented and could easily have breakout seasons. The Chargers will likely experience some highs and lows this season, but in today’s NFL consistency is king and there are too many questions on this team. The future may be bright under Mike McCoy, but 2013 feels more like a rebuilding year than a championship year.
– Marc Clair