The 2016 NFL season is just around the corner. As such, Sportsnaut will be previewing all 32 teams before the games begin in September. Continuing the series, we stay in the AFC West to provide a Kansas City Chiefs 2016 preview.
Here, we’ll be discussing a team that while strong, needs to find stronger balance in its offense.
Before we look ahead, let’s take a glance at some key developments.
Kansas City Chiefs 2016 Preview
Head coach: Andy Reid (Fourth season)
Key arrivals: RT Mitchell Schwartz, QB Nick Foles, SS Jeron Johnson, OLB Andy Mulamba, WR Rod Streater
Key departures: CB Sean Smith, G Josh Allen, LT Donald Stephenosn, SS Tyvon Branch, DE Mike Devito, FS Husain Abdullah
1. Is Jamaal Charles still a big time threat?
For most of his career, Charles has been one of the NFL’s best all-purpose backs. He’s rushed for 1,000 or more yards on five separate occasions, topping 1,500 rushing and receiving yards thrice.
The problem with Charles is that injuries have also gotten in the way. While his 2012-2014 seasons were brilliant, those were book ended by 2011 and 2015 seasons where he played a combined seven games. Charles will turn 30 in December, an age where even generally healthy backs begin to slow down.
With Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware at second and third string, Kansas City does have solid backups if Charles is out or ineffective. Still, a healthy Charles gives this offense a big-play element that can’t really be recreated. The Chiefs will need to find a way to keep him fresh.
2. Will anyone emerge as the No. 2 receiver
The addition of Jeremy Maclin helped. After Kansas City’s receivers caught no touchdowns in 2014, Maclin hauled in eight scores in 2015. It was a step in the right direction, but the rest of the wide outs still only pulled in four combined touchdown passes.
Someone else has to emerge and be a consistent No. 2 receiver for Alex Smith. When that happens, it will free up Maclin, tight end Travis Kelce, and may even take a little heat off of Charles and the other running backs.
If it doesn’t, the Chiefs will end up in a lot of close games. Winning those games will feel like pulling teeth for Kansas City’s fans.
3. What will the secondary look like?
Losing Sean Smith is a double whammy. Not only are the Chiefs losing a starter, but they’re losing him to the division-rival Oakland Raiders.
The losses of Tyvon Branch to the Cardinals and Husain Abdullah to retirement may not seem as impactful, but the secondary is a place where depth is needed. The two started a combined four games, but Branch played in all 16 contests while Abdullah played in 11. So, they were important in the team’s defensive rotation.
The Chiefs had a top-10 defense in 2015 and their secondary was not a small reason why. They have plenty of experience in starters Marcus Peters, Ron Parker, Steven Nelson and Eric Berry, but will have question marks as the depth gets tested, particularly against pass happy teams.
Chris Conley, wide receiver
At the 2015 combine, the 6-foot-3 receiver ran the 40-yard-dash in 2015. The question is, after an uneven rookie season, can he put that talent together on the field?
He seems to think so, noting that a year of experience with the offense will make a big difference.
“When you can go out on the field and hear a play call and not have to think about what route you’re running, you can go out there and scan the defense and think about winning one-on-one matchups, think about finding the hole in zone,” Conley said, via Blair Kerkhoff, Kansas City Star. “That’s what this year is about for me.”
With two preseason games under his belt, Conley is putting those words into action.
Conley has the raw playmaking tools that Kansas City needs. With his speed and size, defenses have to respect his longball threat. That can open the field up for everyone else.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
The Chiefs have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. They may not be overwhelming in any one area, but they’re not a team with many weaknesses, either.
On top of that, while the Raiders are a fast rising team, the Denver Broncos enter 2016 with a great deal of uncertainty. Denver won the division every year from 2011-2015, but it currently has an unstable quarterback situation which can certainly impact the roster. Additionally, Kansas City played the Broncos tough in 2015, routing the eventual champs by 16 points in Week 10 and losing a bizarre Week 2 game, marking the Chiefs’ only divisional loss of the season.
The games between Kansas City, Oakland, and Denver will probably tell us who wins the AFC West, but the Chiefs enter 2016 in the driver’s seat.
REASON TO DOUBT
Really, it just comes down to a handful of question marks.
Smith isn’t a great quarterback. But is he still good enough to lead a championship caliber team?
The secondary looks good, but can it be as good as 2015’s?
Can the pass rush help the secondary out again?
Can Conley emerge as a real receiving threat?
Even if he does, what happens if Maclin or Kelce regress?
The answers to all of those lean in a positive way for Kansas City. The problem is just the amount of question marks. The division figures to be competitive and as always, the difference between 10-6 and 6-10 is not that great. So, if any of the questions are answered in a negative way, the Chiefs could find themselves closer to 6-10 than 10-6.
Prediction: 10-6, first place in AFC West