If Kansas City pushes the right buttons against divisional foes in 2012, the Chiefs will reclaim top position in the AFC West.
In a division where 8-8 is the toll on the road to the playoffs, the Kansas City Chiefs nearly made the cut despite several injury-induced detours.
However, as the 2012 NFL season creeps upon us, Romeo Crennel's roster is overflowing with talent, and Kansas City's looking to leave opponents dusted in the Wild (AFC) West.
A tightly contested division will assure that opponents are seeing red in The Red Sea. But if the Chiefs utilize their advantages, they'll take the bull(s) by the horns.
Kansas City's Biggest Advantage: Pass-Rush
However, one of the NFL's premiere pass-rushers, Tamba Hali, will be looming outside of No. 18's peripherals while targeting "Manning"—literally. He's a diverse defensive-end-turned-outside-linebacker that adapts to situations like a threatened chameleon.
But Hali's not in danger; he is the danger. The visored menace has steadily accrued 26.5 sacks within the past two seasons. He's a dynamic hybrid whose electric engine switches to diesel as he smokes the line's weakest link quicker than a Kansas City grill.
In short, Tamba Hali is the boogeyman lurking in the shadows that rest behind immobile quarterbacks.
But the imminent danger will flank from both ends.
(Justin) Houston—they have a problem.
Key Matchup: (OLB) Justin Houston vs. (OT) Orlando Franklin
Despite a fragmented offseason due to the lockout, last year's third-round selection ranked second on the Chiefs with 5.5 sacks.
While Hali is still the kingpin of Kansas City's pass-rush, Ryan Clady will be staring across from him. The Chiefs' relentless pursuer can—and likely will—wreak havoc and intrude like an overprotective mother-in-law.
However, the most lopsided mismatch lies between Justin Houston and the 330-pound hired behemoth known as Orlando Franklin. The Broncos line allowed 42 sacks in 2011, ranking 23rd in the NFL. Somebody fulfilling the role of devil's advocate will undoubtedly scream, "That's because (Tim) Tebow always held onto the ball for too long," which is a fair point.
But by the same token, Denver also attempted less passes than a nun. It evens out.
If Houston and Hali gain the edge, the only thing rising at Mile High will be blood pressure.
Kansas City's Biggest Advantage: Aerial Attack
San Diego's defense finished 20th in rushing yards per game and 13th in passing yardage allowed.
However, the Chargers bulked up their linebacker rotation by acquiring rookie Melvin Ingram and former Chiefs linebacker Demorrio Williams.
Although San Diego boasts a top-tier ball-hawk at safety in Eric Weddle, the secondary and its help can be exploited.
If Kansas City splits out Devon Wylie and/or Dexter McCluster and demands Weddle's attention, Tony Moeaki will be free to carve up a the Chargers linebackers—especially the aging duo of Shaun Phillips and Takeo Spikes.
Key Matchup: (WR) Jon Baldwin vs. (CB) Antoine Cason
The physically oppressive wideout missed substantial time (five games total) with a broken thumb in 2011. But when he returned, Baldwin occasionally showcased his untapped potential with unrivaled focus and Space Jam springs.
Baldwin owns the favorable end of a four-inch height differential and packs an extra 35 pounds of punch. The second-year receiver would impose his will in the red zone—an area that constantly befuddled the Chiefs a season ago. It's an ideal pairing for Kansas City.
Kansas City's Biggest Advantage: Ground Game
Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Terrelle Pryor: Oakland will surgically dissect Kansas City's secondary in both regular season games...if they're held on a campus.
Most organizations equally weigh future potential and historical proof. On Oakland's scale, "potential" is a guy that inhales fried grease at a Larry the Cable Guy show, and "proof" is on the Cheez Whiz-and-cracker diet.
But the team's bread and butter, defense, normally swooped in with its trusted cape to save the day.
Just a few seasons ago, the Oakland Raiders were on the brink of overseeing a cohesive, dominant and demoralizing defensive unit.
In 2011, the script was flipped and the cleat was on the other foot. Management continued to echo "Bon voyage," as key defenders packed their luggage and formed a single-file line. The Raiders punctuated their 2011 season with an uncertain ellipsis as the squad plummeted to 28th in total defense.
The Black Hole evolved into an endless abyss.
Key Matchup: (OT) Eric Winston vs. (DE) Lamarr Houston
Jamaal Charles zigs and zags like the lightning bolts in Zeus' dreams.
If the former track star is shuffled into SportsCenter's Top 10, the run(s) will likely begin with a bounce to the outside. Front to back, Oakland's defensive threats occupy the interior of its 4-3 scheme.
The highly touted and warmly welcomed bulldozer, Eric Winston, should pave a clear path for Charles to exploit.
Once No. 25 breaches the open field and sees daylight, it's obvious who's in charge.