In anticipation of the upcoming NFL season, Head & Heart Sports will feature one division each week until the season begins and preview each team’s 2016 outlook. This week we take a look at the AFC West, continuing with the Kansas City Chiefs today.
Recap of 2015: For the second time in the last three seasons under head coach Andy Reid, the Kansas City Chiefs went 11-5 and made the playoffs. The 2015 season saw the Chiefs blowout an inferior Houston team in the Wild Card round and hang tough with the Patriots in Foxborough in the Divisional round only to come up short. The Chiefs started off the year a dreadful 1-5 but went on to win their final ten games of the season, eight of those ten wins were by seven points or more. Despite his flaws in clock management, Andy Reid was still a really good coach, consistently getting the most out of his players while always putting his quarterbacks in a position to succeed. With talent up and down the roster on both sides of the ball, Kansas City finished second in defensive DVOA and third in offensive DVOA in 2015.
Significant Additions: OT Mitch Schwartz, WR Rod Streater
Significant Subtractions: OG Jeff Allen, S Tyvon Branch, CB Sean Smith, OT Donald Stephenson
Potential Impact Rookies: DT Chris Jones, CB KeiVarae Russell, CB Eric Murray, WR Demarcus Robinson
Team Strengths: This is a team that does a lot of things really well and may be the most balanced team in the league. Despite losing starting corner Sean Smith in free agency and All-Pro linebacker Justin Houston to injury, I ultimately think the Chiefs biggest strength is their pass defense. In a league that becomes more pass heavy every season, Kansas City finished last season with the fourth most sacks (47) in the NFL, the second most interceptions (22) and held opposing quarterbacks to completion percentage of 57.5% which was second best in the entire league. I like a lot of what defensive coordinator Bob Sutton does overall and especially with his coverage schemes. The Chiefs have been a top 10 defense by DVOA in two of the three seasons under Sutton and second year corner Marcus Peters looks to be a star in the making. The defense may look slightly weaker on paper coming into 2016, but the blueprint is still there for another dominant pass defense for the Chiefs this season. The Chiefs are also a very good run blocking team as Pro Football Focus had them as the 14th best unit in 2015. Considering none of Kansas City’s lineman started all 16 games last season you can see a path where this ranking rises even with the off season roster shuffling of signing tackle Jeff Schwartz from Cleveland and guard Jeff Allen leaving for Houston in free agency.
Team Weaknesses: It’s hard to say that a guy who completed 65% of his passes and only threw seven interceptions last season as Alex Smith did is a weakness, but that’s exactly what I am going to say. Now part of that is because the Chiefs are such a deep and well balanced team, but the main reason is I would just love to see this team with a more dynamic passer under center. In 2015 of quarterbacks who started all 16 games only Teddy Bridgewater threw for fewer air yards than Alex Smith. Also in 2015, Ben Roethlisberger, Jay Cutler and Sam Bradford all missed time, yet still managed to throw for more air yards than Smith. I still give Smith a lot of credit. He has had a nice career to this point despite his limitations, but as long as he’s under center I just do not see how the Chiefs will ever be a true championship contender.
Fantasy Players to Watch: All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles has been a consensus first round pick in fantasy drafts the last several seasons and even though he is coming off an ACL tear, I do not see why that stance has changed so drastically. Charles has come back from this injury before in 2012 and put up 1,509 rushing yards that season. Also, Charles has averaged over five yards per carry every season of his career. Just let that sink in for a minute. Currently Charles is going 23rd overall in ESPN ADP (average draft position), 17th at Yahoo and 25th in NFFC drafts. Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West are nice stories and proved to be capable backups to Charles last season, but they will not take a significant amount of the workload from Charles. Reach high for the star back at your draft table and you will be rewarded. Wide Receiver Jeremy Maclin has been a productive fantasy receiver throughout his career regardless of his quarterback situation and has been targeted over 120 times each of the last three seasons he has played in. Maclin is currently going as the 23rd wide receiver off the board in NFFC drafts despite finishing the last two seasons 17th and 9th respectively among wide receivers. Take the discount here. There are plenty of other solid options on Kansas City, Travis Kelce will continue to be a starting tight end in all formats and league types. The defense should be a productive start almost every week and even quarterback Alex Smith is safe option as a bye week fill in or in two quarterback leagues. With the way Kansas City is designed on offense, there really won’t be enough to targets for a second fantasy relevant wide receiver to emerge, but if something were to happen to Jeremy Maclin (has only played all 16 games once in his career), I like last seasons third round pick Chris Conley as the receiver on this team to potentially emerge. Conley is a big target (6’3” 205 lbs) and showed a few flashes in very limited time last season. Keep him on your radar.
2016 Outlook: If you are a Chiefs fan, you have to be excited about the 2016 season. The Chargers are still a mess, the Raiders are improving, but are still a very young team and best of all, either Mark Sanchez, Paxton Lynch or Trevor Semien will be the Broncos opening day quarterback. If that does not spell optimism then I don’t know what does. Other than a huge amount of injuries, I really do not see how the Chiefs finish below .500 this season. Even with the limitations of their passing game, this is still one of the best rosters in all of football with one of the better head coaches in the league. Arrowhead should be rocking all season long.
Record Prediction: The schedule breaks very nicely for Kansas City in 2016. They have home games against five non playoff teams from last season (Jets, Saints, Jags, Bucs, and Titans). Their trip to Oakland is off a bye week where Andy Reid is 15-2 in his career coming off a bye week. They will have some potentially tough road games against Houston, Pittsburgh, Indy and Carolina, but they should be able to scrape a win or two in those games. I have Kansas City going 11-5 in 2016 and winning their division. With New England already missing Tom Brady for the first four games of the season, they are in a very good position to compete for a first round playoff bye and have a decent shot at the number one seed in the AFC.
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