2015 AFC preview: Kansas City Chiefs
From now until the New England Patriots begin training camp, Phil Perry looks at the 15 other AFC teams: The biggest question they face heading into the season, their story line on offense, their story line on defense, and their "threat level" to the Patriots.
Today's opponent: The Kansas City Chiefs.
OFFENSIVE STORYLINE TO WATCH
Will Kansas City receivers score?
If you followed the NFL last season, you've very likely heard this stat by now, but it bears repeating: The Chiefs went the entire 2014 campaign without a single touchdown pass hauled in by a receiver.
Think about that. Not one.
Odds are one of the team's wideouts will find the end zone this year, and odds are it will be Maclin, who had 10 touchdowns for the Eagles last season. But if Maclin gets hurt -- he missed the 2013 season with a torn ACL -- the passing touchdown numbers could be embarrassingly meager yet again.
Smith has never been known as a quarterback willing to air it out, often opting to turn to Charles or talented tight end Travis Kelce. And even with Maclin's addition, the depth at the receiver position is shallow . . to put it kindly.
On top of that, the Chiefs offensive line was not very good last season, and it appears to have gotten worse after losing center Rodney Hudson to the division rival Raiders via free agency. Smith probably won't have much time to look down the field, meaning he'll be a check-down machine yet again.
DEFENSIVE STORYLINE TO WATCH
Will Houston, Hali get any help from their secondary?
Justin Houston was very clearly one of the top pass-rushers in football in 2014, and now he's being paid like it. But after signing a six-year, $101 million deal this week to remain in Kansas City, the pressure will be on for him to play up to his $100-million-man label.
If he doesn't, the Chiefs defense could be in a world of hurt.
Despite the fact that Houston and Hali will continue to be nightmare fuel for offenses, they won't have a ton of help. Outside of defensive tackle Dontari Poe -- who's one of the best in the game at his position -- it's a homely bunch defensively.
Safety Eric Berry isn't available as he deals with his cancer diagnosis, and rookie first-round pick Marcus Peters, a player who slid in the draft due to off-field concerns, could be called upon to lead an otherwise underwhelming secondary.
In a division that features pass-happy offenses in Denver and San Diego as well as a potentially up-and-coming quarterback in Oakland, Reid will rely on Houston, Hali and Poe to give opposing quarterbacks mere moments to discern coverages and find open receivers. Any more than that, and his defense will be carved up by capable passers.
THREAT LEVEL: MODERATE
So you're saying there's a chance? Again, this team isn't all that far removed from the group that won double-digit games two seasons ago. It beat the Patriots early last year in Kansas City in a Monday night massacre. It nipped Russell Wilson and the Seahawks at home seven weeks later. There is potential here. But it's still a passing league, and right now, this looks like a team that could struggle in the passing game on both sides of the ball given its lack of depth at receiver and in the secondary. After a tough first four weeks -- at Houston, Denver, at Green Bay, at Cincinnati -- we should have an idea as to whether or not this version of the Chiefs is either Jekel or Hyde.