On October 14, 2007, the Kansas City Chiefs held off the Cincinnati Bengals to improve their record to 3-3 on the season.
They haven’t won a game outside the division since.
That gruesome 15-game non-division losing streak indicates that the 2008 Chiefs are lucky they played in the AFC West, or the NFL might have had to flip a coin earlier this year to see which winless squad received the number one pick.
Into this abyss steps G.M. Scott Pioli and coach Todd Haley, who will have to repair a roster thin on talent and inexperienced at winning games.
It could take a while.
The defense, especially, could be in for a rough transition. Haley brought in deposed Cardinals defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast to run the unit. Pendergast has creative schemes, but sometimes he confuses his own players.
More importantly, it’s questionable whether Kansas City’s talent fits a 3-4 defense. Last year’s top-five pick, Glenn Dorsey, looks like a pass-rushing tackle, but he will now occupy blockers as an end. The group lacks a natural nose tackle.
Another first-rounder, Tamba Hali, will have to convert to outside linebacker, while the Chiefs are relying heavily on graybeards Mike Vrabel and Zach Thomas to plug gaps as Pioli builds up the roster with pieces that fit. The secondary might be the most sustainable portion of the team, with talented young players Brandon Flowers, Bernard Pollard, and Jarrad Page.
The offense looks to be in better shape. Acquiring Matt Cassel and signing him to a huge deal was a risk, but he fits Haley’s shotgun attack well. Look for a pass-heavy approach as the Chiefs spread teams out.
Haley has a long history of maximizing wideout talent, and his preseason displeasure with Dwayne Bowe isn’t a long-term concern. (And we don’t really think Brodie Croyle will play this year, barring an injury to Cassel.)
Larry Johnson claims he’s reborn and can form a passable running back group with third-down back Jamaal Charles.
There is an opportunity for the Chiefs to come in second place in a weak AFC West, but a difficult schedule will make a .500 record an uphill climb.
This season for Haley and Pioli is all about putting their system in place, finding out who “their guys” are, and scaring this organization straight after years of Carl Peterson, Dick Vermeil, and Herm Edwards.
Key Player: Cassel. I hate to go with the easy choice here, but is there another $60 million quarterback we know less about? This guy could be an annual Pro Bowler or a huge bust; nothing would surprise.
Rookie to watch: Defensive end Tyson Jackson. The rest of the rookie class lacks impact players. Jackson is one of the most unknown top-three draft picks of all-time, but the Chiefs will look for a quietly effective Ty Warren-like impact.
Best veteran acquisition: Bobby Engram. With a group of receivers wet behind the ears, Cassel needs someone he can trust over the middle.
Key game: Week Two, vs. Raiders. The Chiefs face the entire NFC East in succession after this game. If they can’t beat Oakland at home, it’s going to be a rough start.