How the AFC West Will Be Won

In 2010, second year head coach Todd Haley led the improbable run made by the Kansas City Chiefs that ended with a 10-6 record and AFC West title. He was considered one of the best young coaches in the NFL, and the Chiefs appeared set for a division title defense in 2011. But after the dust settled on a tumultuous 2011 season — thanks to a slew of injuries, and the firing the once highly touted Haley — the Chiefs looked much less impressive, and much different on paper, than they had a year prior.

But now, the silver lining appears to be more than just a lining once again. With the return of Eric Berry to the defensive secondary, and the returns of Jamaal Charles and Tony Moeaki to the offense, the 2010 gang is almost all back together. But the fun for the Chiefs and their fans only begins there.

You want to talk about difference makers from free agency? Try signing the bruise-inducing Peyton Hillis to complement Charles, adding Eric Winston to an already good offensive line, giving Moeaki a dependable counterpart with TE Kevin Boss, and replacing Brandon Carr with the more explosive Stanford Rout.

Here's a quick review of everything so far, and look ahead to Kansas City's major pieces in the coming year: Charles and Hillis in the backfield, Dwayne Bowe, Moeaki, Boss, and Steve Breaston among the explosive unit of targets in the passing game, an offensive line that lands somewhere between good and great, a defensive front that features the feared Tamba Hali and the explosive second-year defensive end named Justin Houston, a group of line backers anchored by All-Pro MLB Derrick Johnson, and a secondary that features Eric Berry and Brandon Flowers (and now Stanford Rout).

That makes two 1,000-yard rushers, two upper-echelon tight ends in addition to two 1,000-yard receivers, solid offensive and defensive lines, and a stacked defensive secondary. So yeah, the Chiefs have the personnel to win right away. But that's not the only reason they'll go farther this season than they have in a long time.

Last year's team went 7-9, finishing in last place in the AFC West. They compiled that 7-9 record against a schedule they had earned as a result of their first-place finish a year earlier. This year's team will face a schedule based on the fourth-place finish.

I don't pretend to have all of the answers when it comes to football, but it only follows logically that if an injury-bitten team could compile a 7-9 record against a first-place schedule, the same (healthy) team with improved personnel should do significantly better than .500 against a fourth-place schedule.

Add in the fact that the Chiefs locker room woes were seemingly nixed with the firing of Haley, and the fact that players love to play for Romeo Crennel, and it's clear how the West will be won.

The road to the AFC West title goes through Kansas City in 2012.

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