Wednesday, August 24, 2011

the most anticipated post of the year 2011

"I've been waiting for my dreams
To turn into something I can believe in.
And looking for that magic rainbow
On the horizon, I couldn't see it.

Until I let go, and gave into love.
And watched all the bitterness burn.
Now I'm coming alive, body and soul,
Feeling my world start to turn.

And I'll taste every moment, and live it out loud,
I know this is the time, this is the time to be
More than a name, or a face in the crowd,
I know this is the time, this is the time of my life ..."

-- Kansas City native and fellow die-hard Chiefs fan David Cook, "The Time of My Life"


It's time. That's all I can really say about this year's "most anticipated post of the year". It's time to bring Lamar's Trophy home.

(Note up front: when I get to the AFC West preview, I start preaching. When I start preaching, I tend to start swearing, as anyone who’s ever gotten my weekly Chiefs pep talk disguised as NFL gambling picks knows. This post … is no exception. So if my preaching offends, you probably just want to skip the AFC West predictions. But if you do that, you’ll miss one of my finest hours as a writer. It’s not “Week Four Plea” epic, but it’s damned close.)

Let's start as always with the ...

NFC East:

1. Philadelphia Eagles (13-3 overall; 5-1 division; 9-3 conference).
2. Dallas Cowboys (9-7 overall; 3-3 division; 7-5 conference).
3. New York Giants (7-9 overall; 3-3 division; 5-7 conference).
4. Washington Redskins (4-12 overall; 1-5 division; 4-8 conference).

Rationale / Reasoning: the Eagles are still the class of the division, and if anything, got considerably stronger in the offseason. Even though I have them opening 0-2 (and I'm not sold on the Rams beating them, to be completely honest), well, there's nobody in this division, barring injury, that will be within two games of them by early December. The Cowboys figure to be on the fringes of a wildcard berth. The Redskins might be the worst team in the conference. And the Giants? I ain't buying what they're selling. If any team is poised to be this year's "how the hell did they wind up at 5-11? I thought they were good!" winner as the League's biggest underachiever, the Giants are the frontrunners for that honor.

Biggest Game: Cowboys at Eagles, week 8. Dallas has to spring the upset to have any shot of staying in the divisional race. They won't.

Biggest Upset: Redskins over Cowboys, week 11. This loss kept Dallas out of the postseason.

Final Thought / Prediction: Tom Coughlin will "resign" as Giants head coach effective at the end of the season.

NFC North:

1. Green Bay Packers (10-6 overall; 3-3 division; 8-4 conference).
2. Minnesota Vikings (10-6 overall; 3-3 division; 8-4 conference).
3. Chicago Bears (9-7 overall; 3-3 division; 6-6 conference).
4. Detroit Lions (8-8 overall; 3-3 division; 6-6 conference).

Rationale / Reasoning: I know everyone is on the Lions bandwagon this year ... but my God, look at those first eight games. I don't see any way the Lions emerge without at least five losses in that stretch, and I was generous in having them upset the Falcons at home. Packers and Vikings came down to the sixth tiebreaker -- strength of schedule. The Falcons and Giants project better than the Bucs and Redskins, albeit barely, to give the Packers the division. The Bears fall into the clusterf*ck at 9-7 that just missed a playoff berth.

Biggest Game: Bears at Vikings, week 17. Winner's in, loser's out according to my projections.

Biggest Upset: Lions over Falcons, week 7. I'm not sold on it, but I'm predicting it for now at least.

Final Thought / Prediction: Every team in the NFC Norris enters week 17 of my predictions still mathematically alive to win the division championship and host a playoff game. That is pretty cool. Hopefully it happens.

NFC South:

1. New Orleans Saints (12-4 overall; 4-2 division; 8-4 conference).
2. Atlanta Falcons (11-5 overall; 4-2 division; 8-4 conference).
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6 overall; 4-2 division; 7-5 conference).
4. Carolina Panthers (2-14 overall; 0-6 division; 0-12 conference).

Rationale / Reasoning: Two really good established teams, one team definitely on the rise, and one of the two worst teams in the League. Makes for a very top-heavy division.

Biggest Game: Falcons at Saints, week 16. Winner gets the division and a first round bye; loser hits the road to face whoever wins the NFC West. And while that sounds like a layup win, that's exactly what everyone (including me) thought last year, when the Saints lost in this spot to the Falcons (to give Atlanta the division), and then they got rocked in Seattle by a 7-9 team in the wildcard round.

Biggest Upset: Panthers over Jaguars, week 3. Or their win over the Titans week 10. Needless to say, I do not think highly of the Carolina Panthers this year.

Final Thought / Prediction: it would not shock me at all if the three best records in the NFC all reside in this division.

NFC West:

1. San Francisco 49ers (9-7 overall; 4-2 division; 6-6 conference).
2. St. Louis Rams (8-8 overall; 4-2 division; 6-6 conference).
3. Arizona "Super" Cardinals (8-8 overall; 3-3 division; 5-7 conference).
4. Seattle Seahawks (3-13 overall; 1-5 division; 2-10 conference).

Rationale / Reasoning: this outcome shocked me. Absolutely shocked me. When I ran the schedules, I fully expected the Cardinals to somehow emerge as the division winner. The schedule math says it'll be San Francisco. One thing that didn't shock me -- the Seahawks losing most of their games. They are going to be brutally awful to watch.

Biggest Game: Rams at 49ers, week 13. The winner of this game, won the division.

Biggest Upset: Seahawks over Cardinals, week 3. This upset prevented the Cardinals from winning the division.

Final Thought / Prediction: this division is going to be eight levels of awful yet again this year. Which means it will be tremendously entertaining, in a train wreck kind of way.

NFC Playoff Picture:

1. Philadelphia Eagles (best overall record in conference).
2. New Orleans Saints (second best overall record in conference).
3. Green Bay Packers (best record remaining division winners).
4. San Francisco 49ers (NFC West champion).
5. Atlanta Falcons (best record of non-division champions in conference).
6. Minnesota Vikings (win tiebreaker with Bucs via head-to-head victory in week 2).

NFC Postseason:

3 Packers over 6 Vikings
5 Falcons over 4 49ers

1 Eagles oveer 5 Falcons
3 Packers over 2 Saints

3 Packers over 1 Eagles

NFC Champion: Green Bay Packers.

AFC East:

1. New England Patriots (12-4 overall; 4-2 division; 9-3 conference).
2. New York Jets (9-7 overall; 4-2 division; 6-6 conference).
3. Buffalo Bills (7-9 overall; 2-4 division; 6-6 conference).
4. Miami Dolphins (6-10 overall; 2-4 division; 5-7 conference).

Rationale / Reasoning: I'm probably the only person in America who feels this way, but I do NOT like the makeup of this Jets team at all. This team just has underachiever written all over it. Way too lofty of expectations. Until proven otherwise, the Patriots are the class of this division, and are in strong contention for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. I probably overrated the Bills, but other than their home win over the Jets, you can't call any other projected win for them an "upset". The Dolphins are terrible, and I'd be shocked if they even win 6 games, as projected here.

Biggest Game: Chiefs at Patriots, week 11. Has huge, and I mean hu-yuge, postseason ramifications.

Biggest Upset: Bills over Jets, week 9. I don't honestly believe this is an upset, though. The Ralph is our house of horrors.

Final Thought / Prediction: Tony Sparano will not be returning to the Miami sidelines in 2012 as a gainfully employed member of the Dolphins.

AFC North:

1. Baltimore Ravens (11-5 overall; 4-2 division; 8-4 conference).
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6 overall; 4-2 division; 8-4 conference).
3. Cleveland Browns (9-7 overall; 4-2 division; 7-5 conference).
4. Cincinnati Bengals (1-15 overall; 0-6 division; 1-11 conference).

Rationale / Reasoning: Ravens and Steelers are about as evenly matched as you can get. I gave the division to Baltimore because I project the 49ers, playing for their own division championship, to upset the Steelers at Candlestick in week 15. If you're looking for this year's "where the hell did they come from?!?!" shock playoff contender, I give you the Cleveland Browns. Look at the first 12 weeks of their schedule. No, seriously, take a look at it, I can wait a minute. (stevo patiently waiting). Yeah, cake. The problem for the Browns is that four of their last five are against the Ravens and Steelers. Yikes. And Cincinnati is the worst team in the league, bar none. They should give the 2008 Lions a run for their 0-16 money.

Biggest Game: Ravens at Chargers, week 15. Both Baltimore and Pittsburgh have tough West Coast prime time games in week 15. I project the Ravens to win theirs, while ...

Biggest Upset: 49ers over Steelers, week 15. The 49ers give a huge boost to their playoff hopes, and put a big-time hurt in the Steelers hopes.

Final Thought / Prediction: I could watch Baltimore and Pittsburgh play every day of the week, and twice on game day. Love the intensity, love the sheer hatred on both sides. Or what the Chiefs vs raiders used to be, before al davis died fifteen years ago. Wait, he's still alive? You're kidding me.

AFC South:

1. Indianapolis Colts (9-7 overall; 4-2 division; 7-5 conference).
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8 overall; 4-2 division; 7-5 conference).
3. Houston Texans (7-9 overall; 3-3 division; 6-6 conference).
4. Tennessee Titans (2-14 overall; 1-5 division; 2-10 conference).

Rationale / Reasoning: in two years, this division might be worse than the NFC West currently is. I think the Colts are toast, but they have just enough left to survive and reach the postseason.

Biggest Game: Texans at Colts, week 16. The winner of that game projects as the division champ. (The Jags were drawing dead entering week 17, despite finishing with a better record than Houston).

Biggest Upset: Panthers over Jaguars, week 3. This defeat cost Jacksonville the division.

Final Thought / Prediction: it would not shock me if all four teams are searching for a new head coach after the season. Jim Caldwell is a clueless corpse. Mike Munchak is going to be horrible. And Jack Del Rio and Gary Kubiak both should have been shown the door two years ago. Like I noted in the Stevo Coaches Power Poll, there are some really crappy coaches in this league. Four of the crappiest call the AFC South home.

AFC West:

1. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5 overall; 4-2 division; 8-4 conference).
2. denver broncos (9-7 overall; 4-2 division; 7-5 conference).
3. San Diego "Super" Chargers (7-9 overall; 3-3 division; 5-7 conference).
4. oakland raiders (3-13 overall; 1-5 division; 3-9 conference).

Rationale / Reasoning: (cue "Stevo Getting Fired Up" speech music ...)

Riddle me this, Batman: if a team wins its division, then goes out in the offseason and upgrades at wide receiver (adding Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin, cutting Chris Chambers), upgrades at linebacker (stealing Brandon Siler away from San Diego, drafting Justin Houston, and getting rid of Mike Vrabel), upgrades at nose tackle (replacing Edwards with Kelly Gregg), upgrades both lines (via the draft, and possibly Jared Gaither), dramatically improves and fixes it's biggest weakness (short yardage rushing) by signing the best running back on the market (LaRon McClain), AND resigns every vital free agent (Casey Weigmann, Jon McGraw, the Brandon brothers), how do you NOT make them the favorite to repeat as division champions? Exactly.

There's a reason why the Chiefs are on the rise -- they're competently run, decently coached*, have a boatload of young talent that will only get better as it gains experience, and have the most cap room in the League, so they can afford to resign said young talent as it approaches free agency (which is exactly what the Chiefs have done, giving long-term deals in the last twelve months to Jamaal Charles, Tamba Hali, and Derrick Johnson, as well as locking up Matt Cassel long term.)

(*: I'm giving Coach Asshat the benefit of the doubt.)

Meanwhile, the team most people believe will win the division this fall, the Chargers, are still run by a blowhard who hates his players (AJ Smith), are coached by a man affectionately known in the pro football universe as "Stanley Roper" (Norv Turner), and their biggest playmaker on offense is one extra sip of Corona away from a year-long suspension (Vincent Jackson). They have no rushing attack to speak of, they are relying on aging veterans to plug the holes in the defense, and their special teams last year were the worst in NFL history (allowing 4 -- yes, 4! -- returns for touchdowns, and allowing a blocked punt 5 -- yes 5! -- different times, including on back-to-back punts! To put this in perspective, the Chiefs have failed to get off a punt once in the Todd Haley era ... and that was on an intentional fake, a play I dubbed "the worst playcall in franchise history", against the broncos two years ago. I stand behind that designation, although the 4th and 1 pitch to Charles last January is a damned close second for that "honor".)

Anyways, the Chargers brilliant, foolproof plan to fix said disastrous special teams? Replace the coach. The problem wasn't talent, it was coaching. Or so say the Chargers braintrust.

Now I ask you, Chiefs fans, do you recall what the Chiefs answer to our abysmal defense was after the 2003 collapse? Its ok, I know I'm taxing your brains to ask you to think back eight years, but what was our "solution" to the problem? Did we cut every useless defender? (Nope). Did we infuse the roster with a bunch of hungry hungry hippos ... I mean, eager young talent through the draft and free agency? (Nope). Or ... did we blame everything on the coach, and bring back Gunther to fix the problem through some magical miracle? (DING! DING! DING!)

And I ask you, Chiefs fans, how did that "solution" work?

(It didn't).

So explain to me why the Chargers plan is going to work? Explain to me how this Chiefs team, which was better than the Chargers last year, has dramatically improved in the offseason, and returns all its core talent, how in the bluest of blue hells have the Chargers become the favorites?

Furthermore, for all the talk about how "brutal" the Chiefs schedule is ... the Chargers play 14 of the 16 exact games that we do! Six in the division, home games with Green Bay and Minnesota, Miami and Buffalo, road games at Chicago and Detroit, New England and the Jets. The only difference between our schedule and theirs in terms of opponents is that we travel to Indy and host Pittsburgh, while they travel to Jacksonville and host Baltimore. Is that really a huge advantage for them? I'd rather go to Indy than J'Ville, and I don't project either team to beat their AFC North opponent in the regular season. (The Chiefs also have one huge advantage in the schedule: most of our tough games, are later in the season. Most of San Diego's, are early. I'd rather see the Packers, Patriots, Jets and Steelers on the schedule after Thanksgiving under the hope at least one of them is a paper tiger. Rather than face them early before the season spirals out of control, like San Diego has to do. Because let's face it, we all know at least one of these "championship contenders" is going to crap out. My guess is it's the Jets, but we'll see.)

I could keep going on, but here's my attitude on the Chiefs season. For eight months now, we've been hearing about how last year was a fluke, how San Diego is so much better than we are, how our schedule is unbearable and screws us, how basically we were the nice little story from last year, but now it's time to go back to the kid’s table where we belong. You know my response to that? You want my take on people who think the Chiefs are not about to break through in a way none of us have ever witnessed before? Three simple words, and I say all three of them from the bottom of my heart, with the full courage of my convictions behind them.

Go fuck yourself.

We are NOT regressing this season! We are NOT taking any steps back!

Did the Carolina Panthers take two steps back after they improved by six games in 2002 (from 1 win to 7)? HELL NO! They went from 7 to 11 wins and were four seconds away from forcing overtime in the Super Bowl! So don't tell me the Chiefs HAVE to take a step back this fall. The Panthers didn't. The Cowboys didn't -- they went from 1 to 7 wins in 1990, then made the playoffs seven of the next eight years (missing only in 1997), reeling in three Lombardi Trophies to boot. Is that “taking a step back”? Is that “being a year away”, or “arriving a year too soon”? HELL NO!

Even in our own division, the broncos didn't take steps back. They went from 8 wins to 13 in 1996 ... and promptly won the next two Super Bowls. Don't you DARE tell me the Chiefs have to "take a step back", have to "take some more lumps". Because as the team I hate worse than anything on this earth proved, that logic is BULLSHIT! This team is built to win, and it is built to win NOW!

Most importantly, this team is built to win now, and it is GOING to win! NOW!

(the congregation clapping very, very loudly!) Preach it brother Stevo!!!

Still not convinced? Still not on board? Then go to Wikipedia, and look at the Chiefs when Marty and Carl arrived. Back to back four win seasons, then a “breakthrough” to 8 wins and missing the playoffs by half a game. Did the 1990 Chiefs take a “step back”? Did they need another season to “break through”? (congregation responding voice) FUCK NO! For the next seven years, Arrowhead became Terrorhead. Nobody wanted to play here. The Chiefs made the playoffs six out of those seven years, and experienced the longest sustained period of success in franchise history.

Do you think Marty and Carl sat around in 1990 and thought “well, you know, teams that make a big leap forward one year, tend to regress the next?” Are you f*cking nuts? NOONE in the organization thought that. They dared to dream great things, and then went out and DID them. Do you think Scott Pioli and Todd Haley are sitting around, frightened of the Chargers? Do you think they’re reading the “experts” saying the Chiefs are going to struggle because of a “tough schedule”, because of “youth and inexperience”? Or, like me, do you think they look at this opportunity in front of them, and they’re pushing the chips to the center of the table?

Readers, this team is damned good. A division championship, multiple Pro Bowlers, and a revitalized fan base are solid signs of the growth of 2010. It is time for the Chiefs to move from the “damned good” to “f*cking great” category, and by God, that WILL happen in 2011!

(wild congregational applause!)

All great things tend to come from humble, unexpected beginnings. As a history freak, I want to share one such inspirational story now.

Ulysses S. Grant takes over the Army of the Potomac in 1864. He is, bluntly, Lincoln’s last hope to defeat General Lee, to say nothing of saving his own job in the presidential election upcoming in six months.

Seven Union generals (McDowell, McClellan, Pope, McClellan again, Burnside, Hooker, and Meade) have failed to even dent the Army of Northern Virginia, let alone beat it. Well, ok, McClellan dented it on the Peninsula, but his own delusions doomed him to the failure Lee’s Seven Days campaign brought down on him.

Grant decides to move against Lee and the Confederate capital of Richmond by marching down the Rappahannock River in the spring of 1864 – a movement known in history as the Overland Campaign.

The Overland Campaign itself is one of the most interesting military movements in history. For starters, Lee won every battle. No, seriously, he did – he saved Richmond at Spotsylvania, he nearly destroyed a third of Grant’s army at North Anna, and he did destroy a third of it at Cold Harbor, the bloodiest battle in American military history, with nearly every casualty on the Union side.

But when the Campaign was over, Grant stood at the gates of Richmond, and the outcome of the war was known. It was not a question of if the North would take the capital and force Lee’s surrender, it was a question of when it would happen.

How did this happen, you ask? How can a general lose every battle and still win the war? It started in the midst of the first defeat.

Grant’s campaign begins in a heavily wooded area known as The Wilderness. (This is where Hooker got routed exactly one year earlier in the battle at Chancellorsville, the Union’s darkest hour to this point.) It is Grant’s first matchup against General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. For three days, Lee just hammers the Army of the Potomac. It is yet another catastrophe for the Union in Virginia – two Bull Runs, the Seven Days, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Jackson’s Valley campaign, now this.

(Yes, I am this geeky. What can I say, the Civil War period fascinates me enough that I wound up with a minor in US history just from taking electives in college. And other than McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign, nothing fascinates me more than Grant’s Overland Campaign. Oh, and yes, I am going somewhere with this, hang in there.)

As his generals gather at headquarters towards the end of day three, all of them offer the same advice: cut and run. Cut and run. If we don't get out now, Lee will cut us off and destroy the army. From the picture his generals painted, simply trying to win was useless, because there was no hope, Lee was unbeatable.

(In Grant’s generals defense, virtually all of them had been getting their ass whipped by Lee and Joe Johnston since the war began, so a certain level of pessimistic defeat was understandable.)

General Grant sits and listens to this, doesn't say a word. Finally, he's had enough of his chicken sh*t generals, stands up, and drops the following in a fit of rage. "Gentlemen, you know I cannot abide curse words, but I'm going to use one now, because I am god damned sick and tired of hearing about what General Lee is going to do to us. It is high damned time you start talking about what WE are going to do to HIM!"

But Grant wasn’t finished. He turned one last time to his generals, and closed by stating this: “Gentlemen, this army has taken its last backwards step”.

And with that, the fate of the South was sealed. Instead of doing what every other Yankee general to date had done (retreat north), Grant marched south. Onward to Richmond. Setbacks are inevitable, but defeat is NOT an option.

That's how I feel about the 2011 Kansas City Chiefs. Readers, I am god damned sick and tired of hearing about what the Chargers, the raiders, the broncos, the Patriots, the Jets, the Bears, the Packers, the Steelers, the Colts, I am god damned sick and tired of hearing about what they are going to do to us. It is high damned time we focus on what we are going to do to them! And that is win this god damned division, bring Lamar's Trophy home, and steal the Lombardi while we're looting and pillaging what remains of the opposition!

It is OUR time! It is OUR year! It is onward to January, onward to the first playoff win in 18 years, onward to Indianapolis, onward to winning our first Super Bowl since 1970! This organization has taken its last backwards step!

(congregation exploding into wild applause!!!)

As for the rest of the division, the raiders are clueless, just fired the one positive thing they had going for them (Tom Cable), and they're going nowhere fast. Plus, as long as the corpse of al davis is calling the shots, there's no hope there. None.

Which leaves the denver broncos as my "wait, where the hell did these guys come from?!?!" shock particpant in the AFC playoffs. Look at that schedule -- it's manageable. Provided john fox rides kyle orton (as it appears he will), this team can absolutely replicate the 2006 Chiefs and sneak in at the gun to grab the final seat at the big kid's table. And in fact, that's exactly what I'm projecting will happen*.

(*: I plead the fifth as to whether this is putting a curse on denver’s season.)

Readers, I close my AFC West comments by saying this. I do not give a rip what the Chargers do, what the broncos do, what the raiders do. I couldn’t give a rat’s hairy ass what any other team plans to do to us. What matters is what we are going to do to them! This organization has turned the damned corner!

And good luck to any unlucky son of a bitch standing in our path.

Biggest Game: Chiefs at Patriots, week 11. The winner wound up with home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Biggest Upset: raiders over Jets, week 3. This loss cost the Jets the final spot in the playoffs.

Final Thought / Prediction: the two teams poised to dominate this division for the next 5-6 years, are the Chiefs and broncos. Just the way God intended it to be.

AFC Playoff Picture:

1. New England Patriots (best overall record in conference).
2. Baltimore Ravens (win tiebreaker with Chiefs via record against common opponents).
3. Kansas City Chiefs (best remaining divisional winner).
4. Indianapolis Colts (AFC South champions).
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (best record of non-division winners in conference).
6. denver broncos (win tiebreaker over Jets via conference record, over Browns via record against common opponents).

AFC Playoffs:

5 Steelers over 4 Colts
3 Chiefs over 6 broncos

5 Steelers over 1 Patriots
3 Chiefs over 2 Ravens

3 Chiefs over 5 Steelers.

AFC Champions: Kansas City Chiefs.

Super Bowl XLV: Chiefs 27, Packers 17.

Super Bowl Champions: Kansas City Chiefs. Yes, I am guzzling the Kool-Aid, I am piloting the bandwagon, full speed ahead to the gates of Lucas Oil Stadium! And we're not stopping for gas or bathroom breaks either!

I'm all in. For the first time in my life, I am projecting the team I love to win the Super Bowl. It's time, Chiefs fans! It's time to bring Lamar's Trophy home, and steal Lombardi's Trophy while we're at it!

This season is going to be the Time of our Lives!

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the third thursday thirteen ...

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