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32 Questions in 32 Days: Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith

Aug 16, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) scrambles under pressure from San Francisco 49ers linebacker Michael Wilhoite (57) in the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

As we count down to the NFL season, Sports Jerks will be bringing you 32 questions in 32 days. Each day, we’ll feature one of the most important questions for a different NFL team heading into the opening weekend of the league.

Today’s feature team and question?

The Kansas City Chiefs – Can Alex Smith lead Kansas City to the Playoffs?

The Kansas City Chiefs thought they had their quarterback of the future in Matt Cassel. After his breakout year in 2008 filling in for an injured Tom Brady in New England, Cassel was on the want list of many NFL teams in need of a quarterback. That season, he threw for nearly 3,700 yards, 21 touchdowns, and only 11 interceptions.

Cassel was quickly scooped up by the Kansas City Chiefs the following year but took a big step back. After completing nearly over 63% of his passes in 2008 for the Patriots, he completed only 55% in his debut season in Kansas City. Cassel also threw for fewer touchdowns (16) and more interceptions (16) and questions swirled if his gaudy numbers from the previous year were, at least in part, a bit inflated due to Bill Belichick’s successful New England system.

The quarterback proved those doubters wrong with a strong rebound year in 2010. Cassel had perhaps his best year as a pro with all-time highs in quarterback rating (93.0) and touchdown passes (27). More importantly, he cut back drastically on his turnovers – Cassel’s seven picks and two fumbles were both less than half of what they were in 2009.

Unfortunately the honeymoon ended soon afterward. Playing in limited games over the past two seasons, Cassel’s interceptions have outnumbered his touchdowns and his completion percentage hadn’t reached the 60% threshold. As a result, Kansas City was dead last in passing yardage last season, throwing for fewer than 170 yards per game. The team subsequently released him after last year and he has since signed with the Minnesota Vikings.

The Chiefs had good reason to let Cassel walk as they struck a deal with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. Approximately 20 years ago, Kansas City previously made out pretty good with another 49er under center in Joe Montana. The Chiefs landed Montana in a trade in 1993 after San Francisco had moved on with Steve Young at quarterback and the future Hall of Famer promptly led them to the playoffs in two consecutive seasons.

Kansas City will now aim to strike gold with another 49ers quarterback. Can Smith get the franchise back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010?

It’s possible, of course. Despite a 2-14 season, the NFL is known its teams making dramatic turnarounds in a single year. Smith will have his work cut out for him in 2013, but does have some pieces in place for a resurgence in Kansas City.

Smith will do his part. The thing Chiefs fans will love is his ability to play smart football. Smith isn’t an elite quarterback, but he doesn’t make many mistakes. He threw only ten interceptions combined over the past two seasons while tossing 30 touchdown passes. In addition, Smith is far more accurate than Cassel was, completing approximately 65% of his passes over that two-year stretch. Last season, the quarterback completed a blistering 71% before he was pulled in favor of Colin Kaepernick. If nothing else, Smith is efficient and will keep his team in nearly every game.

As mentioned previously, Smith has some attractive players on offense. 1,500-yard rusher Jamaal Charles returns to lead the way in the backfield. The Chiefs also have Dwayne Bowe at receiver, who has averaged over 1,000 yards per season over the past three years. In addition, additions of reliable tight end Anthony Fasano and secondary receiver Donnie Avery will help Smith a great deal in his efforts to improve the passing game.

It’s too early to tell if Kansas City can make a run for the playoffs and a defense that finished near the bottom of the league against the run will go a long way to determining their postseason chances. But with Smith under center, the Chiefs’ offense will be better in his capable hands.

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