It’s football Sunday, once again. Last week we touched on a couple of teams — the Raiders and Jets — that should be battling for the first overall pick in next year’s NFL Draft and contending for the league’s worst record. Now that we’re into Week 2 of the preseason, let’s take one step up the ladder and check out a couple of sleeper teams. These are clubs that aren’t projected to be very good, but that could surprise us and crash the postseason party.
In the AFC, one such team is the Kansas City Chiefs. While the Chiefs seemed to be anemic offensively at times during the 2012 season, their defense was increasingly stout and they still have playmakers on that side of the ball. Outside linebacker Tamba Hali and safety Eric Berry can cause havoc for the quarterback in a variety of ways.
Offensively, the Chiefs hope they have solved their revolving door of mediocrity at quarterback, which is probably an insult to the term “mediocrity.” Whether it’s been Matt Cassel, Brody Croyle, Tyler Thigpen, Damon Huard or the other signal callers who have kept the Chiefs at a standstill, the Chiefs haven’t had a reliable player under center since Trent Green. New head coach Andy Reid wouldn’t have taken the job without a proper plan in place.
So, this offseason they went out and got Alex Smith from the 49ers. While Smith may not be flashy like some of the NFL’s young QB’s, he does have a 19-5-1 record as a starter over his past 25 games and has thrown 30 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions over the past two seasons. Kansas City, coming off a 2-14 season, will install a West Coast offense that should suit Smith’s skills nicely. His main target will be wide receiver Dwyane Bowe who, when he’s focused, can be one of the five best receivers in the league. Running back Jamaal Charles is capable of scoring from anywhere on the field. He managed to tally 1,745 total yards last season, even as the Chiefs offense had all the spice of a mayo sandwich.
It will be all about getting off to a good start. In Kansas City’s first nine games, it faces just two teams that had better than .500 records in 2012. It faces four teams with winning records in its final seven. So if the Chiefs can’t handle the easy early-season slate, they won’t be heard from in the second half.
One amazing stat from last season: The Chiefs had 37 possessions travel into the “red zone” (inside their opponent’s 20-yard-line) and scored only 10 touchdowns on those possessions. They kicked 16 field goals and came up completely empty 11 times. If they can do even mildly better in the red zone, it will have a huge impact on their results.
In the NFC, I expect it to be a major comeback season for the New Orleans Saints. After last season’s 7-9 stinker, during which everything that could go wrong did, some of that bad luck has to change for the better. While the roster looks very similar, the biggest addition will be the return of head coach Sean Payton.
With their head coach suspended on the heels of “Bountygate,” the Saints stumbled out of the 2012 gate and never recovered their juggernaut form, which had become all but a given from season to season. Now with the mastermind again calling the plays, stud quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints will be back to their familiar ways and putting up 40 points with ease. Brees has thrown for 10,653(!) yards over the past two seasons, along with 89 touchdowns. He was a little loose with some of those throws in 2012, which led to 19 interceptions.
Third-year running back Mark Ingram is ready to make the leap and is the perfect change of pace alongside fellow running back Darren Sproles. Wide receivers Marques Colston and Lance Moore provide steadiness and tight end Jimmy Graham will probably be the most dominant player at his position.
Defense has always been, and will continue to be an issue for the Saints. But nobody was afraid of New Orleans last season because they just didn’t have the same offensive pop. Payton’s reemergence will provide that pop this season, so opposing offenses will be under more pressure to keep flipping the scoreboard. That type of pressure helps the mediocre New Orleans defense by having to guess less and being more opportunistic.
So while they’re certainly not in the current conversation for a conference title game, or maybe not even a playoff spot, the Chiefs and Saints are a pair of teams who have the potential to exceed expectations in 2013.
Next Sunday: The contenders.
• ‘My Thoughts Exactly’ appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in The Garden Island. Email David Simon your comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow David on Twitter @SimonTGI