Playoff drought continues in St. Louis, returns to Kansas City
Professional football in Missouri has certainly returned. The Kansas City Chiefs played their first preseason game last night and the St. Louis Rams will do so tonight. With the regular season approaching fast, the questions asked of all prognosticators is simply how will Missouri's two teams fare in the coming campaign?
For both teams, I'll provide a synopsis of the franchise's best-case scenario for this coming season, the worst-case scenario and the likely scenario, which is as with most things, somewhere between the two extremes.
Kansas City Chiefs
Repeating a magical 2013 will take even more miracle working power. The single-greatest turnaround by winning percentage in professional sports history was a thing of beauty, was it was hardly sustainable. In order to return to the postseason, Kansas City will have to find a way to win games that doesn't depend so heavily on not allowing the opposing quarterback to breathe and having four field-goal drives produce enough points to claim a victory.
Best-case scenario: Quarterback Alex Smith and running back Jamaal Charles stay healthy all season long. Kansas City finds unlikely heroes on the offensive line, receiving corps and secondary. Rookie DeAnthony Thomas has a potential Offensive Rookie of the Year season, making the Chiefs' offense dynamic. The addition of Dee Ford makes the pass rush deep enough to sustain a frenzied pace for the entire season. All those things add up to a 10-6 season and Kansas City nabs one of the American Football Conference's two wild card spots, attempting to capture that postseason victory that has eluded the franchise since the 1993-94 season.
Worst-case scenario: An injury to either Charles or Smith hobbles the offense. The lack of consistent playmakers in the wide receiver group and along the offensive line compounds that issue. Opposing teams are able to effectively block the Chiefs' pass rushers and the weakness in the defensive backfield is exposed. The Chiefs suffer through a tough schedule and the season mercifully ends with Kansas City limping to a 5-11 record.
Likely scenario: Neither Charles nor Smith have a history of being injury prone, so that's likely to continue. DeAnthony Thomas can have an impact on the offense, but it's uncertain how much of a difference he will make as far as scoring touchdowns go. The offensive line could be a real struggle this season. Dee Ford does improve Kansas City's depth in the pass rush, but it's doubtful that such an addition can make up for such glaring holes in the secondary. The schedule is brutal for the Chiefs this year, and history isn't on their side. Over the past five years, teams that were the last to lose a game in one season won an average number of eight games the following season and only two of them made the playoffs. All these things add up to a .500 season at 8-8, which won't be good enough to win the AFC West or nab a wild card spot. Kansas City caught lightning in a bottle for nine games last season. The storm has passed. If the Chiefs want to be a serious contender in the AFC, upgrades are needed in the receiving corps, along the offensive life and among the secondary.
St. Louis Rams
Playing in the best division in the National Football League is an added challenge that St. Louis faces going into this season. The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks were the two best teams in the NFL last season, and the Arizona Cardinals were the best third-place team in the NFC as well. Six of the Rams' 16 games will be against those three teams, which is enough to make their schedule a tough one regardless of the other ten games, which by the way are no cake walk either. To advance past the level of 7-9, the Rams are going to have to make some noise in the division.
Best-case scenario: Quarterback Sam Bradford remains healthy for all 16 games and the young weapons like Tavon Austin help him have the best season of his professional career. Zac Stacy becomes a legitimate threat out of the backfield. Tight end Jared Cook establishes himself as a red zone threat. St. Louis' defensive front seven continues to pile up sacks and the back-end of the defense improves as well. The Rams get a momentum-boosting upset victory in either San Francisco or Seattle, propelling them to their first winning season under Jeff Fisher at 9-7, enabling them to possibly grab a wild card spot depending on how other teams finish.
Worst-case scenario: Bradford once again goes down and backup Shaun Hill is unable to maximize the potential of the offense. Stacy remains a back that is best suited to be part of a platoon. Sack production plateaus and that stunts the growth of the secondary. The Cardinals, 49ers and Seahawks again enjoy victories over St. Louis, dooming the Rams to actually take a step back in their record, finishing at 6-10. Rumors start to circulate in St. Louis about the organization questioning whether Fisher is the right man for the job.
Likely scenario: Bradford probably will miss some time. The question is more about at what point of the season and how much. Hill is a capable reserve, but his ceiling isn't as high as Bradford's. Stacy is capable of carrying the running back load, but it remains to be seen just how effective he will be in that role because he hasn't been given the chance as of yet. There's no real reason to believe that, outside of injuries, the Rams' pass rush won't be very productive again this season. Going into San Francisco or Seattle and leaving with a win will take a perfect game by St. Louis, but it is what they will have to do if they want a chance at making the playoffs this year. The Rams take some steps forward this season, but the result will be the same at 7-9.
Mitchel Summers contributed to this article