The Kansas City Chiefs finished the 2014 season with a 9-7 record and missed the playoffs, thanks in large part to a 2-4 stumble down the home stretch of the schedule.
Despite that disappointing result, Kansas City could be in better position to make the postseason cut this upcoming NFL season. Heck, KC did score wins over both Super Bowl teams – New England and Seattle – last season.
Here are five keys to the Chiefs making the playoffs:
The Chiefs had one of the most mind-blowing – and embarrassing – stats in 2014, failing to connect with a wide receiver for a single passing touchdown. Kansas City scored just 18 times through the air, with those going to tight ends and running backs.
To remedy that, former Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin was added and WR Chris Conley was drafted out of Georgia. Alex Smith must also be protected after getting sacked 49 times – seventh most. Shoring up the offensive line, more importantly right guard, is a must this offseason.
Win on the road
Kansas City has an opportunity to take over the AFC West with Denver and San Diego expected to take steps back. The Chiefs are around 7/2 to win the division, behind the Broncos at 4/9, but must win those divisional games and win on the road.
Arrowhead is still one of the loudest venues in the NFL, helping KC to a 6-2 SU (6-2 ATS) home mark in 2014, but the Chiefs were 3-5 SU (4-4 ATS) when hitting the highway. They have a season win total of 8.5 for 2015, so improvement is expected.
Keep Charles healthy
Jamaal Charles is one of the most dynamic players in the NFL, with his ability to blast through the defensive line or reel in a screen pass for yards after the catch. Charles played 15 games last year but wore down toward the end of the schedule. He’s 28 years old now – a year removed from the 27-year-old drop off most RBs suffer – so keeping Charles healthy could be tougher than ever.
The two best defensive players on Kansas City’s depth chart aren’t in pads this summer. NFL sack leader LB Justin Houston has yet to sign off on his franchise tag, skipping OTAs and mini camp while holding out for a long-term deal. Houston, who recorded 22 sacks in 2014, could possibly pass on training camp, preseason and the start of the regular season altogether if he sticks to his guns.
The other standout not in uniform this offseason – or perhaps all season – is star safety Eric Berry, who recently completed cancer treatment. The team hasn’t provided any updates on his 2015 status but it’s no surprise the Chiefs went 2-3 in the final five games without their defensive captain in the secondary. Kansas City will likely need both of its defensive standouts to make the postseason.
The one thing that saved the Chiefs offense from being a complete wet noodle in 2014 was special teams, namely the return duo of Knile Davis and De’Anthony Thomas giving the scoring attack solid starting field position.
Davis averaged 28.6 yards per kick return (third in the NFL), including a 99-yard return TD in Week 8. Thomas was a flash on punt returns, averaging 11.9 yards per punt return (also third in the NFL), highlighted by an 81-yard punt return TD in Week 13. The offense will still need those extra yards from the return team this season.