Quick start imperative if KC hopes to challenge Denver in AFC West

BY foxsports • September 8, 2015

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The first thing that crossed through Chiefs owner Clark Hunt's mind when the NFL revealed its schedule for this season was, "Good thing Andy Reid's record is so good on the road."

The Chiefs won't be playing much in Arrowhead Stadium for a while.

With seven of their first 10 games away from their loud, intimidating venue -- one of them against the Lions in London, where Kansas City is the designated home team -- getting off to a fast start will be imperative if the Chiefs have any hope of challenging Denver in the AFC West.

"Every year, you can find something about the schedule that you don't like," Hunt said. "One of the great things about Coach Reid is that he's never flustered by the schedule and those type of things. He'll say, 'We've got to win them all.'"

The road begins Sunday at Houston before a high-profile Thursday night showdown against the Broncos at Arrowhead. The other home games are against Chicago and Pittsburgh.

"We're going to have to win some games on the road," Hunt acknowledged.

Good thing the Chiefs believe they're better positioned to do that than any point in Reid's first three years in charge. After taking over a 2-14 team, Reid and general manager John Dorsey have built the Chiefs from a club that had to scour opponent's castoffs for talent to one that is waiving players this week that other teams are quickly snapping up.

"I think this is a better football team," Dorsey said. "Why? Because all along we've talked about setting the competitive depth at each position. I think we've done that."

Part of the improved depth came through the draft. First-round pick Marcus Peters is expected to start Week 1 at cornerback, and second-round selection Mitch Morse is the starting center.

Lookin' good! Flip through our photo album of Chiefs cheerleaders.

Rookie linebacker Ramik Wilson, cornerback Steven Nelson and wide receiver Chris Conley also played significant minutes during preseason games and will factor in against the Texans.

The Chiefs also helped their roster by cutting ties with high-price, low-production wide receiver Dwayne Bowe. In his place, they signed Jeremy Maclin -- who was drafted by Reid in Philadelphia -- to a $55 million, five-year deal to give them a valuable deep threat.

Then there is the fact the Chiefs are finally healthy again.

Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Johnson and defensive tackle Mike DeVito tore their Achilles tendons a handful of plays apart in last season's opener. Throw in nagging injuries to running back Jamaal Charles and others that limited their productivity, and the Chiefs got better simply by having the offseason to recover.

The Chiefs certainly have concerns, especially along the offensive line, where former No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher has been moved to right tackle. Reid tried numerous combinations during training camp before settling on his "best five" over the weekend, but that didn't stop them from bringing in former Ravens offensive lineman Jah Reid for depth.

Yet even the concerns don't seem to put much of a damper on those in Kansas City, where the expectation among fans is a return to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus.

Some things to keep in mind as the Chiefs prepare for the new season:

BERRY'S BACK: After being diagnosed with lymphoma last December, it was a long shot that safety Eric Berry would play this season. But he defied all expectations by returning in time for training camp after several rounds of chemotherapy. He'll be ready to go Week 1.

CHARLES IN CHARGE: The Chiefs' star running back acknowledged he was banged-up all of last season, so he skipped much of the contact stuff in training camp -- and most of the preseason games -- in an effort to remain healthy for the start of the schedule.

KELCE A STAR: Travis Kelce emerged as one of the league's top tight ends last season. Throw in some vast improvement in the run-block game and he has become even more valuable.

POE A QUESTION: Pro bowl defensive tackle Dontari Poe had back surgery late this summer and missed all of training camp. But Reid said Monday there's a chance he could play against Houston.

SMITH AND RISK: Alex Smith is the consummate "game manager" at quarterback, but the Chiefs are hoping he takes a few more risks this season. With guys such as Charles and Maclin, he has enough talent around him to take a few more shots downfield.