MHR: How are the Chiefs going to account for the season-ending injuries of starting LB Derrick Johnson and DE Mike DeVito?
AP: Um, they're not? The loss of DeVito can be mitigated with some depth on the defensive line as well as new Chief Kevin Vickerson (remember him?). It's not ideal because DeVito was a solid run stopper but they can overcome DeVito's loss. The loss of Derrick Johnson is much, much harder to overcome if not impossible. He is the heart and soul of the Chiefs defense. He has been there through everything. Not only that, but he's also a damn good player. Behind DJ the Chiefs have James Michael-Johnson, a young linebacker whose primary role was in the nickel. Now he is forced into a starting role. The injuries will hurt the Chiefs the most in the run game. DJ was outstanding at shooting the gaps while DeVito ended last season as one of the top run stopping defensive ends. It certainly won't be easy to replace them. You just hope the young players behind them can play above the league average.
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MHR: How confident were Chiefs fans in a playoff berth in 2014, before and after these injuries?
AP: Not all that confident. Maybe it was split down the middle among the fans who thought the Chiefs had a decent shot at the playoffs. I was one of those who thought the Chiefs could get to nine wins if things went well (turns out, they're not going well!). Others pointed to the free agency losses and the tougher schedule as a reason the Chiefs wouldn't make the playoffs. Even without the injuries, there are plenty of Chiefs fans who did not believe the team was making a playoff run this year. Because the Chiefs went from two to 11 wins in one season, the argument that the Chiefs were a fluke was fairly strong. Now, I don't think they're a two-win team ... but I'm quickly losing confidence in them being a nine win team.
MHR: Alex Smith's new contract. Yea or nay?
AP: It's absolutely a lot of money. There's no question about that. I think this says more about the quarterback market than Alex Smith. This contract puts him around the 12th highest paid quarterback. Once Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton get their new contracts, Smith's deal will push him to the middle of the pack, which is about right. The money is not outrageous in any year and it's reasonable to think he plays it out -- if he plays well. It seems like more of a "real" contract than some of the others you see out there with phony years tacked onto the end. In the end, I'm OK with it because the Chiefs didn't have many other options. They're not at the point yet where they can rely on backups Chase Daniel, Tyler Bray (IR) or rookie Aaron Murray. The contract likely ties the Chiefs to Smith for at least three years
MHR: You look at the Broncos defense. What do you try to attack?
AP: I am sticking with play-action, short passes to the tight ends and screens to the backs -- Alex Smith's specialty! -- in order to slow down the pass rush. The Chiefs aren't a team that's going to air it out down the field to their receivers. As much as we wish they would, they're just not that type of team. The Chiefs best player is Jamaal Charles and their best course of action against Denver is to keep him as involved as possible. Complete a high percentage of those short passes, keep the chains moving and the clock running so the ball stays out of Peyton Manning's hands.
MHR: What is your prediction for Sunday's game?
AP: I am trying to be a big homer and pick the Chiefs but I obviously can't do that. My hope is that the Chiefs simply don't let this game get out of hand. Unfortunately, their weaknesses match up with the Broncos strengths. Peyton Manning will spread out the defense, which will open up the middle of the field for the Broncos running backs, especially with Mike DeVito and Derrick Johnson out. While I hope the Chiefs keep it close, I'm not sure that they can. 34-17, Broncos.