Taking teams lightly in this league leads to ruin. "Any Given Sunday" is alive and well and elite teams aren't immune. Carolina, of course, isn't elite, but is highly favored, and at home, on what should be a beautiful October day, and faces a Chiefs team in disarray, but this shouldn't be considered a walk by any means.
Facing Kansas City's problems head on would mean a deep look at their drafts. This year's draft hasn't netted much - two players that may not be a great fit, but that would still theoretically add a lot of young toughness to a squad that had seen its lines dissipate over time. Past drafts haven't been that successful - 2007's top three start, the top two from 2006 start, but there's not much overall to be said about the players in the last five drafts. The best, end Jared Allen, faced Carolina two weeks ago as a Viking, and no other star level players have emerged. The Chiefs are talent-poor, and head coach Herm Edwards hasn't really advanced this team from where he picked it up.
Carolina had a very solid offensive output this past week against Atlanta, and should be able to move the ball well on the Chiefs as well (3rd downs on defense are 5th worst in the league, 30th ranked yards overall). Last week, Carolina lost both starting OT, and neither likely play this week, which will probably be the only hindrance to consistently putting up long drives.
With that in mind, matchups up front should be critical. Travelle Wharton steps back out to start at OT again, and faces DE Tamba Hali. A former 1st round pick, the 6'3, 275 Hali was touted coming out of Penn State and had 15.5 sacks in two years across from Allen, but none this year and very little pressure. Hali isn't a player you sleep on, but it shouldn't be hard to block him effectively. Across from him, Jeremy Bridges steps out to OT as well - and faces second year end Turk McBride (6'4, 280). McBride has started a total of 5 games, is still green, and doesn't have a lot for rush moves yet.
Inside, Glenn Dorsey hasn't shown that he deserves extra attention, and the big man's still nursing back problems. Tank Tyler is scrappy, and has a good first step - big men that get into Keydrick Vincent's body can push him, and if Tyler can turn Vincent's pads, he's going to cause problems. The DTs don't have any substitution patterns, but utility lineman Alphonso Boone often fits in anywhere on running downs. McBride and Hali haven't really mastered the run, and Boone often tightens things up.
Rookie corner Brandon Flowers has a lot of tackles but few plays on the ball - the 5'9, 180 lb corner also doesn't have the speed to get downfield without cushion, so he's getting picked on underneath. He leads the team in solo tackles, and is playing with good technique, but he got picked too high for need and starts for the same reason. Brandon Carr, another rookie, is expected to start this week, and while a little more physically prototype than Flowers, hasn't responded as well. The Grand Valley State product is still very raw, and is susceptible to anything from getting shielded on slants to double moves.
The safeties are a pair of 3rd year players - Bernard Pollard is a 220 lb SS that lacks deep range, picked up in the 2nd round of the 06 draft, and 225 lb Jarrad Page is a 7th rounder from the same draft. The pair have just over two years' total experience in games, and are always shielded in safe zones.
Derrick Johnson, once thought to be our pick at 14 in the 05 draft, is their playmaker, but he hasn't exploded as some thought. He leads the Chiefs in sacks with 2, and is high in tackles, but isn't an impact player in part because of the line in front of him, and partly because he's a contain type player that doesn't do much upfield. Donnie Edwards hasn't had much impact, and being injured, Demorrio Williams has filled in well, but the former Falcon is a better fit weakside and gets bullied near the line. Former Jaguar and NC State MLB Pat Thomas isn't a special player and is only able to hold his own inside the tackles.
The Chiefs, in a stat Edwards teams' pride themselves on, aren't turning the ball over this year. This, and rush offense, are about all they do well, though (4th rush O but rush TD 16; pass O 7th in attempts but 28th pass D). Where they do fail, they fail well, though - 12th in offensive 3rd down percentage at 40%. If you can't keep them off the field, that's more carries for Larry Johnson. Carolina's 5th in the league for giving up fewest 3rd downs, and matches up well on defense.
With the Chiefs missing Brandon Albert, protection schemes will certainly roll to Julius Peppers, and will probably mean more weakside running as well. Carolina can counter by moving Peppers, by stunting more, and by strongside blitzing. Huard isn't easily fooled, but the Chiefs' line isn't great, either. Expect a heavy dose of 6'7, 260 lb rookie TE Brad Cottam to be on that side much of the day helping out.
Inside, LG Brian Waters is the only player left from the old days - the 9 year vet has watched the former strength of the KC line fade away. Adrian Jones and 3rd year (1st year starter) center Rudy Niswanger aren't powerful players. RT Damion McIntosh, a free agent pickup, has been solid, and brings size (6'4, 325) without a lot of mistakes (gave up 3 sacks last year, 3 penalties). The Chiefs like running behind him, and he's a tough matchup for Tyler Brayton and Charles Johnson.
Outside, Dwayne Bowe isn't a threat, but he's a solid, physical body control type receiver. Behind Bowe in receiving, of course, is TE Tony Gonzalez, and he'll be a tough matchup despite his decline. Behind that pair - the top three backs, then the fullback. Devard Darling, the next WR, has a grand total of 3 catches. KC's receiver position is in severe disarray, and Huard isn't a guy who goes deep often. The end result is that it's going to be a dumpoff game, and that should only help Carolina's defensive calls. At all times they're either going to press Bowe and roll coverage to that side, or bring an 8th guy in the box which will give more coverage to Gonzalez and help stop Johnson.
Johnson's 4th in the league in rushing at this point in the season, nothing new for a Carolina D that's faced two others on that top 5 already and contained them. Johnson will get his yards, and we'll get a heavy dose of him, but simple gap control and execution should help - the defense is more physical and strong in most places than KC's offense. Look for a lot of isolation runs behind FB Mike Cox, and their playaction comes off these plays more often than not.
Dustin Colquitt is a solid punter, and trust that they need a good punter. Nick Novak is a solid kicker, but Edwards also remains very conservative about trying FGs that aren't higher percentage. Return men BJ Sams and Dontrell Savage aren't much more than serviceable, and they lack the depth to have good young players gunning down kicks. The first few weeks of the year, the special teams Carolina faced were excellent - the Chiefs don't even have a full compliment of specialists.
This is a very winnable game, but a trap one nonetheless. Carolina is the more physical team, the more talented one, and the one at home. But if the Chiefs can get Johnson and Gonzalez going, and hold the ball, they have a chance. This is a team that mixes advanced age with youth lacking fundamentals, and don't really have the mature horses to pull themselves out of the hole. Edwards is a good coach, and he's not going to let the Chiefs just fade into mediocrity without a fight game by game - they're going to fight for it. I don't believe they'll win that fight, or this game, though.