The Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs kick off their respective 2022 campaigns on Sunday at 9:25pm (UK time), with the (somewhat) new-look Chiefs eyeing an incredible seventh straight AFC West title, while the Cards will be looking to right the ship after yet another late-season collapse.
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Kansas City Chiefs team news
The most prolific team in Russell Wilson’s new division is still the six-time defending AFC West champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. After a relatively rocky (by their own standards, it must be said) start to the 2021 season, Patrick Mahomes and Co. righted the ship down the stretch, and cruised into the playoffs looking like their characteristic, dominant selves. That form carried over into the postseason, as the Chiefs summarily dispatched the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card round, before outlasting Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills in one of the most epic duels in NFL playoff history. They looked good for the first half of the AFC Championship Game, where they held a 21-10 halftime lead at home over the upstart Cincinnati Bengals. However, thanks to a shocking second half collapse (mostly shockingly, on offense), the Chiefs were pushed into overtime and could only look on as the Bengals kicked the field goal to keep them from a fourth Super Bowl in five years.
The Chiefs are back, and still, rightfully, harboring. championship aspirations. However, this season’s attack looks different from those of recent years, in large part because superstar wide receiver Tyreke Hill is gone, traded to the Miami Dolphins over the offseason. In its place are a pair of solid veterans, Juju Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, as well as a talented rookie, second round draft pick Skyy Moore. And, of course, future Hall of Fame tight end Travis Kelce is still here, as is, most importantly, Patrick Mahomes, with Andy Reed calling the plays. That this is a period of transition for the Chiefs’ offense is undeniable, but we’d do well to remember just how much talent and knowhow still remains.
Defensively, the Chiefs added a trio of quality rookies in the NFL Draft, two of them, cornerback Trent McDuffie and defensive end George Karloftis, first-rounders, and third-round linebacker Leo Chenal. The incoming trio joins a defense anchored by stars defensive tackle Chris Jones, and solid linebacking and secondary talent. This is not be a top-of-the-league defense. But then, it doesn’t have to be. To give Patrick Mahomes and the offense a chance in every game, this group simply needs to be solid. That probably entails some improvement from last season’s bend-but-don’t-break performance, which saw the Chiefs allow the eighth-fewest points in the NFL, while allow the sixth-most yards.
Arizona Cardinals team news
For a team that won seven straight and 10 of 12 to open last season and just resigned its young, exciting franchise quarterback to a long-term contract, and the mood around the Arizona Cardinals is awfully grim. That’s not without reason, of course.
In 2021, the Cardinals continued their depressing run of late-season collapses under Kliff Kingsbury. As the season wore and injuries mounted – to star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, future Hall of Fame defensive end J.J. Watt, and then to the aforementioned franchise QB, Kyler Murray – the Cards stumbled, on both sides of the ball. They lost five of six to close out the regular season, finished second in an NFC West that seemed a foregone conclusion through 12 games, and were humiliated
in the Wild Card round of the playoffs in Los Angeles by the Rams, by a 34-11 score that actually flatters the Cardinals.
And now? There’s precious little here that inspires genuine optimism. Yes, Murray signed a long term contract extension, but not before some early offseason acrimony between him and the franchise, and the embarrassment of an ‘independent study’ clause that the team included in his contract, that was later rescinded. Last season’s #2 receiver, Christian Kirk, left for big bucks in Jacksonville. Murray’s favourite target, Hopkins, will miss the first six games of the 2022 season due to a performance enhancing drug suspension. Brough in to replace him via draft day trade is former Baltimore Ravens receiver (and Murray’s friend and former college teammate) Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown. Brown, though solid, is probably no better than a #2 receiver at this level. Barring a seriously unforeseen twist, he’s never shown himself capable of carrying an NFL offense as a focal point.
Defensively, free safety Budda Baker is a star in the secondary and there is still optimism that linebackers Zaven Collins and Isaiah Simmons can conjure production commensurate with their incredible athleticism, and… not much else. Up front, Pro Bowl pass rusher Chandler Jones is gone (via free agency to the Raiders), J.J. Watt is another year older (and already banged up), the team looks strapped in terms of both quality and depth around him, and not one of the team’s top three draft picks (a second-rounder tight end and a pair of third-round defensive ends) looks poised to contribute.
If all this sounds exceedingly pessimistic… hey, I just call ’em like I see ’em.
It’s entirely possible that Murray’s brilliance, combined with a reunion with Brown sparks an offensive renaissance. It’s possible that some youngsters step up on defense, and a couple of veterans outperform projections. It’s absolutely possible that Hopkins returns around midseason, gels with an offense that’s firing on all cylinders, and helps power this team into contention. That stuff is all possible.
It’s probably not anything you want to be betting on.