Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Chiefs predictions, new KC Royals owner John Sherman and more

Part of the core mission of local newspapers is public service, and what better public service than telling you exactly how each Chiefs game will go this fall?

And as long as we’re on the subject please be a pal and forget that I had them at 9-7 before last season. That prediction was based on the assumption that Patrick Mahomes was a human quarterback and not a dang spaceship.

Apologies.

Let’s do this:

Week 1 at Jaguars. The Jaguars are hard to figure. Good defense, lots of injuries a year ago, and a presumed improvement at quarterback with Nick Foles replacing Blake Bortles. But they remain a borderline playoff team. I do worry about the Chiefs’ ability to stop Leonard Fournette, particularly if I’m right that the defense will be much weaker early than late.

Chiefs 31, Jaguars 27. 1-0.

Week 2 at Raiders. The Raiders stink, but assuming he plays, Antonio Brown will be a problem. But not enough of a problem.

Chiefs 37, Raiders 21. 2-0

Week 3 vs. Ravens. This is will be a more difficult game than a lot of people might think, and not just because they took the Chiefs to overtime at Arrowhead last year and gave Mahomes his toughest game both physically and mentally. The way they’re planning on doing offense this year is a bad fit for the Chiefs’ strengths and weaknesses, and the defense should be tough again. Again, I’m working on the assumption that the Chiefs’ defense will be worse early than late. I know it’s the home opener, but there are a lot of ingredients for what would be a mild upset.

Ravens 28, Chiefs 24. 2-1.

Week 4 at Lions. Matthew Stafford has the arm and ambition to put a challenge into the Chiefs’ secondary. Matt Patricia jokes are easy to make, and I’ll probably regret this, but I think they could be better than a year ago. Still, it’s just hard to see how the Lions are going to put up much resistance to Mahomes, particularly on speedy turf.

Chiefs 41, Lions 24. 3-1.

Week 5 vs. Colts (Sunday night). This was a lot more interesting a few weeks ago. It’s easy to imagine the Colts’ season going one of two very different ways: the team is deflated after its franchise quarterback goes deuces two weeks before the season starts, or they use it as unification and rally around Jacoby Brissett (who I actually think can play). The Colts have a lot of speed on both sides of the ball, which is a potential problem. But, still.

Chiefs 34, Colts 27. 4-1.

Week 6 vs. Texans. What are the Texans even doing? This division was open for them, and they mismanaged Jadeveon Clowney’s situation so poorly they basically got a comp pick and two sacks of recyclables. I happen to believe Clowney is a bit overrated, but come on, now that he’s in Seattle and a contract year he will make the Texans regret their mistakes weekly. Also, Deshaun Watson is a stud but even after the trade for Laremy Tunsil I’m not sure he has enough protection.

Chiefs 31, Texans 21. 5-1.

Week 7 at Broncos (Thursday). I’m always wary of road teams on Thursday night, and Joe Flacco might be better than I think. But he’ll have to prove me wrong.

Chiefs 28, Broncos 20. 6-1.

Week 8 vs. Packers (Sunday night). This will be fun! The Matt LaFleur hire surprised me, but the more I read about him the more it makes sense. If nothing else, it’ll be interesting to see Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams in an offense that is not Mike McCarthy’s. The Packers have enough talent and explosion to make the Chiefs’ defenders look like henchmen, but I’m not sure how they’ll prevent the same being true in reverse. This should be about the time that the Chiefs’ defense starts to show improvement, too.

Chiefs 36, Packers 28. 7-1.

Week 9 vs. Vikings. This is an interesting opponent. The Vikings don’t really jump out, and last season has to be considered a disappointment. But they’re a good candidate for positive regression, particularly along the offensive line. I probably believe in Kirk Cousins more than I should, but there’s also a lot of skill position talent there with Thielen, Diggs and Cook. This is a game a lot of Chiefs fans will assume is a win, but could be difficult.

Chiefs 34, Vikings 31. 8-1.

Week 10 at Titans. There’s some talent on the roster, and the potential to be above average on both sides. Derrick Henry might rush for 847 yards in this game, too. But you know what they say: Marcus Mariota can’t beat you twice in a row (they don’t really say that). And if Ryan Tannehill is the quarterback by then, the same is true there too.

Chiefs 34, Titans 20. 9-1.

Week 11 at Chargers (Mexico City, Monday night). I’m probably not giving enough credit to all the injuries the Chargers will have between now and then, or that the roster may be ticked off that Melvin Gordon never signed. But here we are.

Chargers 30, Chiefs 27. 9-2.

Week 12: bye. Hey did you know that Andy Reid is like Eleventy Billion and 1 after bye weeks?

Week 13: vs. Raiders. We’ve been through this already. The Raiders stink.

Chiefs 41, Raiders 13. 10-2.

Week 14: at Patriots. This is the dumbest prediction on the list, because Brady, and because Belichick, and because Foxborough. But I just can’t get out of my mind how close both those games were and that I believe the Chiefs have vastly improved the weakness the Patriots most ruthlessly exploited in both games last year (the awful safeties). So, what the heck.

Chiefs 40, Patriots 34. 11-2.

Week 15: vs. Broncos. The more I think about it the more I come to this: I’m not going to pick the Broncos to beat the Chiefs until I see how they can make up for the difference in explosive offensive plays.

Chiefs 33, Broncos 23. 12-2.

Week 16: at Bears (Sunday night). The Bears are the second-best team the Chiefs will play in the regular season, and this game has far too many similarities to the Seahawks last year.

Bears 35, Chiefs 31. 12-3.

Week 17: vs. Chargers. I believe the Chiefs are better than the Chargers anyway, but this sets up pretty nicely for the Chargers to go all Chargers and lose to a half-motivated team despite their own playoff chances resting on the result.

Chiefs 27, Chargers 20. 13-3.

This week’s eating recommendation is the Cuban at Grad School, and the reading recommendation is Megan Greenwell’s takedown of her former bosses at Deadspin.

Please give me a follow on Facebook and Twitter and as always thanks for your help and thanks for reading.

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The most fun I’ve ever had working and am ever likely to have working was 2014 and 2015. The whole thing. All of it. Even Sal Perez’s popup against Bumgarner in the ninth inning.

With the context of where the Royals had been historically and recently, and the vibe of a city that is really only possible with the day-to-day and pitch-by-pitch drama of playoff baseball, I’m just not sure how that will ever be topped.

The crowd at Union Station was amazing, if overestimated. I still think about this: hundreds of thousands of people, many of them drinking, and only three arrests.

Now, that said: the Super Bowl party will be bigger.

Many people who did not care about baseball before 2014 or after 2015 were swept up in the rolling passion of those Royals teams, but the NFL is just bigger. In everything. The stadiums are bigger, the TV ratings are bigger, the size of fan bases is just bigger.

If we’re going to compare, my sense is the Royals’ run felt more personal than the Chiefs’ would or will.

But the party would or will be louder, longer, and drunker. I’d take the over on three arrests, too.

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It’s true!

The Chiefs were tied with the Steelers in the third quarter, down 10 in the fourth at Denver, up just three until late in the fourth at Oakland, and a 4th and 9 magic trick away from losing to the Ravens at home.

That’s four games the Chiefs won that they could’ve easily lost, and some of that is reflected in their expected record from last year being 10.7-5.3.

But it’s also true they lost five games (including the playoffs) by a total of 20 points. Both losses to the Patriots, the loss at home to the Chargers, and the one at the Rams could’ve flipped the other way on a single play. They had a chance late against the Seahawks, but the better team won that day.

The close losses are part of the optimism, and I know that the biggest lie in the NFL is that what happened a year ago + offseason personnel moves + any gain from experience - losses in aging = this year’s results.

I KNOW that!

Really! I do!

But, screw it, I think it might apply here. I believe this group has the sort of next-level motivation and cohesion that can only come when a Super Bowl championship feels entirely realistic.

The NFL has never been more tilted toward offenses, and specifically fast offenses. Quarterbacks who can turn bad plays into good plays and good plays into great plays have never held more value.

The Chiefs have all of that.

You can find reason to pick apart any team in the league, but the Chiefs have more reason for belief than just about anyone.

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The burden of proof is very much on the players and coaches. Even those who haven’t been around for the failures of the last few years must understand that.

Nobody should be surprised if the Chiefs are again in the bottom three or so in the league, especially early.

But here’s why I think the group will be better, especially later: the players are better, the coaches are better, and an accountability and cohesion exists now that simply didn’t last year.

Reasonable minds can disagree here, but for me the biggest problem last year was the safety play. The personnel wasn’t good enough — Ron Parker was cut by two safety-desperate teams, including the Chiefs — and that lack of talent was amplified by a scheme that nobody believed in.

The safeties were wwwwaaaaaayyyyyyy too slow; Juan Thornhill ran a 4.42 at the combine.

The safeties provided precisely zero threat to offenses; Tyrann Mathieu is one of the best playmaking safeties in the sport.

The team’s biggest weakness from a year ago is now a strength. That’s a good place to start.

The other fatal flaw in last year’s defense was mentioned a few paragraphs ago: nobody believed in the scheme. That was particularly true in the secondary, but it bled into the rest of the group.

In baseball they say the wrong pitch executed with conviction is better than the right pitch thrown without confidence, and there’s an analogy there with a play call in football.

One of the things the coaches and front office wanted to correct from last year was accountability — accountability from player to coach, coach to coach, player to player and coach to player.

Even if that’s all that’s different — more belief in the coaches, and better play from the safeties — this group will be better.

Now, all that said, I do agree with you about the linebackers. They didn’t improve drastically there. I’m guessing Leonard Fournette will be comfortably over 100 yards on Sunday unless the Chiefs’ best run defender* forces them to throw it 40 times.

* Patrick Mahomes, obviously.

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This was the only surprise from the 53-man roster, at least for me.

Here’s why it’s surprising: I figured the Chiefs would want numbers there. They’ve been unable or unwilling to spend major resources at corner in recent years, but they have been aggressive in taking developmental guys — lottery tickets.

They’re carrying sixth-round pick Rashad Fenton and Tremon Smith, but I thought Herb Miller might also make the roster. He had some moments this preseason that looked like he could be a productive player. The problem, of course, is that he also had some moments that looked like he simply could not play.

So, here’s why the cornerback group maybe shouldn’t be as surprising: they have two safeties in Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill who can play some corner, and they’ll get Morris Claiborne for week five after four relatively non-threatening passing attacks: Jacksonville, Oakland, Baltimore and Detroit.

Look. Once the Chiefs sent their first-round pick to Seattle in the Frank Clark deal, and once the draft board fell the way it did, the Chiefs were not going to significantly upgrade the cornerback group.

That meant any improvement would have to come from better support from safeties, a scheme that inspired more confidence, personal growth from Charvarius Ward, and a more comfortable and sensible role for Kendall Fuller.

All of those things are still in play.

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Well, not everyone...

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Those are the two reactions, right?

Optimist: LeSean McCoy will be motivated and refreshed and reunited with his favorite head coach. His transition to a new offense should be relatively smooth. The Chiefs will get his best, as McCoy is a proud athlete intent on showing that his problems were more about scheme and poor blocking.

Pessimist: he’s 31 years old, which is like 131 in running back years, has some injury history and a lot of miles on his legs and hits on his body. His yards per carry have gone from 5.4 to 4.0 to 3.2 the last three years. He will not play on special teams.

My view is a little different. I find this move ... fine. Giving him $3 million guaranteed isn’t going to prevent them from signing anyone, and actually, even with incentives it’s likely to be less than a $2 million bump from what they were going to pay Carlos Hyde. As a small bonus, signing McCoy ensures he will not join the Chargers.

But in actual football impact, it’s ... fine. They have depth now, which is nice. An injury to Damien Williams or rookie struggles for Darwin Thompson will not put the offense in a bind.

But I do believe that, except for a special few like Alvin Kamara or Todd Gurley with good knees, running backs are replaceable. What matters more than the man is the system and talent around him.

You can probably guess that a man who believes those things also believes that any NFL-caliber running back in Andy Reid’s scheme and surrounded by the MVP at quarterback and a good (if not great) offensive line and a shameless collection of pass catching talent will do just fine.

Which is what I believe.

McCoy provides some insurance at the position, and completely wrecks Chiefs running backs for your fantasy team, but in the broader context this isn’t a critical move either way.

It’s fine for depth, unnecessary for this offense.

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It is the most important moment of the Royals’ last 20 years, with the obvious exception of 2015.

Many words have been written about Sherman in recent days, and I do hope you read my column in the immediate wake of the news and the one with insight from more than a dozen friends and associates.

The most important impact of his purchase: the Royals will stay in Kansas City.

Everything else is irrelevant by comparison, so we’re giving that fact two paragraphs to itself.

But, we have some time here, so here is some more: the Royals now have an owner who lives here.

Materially, I don’t know exactly how that might change anything. My sense is that the Royals will build better connections in town, both with sponsors and fans. Illig talked a little about that in the column, and I tend to agree, but of course we’ll have to see.

But if you spent any time over the years complaining about absentee owners, you have to consider this a positive.

I also think it makes a downtown stadium more likely. Vockrodt wrote a good piece about that here. I wrote this part in the column, but the Royals have privately been describing talks of a downtown stadium as “very exhilarating,” and a belief that various levels of government will support it.

There has been internal momentum toward a downtown stadium even before Sherman looked into the purchase. With him in charge all the pieces are in place.

Far too many moving pieces and years exist for anyone to say with any certainty whether the Royals will move downtown or remain across the street from that Taco Bell. But I do feel confident saying the chances of a move just went up.

We and I assume other outlets are trying to find out who Sherman’s partners are. If Terry Dunn is among them, that would be more circumstantial evidence of motivated downtown exploration.

Now, a disclaimer: Sherman and Dunn are friends and have worked together on various projects, and if a downtown stadium doesn’t happen there will be renovations to Kauffman when the leases are up in 2031. So, either way, a construction company would be motivated to stay close.

But, just something to keep an eye on.

Other than the team staying in Kansas City, and perhaps moving downtown, the thing fans are probably most interested in is whether the spending patterns will change.

And I have no idea.

Sherman has been in the weeds of transactions the last few years with his minority stake in the Indians, who haven’t been an enormous spender, but they have generally been above the Royals. The Indians have higher attendance and revenues, which factors into this somewhere.

He has said in the past that to be an owner you have to look at it like a fan, and think of the team as a community asset.

Does that mean he’ll be willing to dip into his own pockets more than David Glass did?

Again, I have no idea. It’s possible, but he’s also a businessman. We tend to think of Ewing Kauffman as a saint around here, and for damn good reason, but as the owner of the Royals he operated it like a business until the last few years.

There are some nerdy things I’m interested in here. I want to know if Sherman will push analytics more, and if he’ll want to copy some of the stuff the Indians have done with technology. I want to know what he prioritizes, both in building a baseball team and in life.

I want to know more about his motivations for doing this, beyond the obvious, and what it is about baseball that he loves so much. I want to know his favorite player, his favorite baseball moment, his favorite song and what he likes to do in his spare time.

But, yeah, mostly I want to know what the spending patterns might be like.

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Probably less likely for Yost, and I’m not sure it changes much for Moore.

Both men have a genuine and deep affection for Glass. Both have talked about the best moment of the championship being their boss lifting the trophy.

But each are in different stages of their life and career. I’ve thought Yost might retire each of the last few years.

I understand the idea of wanting to get through the rough spots to hand it off to someone else, and let’s not ever underestimate the importance of a man making more money than he ever has before, but it’s also easy to see Yost thinking of this as an opportunity for a clean break.

Moore is 12 years younger than Yost, and I would argue has more invested. The Urban Youth Academy is growing in scope and impact, and this next wave of talent is the baby of Moore and his assistants.

I’ve always sensed a real desire from Moore to do the rebuild over again, and to do it here. He could’ve left a dozen times already, but has always chosen to stay. I don’t think that changes now.

The dynamics are different, though. Moore was going to be the GM as long as Glass owned the team. Even though the new boss felt a personal investment in Moore’s work four and five years ago, if this push stalls and 2021 becomes Our Time 2.0 it will be hard not to wonder if Sherman will want to make his own hire.

That said, I’m not sure any GM in major professional sports can be sure he’ll have the same job in three years.

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Oh, man. Mizzou.

That was a disaster. I did not think Wyoming would push Mizzou around at the line of scrimmage like that, and be able to go voluntarily one-dimensional with that much success. I did not think Kelly Bryant would have to do it all by himself, and I also would not have guessed he’d turn the ball over like that — particularly the end zone interception.

Bryant didn’t get enough help, and the defense went soft.

I expected more from both — more playmaking from the skill positions, and more toughness on defense.

You asked what happened, and I’m not sure. At times it looked like they weren’t ready, and at times it looked like Wyoming surprised them. Maybe the offense expected Bryant to do it all. Maybe they were overamped.

Maybe this is simply the unpredictability of college football openers. The NFL preseason is obviously too long, but it does serve a purpose.

This all but eliminates the chance Mizzou had of a special season, but it doesn’t have to diminish their chance at a very good one.

The next two weeks can create some momentum going into the conference season, which is always how SEC teams will be judged anyway.

We all tend to overreact to football games, but we’ve seen Barry Odom climb from the hole before.

It’s disappointing that he keeps being in that position, but the history means it’s silly to pretend like the season is now ruined.

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K-State is my answer because I continue to believe David Beaty left a broken roster by chasing quick-fix juco kids in recent years.

The important stuff for KU can happen away from the scoreboard, is what I’m saying. It can happen most obviously in recruiting, but also in bringing a freshness and confidence that’s been lacking since Lew Perkins went after Mark Mangino.

If you’re an optimist, you would point out that Beaty teams might’ve folded after the late fumble-and-touchdown, but that the first Les Miles team rallied and shoved the ball straight into the end zone.

That required confidence and resiliency, even as all the FCS disclaimers are appropriate here.

Nicholls was overmatched from the jump, so I’m not sure how much we can take from that performance — I don’t expect a 58:22 run-pass ratio in many games, for instance.

But K-State did what better teams are supposed to do. They appeared organized and efficient and confident.

To me, much of this comes down to Skylar Thompson. If he’s as good as I think he is, K-State is winning six or seven games.

If he’s not, then K-State has problems and maybe the gap between them and KU starts to close a bit.

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Anything is possible, and even with my Twitter meteorology degree I won’t pretend to predict the effects of a natural disaster.

But it’s also true that the fine people of Jacksonville know to prepare for hurricanes, and this one will hit nearly a week before the game.

As of last Thursday, the league had not talked with the Chiefs about the game being moved. When I asked an official, the answer was not just “we expect the game to be played as scheduled” but also delivered in a way that made me believe the league does not see this much of an issue.

Now, the league does enough proactive contingency planning that those talks aren’t really necessary until we see the damage.

Every team is required to have baked-in plans for weather or other problems that might force a home game to move.

The most sensible solution for the Chiefs-Jaguars game would be going to Atlanta, where they’d play in a dome. Atlanta United plays at home on Saturday night, and the Falcons open at the Vikings. It’s a 5-hour drive from TIAA Bank Field to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Chiefs, if you’re curious, have contingencies set up with Mizzou, Minnesota and Indianapolis.

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Doesn’t always work this way, because weather, but Saturday at the Mellingers we had the windows open and football on and spent a lazy afternoon mostly on the couch.

That’s what fall is about, and I’ll like it even more when it’s cold enough to make chili and have a nightcap by the bonfire on the patio.

The other Labor Day move is the pool, and again, lucky break with the weather but the kids got one more afternoon in before it shuts down.

The only miss is that I didn’t grill anything.

I’m a real-life middle-aged white guy cliche, I understand that, but this is my life and I’m happy with it so please kindly back off.

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This isn’t technically an audiobook but sort of: Gladiator, the podcast by the Boston Globe about Aaron Hernandez, is terrifically reported and told.

There was a little too much “Football Inc.” in it for me — you’ll know what I’m talking about if you listen, whether you agree or not — but there is all kinds of illuminating stuff in there.

The three most recent books I’ve read that I’d recommend:

- Belichick, by Ian O’Connor. It’s an ambitious topic, because it’s a big life and you know the subject will not only not cooperate but actively make it more difficult. O’Connor comes away with some good insight and great anecdotes.

- Big Game, by Mark Leibovich. Just a really fun time.

- Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann. Ridiculously good detail about a story I didn’t know much about, and that had far-reaching impacts like the birth of the FBI.

I have a few more on my list to read, but if any of you know of some good ones hit me up. Doesn’t have to be sports, but it does have to be non-fiction — profiles, history stuff, investigative, anything.

This week I’m particularly grateful to be a sports columnist in Kansas City as the most anticipated Chiefs season in years and perhaps ever is set to begin. I have no idea how this will end. Could be in disappointment, and it could be with a parade. But I do know it’ll be wildly interesting and I feel as prepared and capable as possible to give you the good stuff in coverage. This will be fun.

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Sam Mellinger is a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 2000. He has won numerous national and regional awards for coverage of the Chiefs, Royals, colleges, and other sports both national and local.
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