The Kansas City Chiefs rebounded from a horrific start to their 2015 NFL season, as they won their last 10 regular season games and then easily dispatched the Texans in Houston in the first round of the playoffs. An elite, aggressive defense was a huge reason why, but it’s likely that defense could be without one of their top play-makers – outside linebacker Justin Houston – come 2016.

Houston could miss the entire 2016 NFL season due to a right knee injury that was discovered during a regular scope in February. That scope revealed a much more serious issue, which happened to be a torn ACL. Per early reports, Houston could now be looking at a 6-12 month layoff, one that could keep him from playing a single down next season.

Houston, We Have a Problem

Houston just got done signing a massive 6-year, $101 million contract and missed the final five games of 2015 due to a knee injury. He was able to return for Kansas City’s two playoffs games, but wasn’t quite himself and was not overly effective. Needless to say, Kansas City not having Houston at all could be problematic for their defense.

Even with sitting out five regular season games, Houston was able to rack up 7.5 sacks in 2015, while he was a terror the year before (22 sacks). The Chiefs did manage to keep Tamba Hali in town during free agency and still have some solid depth on their defense, but the loss of Houston for an entire year could be a severe blow, and one they might not be able to overcome.

Replacement Options

With Hali now locked into one side of Kansas City’s base 3-4 defense, the focus could now be on third-year rush linebacker Dee Ford stepping up his game. Ford had an impressive three-sack game late last season against the Chargers as he subbed for the injured Houston, and that flash of his potential impact could mean big things in an increased role in 2016.

It also could be just that; a flash. If Ford isn’t ready to be an every down rusher on the outside, the Chiefs will have to think long and hard about two options: signing some veteran help, and/or bringing in another talented pass rusher in the draft. As it stands, they’re losing a massive presence on one side and it’s unknown just yet if they have the resources to make up for it, in-house.

Title Odds

The big question, of course, is what this could mean to Kansas City’s shot at Super Bowl 51. Currently they have reasonable odds (20/1), as they still have a very stout and balanced defense, have a strong game-manager in Alex Smith, two skilled receivers in Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce and should also get franchise running back Jamaal Charles (torn ACL) back at full strength.

Losing a vital part of their defense could keep them from realizing their potential, however. It’s early in the process and it’s still possible Houston goes through a remarkable recovery and avoids injured reserve for 2016, but at best the Chiefs would probably be looking at a late return. Until then and possibly beyond, they’d need some major help to fill in Houston’s shoes. At least for now, that can’t help their title odds.

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