Ravens head coach John Harbaugh can admit it: The Kansas City Chiefs have one inherent advantage heading into this weekend's regular-season opener.
The Chiefs may have finished their 2008 campaign with a 2-14 record. They may be limited in a young and rebuilding roster. And recent injury questions at quarterback are certainly troubling in Kansas City.
But, Harbaugh believes the fact that the Chiefs have a new coaching staff under former Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley and former New England Patriots personnel guru Scott Pioli installed as general manager lends a great deal of mystery to this game.And Harbaugh should know the feeling. At this time one year ago, he was helming an NFL team for the first time, getting ready to take on the Cincinnati Bengals as heavy underdogs.
"It's a big advantage when you're a new staff," Harbaugh said. "We had that advantage last year. Your opponent isn't exactly sure what you're going to do. Maybe they had an idea with Rex [Ryan, former Ravens defensive coordinator] last year, because there was carry-over at least on the defensive side, but we don't have that advantage either. We don't know what they're going to do.
"I think their coach has made that pretty clear. That's something they're going to use to their full advantage, as well they should."
Of course, the Ravens went to Cincinnati with then-rookie Joe Flacco under center and defeated the Bengals 17-10, and then took out the Cleveland Browns 28-10 the following week.
Kansas City might have more experience at the quarterback position if Matt Cassel can suit up on Sunday.
Cassel signed a lucrative contract extension this summer when he was traded from the New England Patriots. The five-year veteran led New England to a 10-5 record as a starter last year, passing for 3,693 yards, 21 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions.
He has been plagued by a knee injury since Week 2 of the preseason and only returned to practice on Monday.
A tight-lipped Haley would only list him as "questionable" in a conference call with Baltimore media Wednesday, which means there is a 50-50 chance for Cassel to play.
Still, the Ravens remain confident, regardless of who is under center. Cassel is backed up by Tyler Thigpen, who led the Chiefs in passing in 2009, and Brodie Croyle, who seems to have won the No. 2 job in the preseason.
"Right now, all we can do is focus on us," said safety Ed Reed, who led the league with nine interceptions last year. "First game of the season is all about what we're doing right now. We can't focus on what they're doing because we really don't know what they're going to present.
"That's a good challenge for us, and it's a good challenge for them because they don't have a clue on what we're going to do, for the most part. We haven't changed and they know that. They've got new coaches going in, a couple different players, so it ought to be interesting."
The Chiefs have had some upheaval lately, however. Haley abruptly fired offensive coordinator Chan Gailey just last week, meaning Haley is taking over the play-calling duties moving forward.
Do the Ravens study tape of what Gailey implemented in the preseason, or what Haley did with Pro Bowlers Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin at Arizona?
"I think that's one of the advantages that we normally have, is we're really smart and we prepare for the games well, defensively," cornerback Domonique Foxworth explained. "It's tough to try to watch film on a coordinator who is somewhere else, and a quarterback, [because] you don't really know who's going to play. It's going to make it a little more difficult, but you're going to get the Ravens."
For their part, the Ravens have been doing their due diligence for a long time.
"It just means you have to prepare for a volume of things that you don't have to normally prepare for," Harbaugh said. "We've been doing that throughout. We knew we had the Chiefs in the opener. We knew the situation, so we've been in the process of doing that."