The 2012 NFL preseason will kick off in less than a month. Over the next few days I will be evaluating the league division by division; providing 2011 season recaps, predictions, odds and fantasy insight.
Denver Broncos: Let's see what can we talk about here. Last season the Broncos ranked 31st in passing (for obvious reasons), but the addition of Peyton Manning will substantially improve on their 152 passing yards per game average. Manning will be equipped with young, talented receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, as well as familiar faces Jacob Tamme and Brandon Stokley (side note: How does Stokley keep popping up on NFL rosters?).
Defensively, the Broncos will have to lean heavily on their front seven led by Von Miller, D.J Williams and a healthier Elvis Dumervil. The secondary will be the Bronco’s biggest question mark with the loss of Brian Dawkins and the aging of Champ Bailey.
San Diego Chargers: Many fans and analysts picked the Chargers to run away with the AFC West last season, but instead they sputtered to 8-8. Statistically, the Chargers ranked sixth in the NFL in points per game with 25.4, total yards per game with 393 and passing yards per game with 276, but as Mike Ditka says “stats don’t win football games gang." This rang true as some weeks the Chargers offense looked anemic, mostly due to injuries in the running game and to TE Antonio Gates.
Four year lows in touchdowns, completion percentage and QB Rating for Phillip Rivers didn’t help the Chargers cause either. Matters could get worse offensively with key losses on offense in Vincent Jackson and Mike Tolbert.
Who Will Win The AFC West?
The Chargers were an average unit on defense last season, as the team struggled to pressure QBs and registered only 32 sacks for the season. Former Ravens outside linebacker Jarret Johnson and rookie Melvin Ingram should marginally improve the Chargers pass rush this season.
Oakland Raiders: When Matt Leinart is one of your key offseason additions, that should say it all about the state of your franchise. New Raiders head coach, Dennis Allen, will have his hands full with a defense that finished in the bottom third of all defensive categories last season.
The Raiders defense ranked 29th in total yards with 387 per game and 29th in points allowed with 27.1 per game, and that’s prior to losing two of their top defenders in Kamerion Wimbley and Stanford Routt. Raiders running back Darren McFadden has top-five back talent, but injuries have limited him each season he has been in the NFL. Which is why the Raiders letting go perhaps their best and most consistent threat, running back Michael Bush, is mind-boggling.
Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs ended the 2011 season on a high note winning two out of their last three, including a win over the Packers at Arrowhead. The Packer victory was enough to convince the Chiefs to retain Romeo Crennel’s services as head coach heading into 2012.
Crennel’s biggest decision will be which direction to go in regard to quarterback play going forward. Matt Cassel's season was ended last year due to a broken hand suffered in week 10. Prior to that, Cassel was having a disappointing season, which led many to question if he should be replaced. He led the Chiefs to being ranked 31st in points per game at 13.2. Contributing to the lack of offensive production was an early season-ending injury to explosive running back Jamaal Charles. Charles will be returning from an ACL tear, with a reduced workload due to the addition of smash-mouth runner Peyton Hillis.
Division Champions: Denver Broncos
Division MVP: Peyton Manning
Division Rookie of the Year: Ronnie Hillman (Broncos)
Bargain Fantasy Value
Broncos: RB Ronnie Hillman, WR Eric Decker, TE Jacob Tamme
Raiders: QB Carson Palmer, RB Darren McFadden
Chiefs: RB Peyton Hillis, WR Dexter McCluster
Chargers: WR Robert Meachem, RB LeRon McClain
Denver Broncos 8 to 5
Kansas City Chiefs 3 to 1
Oakland Raiders 6 to 1
San Diego Chargers 8 to 5
Super Bowl Odds
Denver Broncos 20 to 1
Kansas City Chiefs 40 to 1
Oakland Raiders 60 to 1
San Diego Chargers 30 to 1
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