As we fight our way thru the post-draft lull in the NFL season, optimism springs anew. Each year (especially in the past painful 6), we’ve found ourselves a Raider Nation – looking forward to the future with one foot prepped for crushing disappointment. Given the state of the AFC West – it’s weakest year in nearly a decade, our optimism may be warranted this year. The following team-by-team breakdown explains why:
San Diego Chargers – The Chargers were division winners last year, despite challenges with the referees and the Broncos. However, this year finds them facing some significant issues. Tomlinson is aging rapidly, Gates has lost a step, and Sproles is not a long-term 30 carries per game answer. Philip Rivers has surprised the league by living up to expectations from the Manning trade, and is the leader of the team. However, I think that the major issue they face in addition to aging – is coaching. Norv Turner has not actually introduced anything innovative in their offense since the Schottenheimer era, and his lack of creativity will combine with their age to end their run this year.
Denver Broncos – for many Raider fans, this off-season has been an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the news in Denver. Shanahan gets fired, wunderkind coach comes in, immediately ticks off franchise quarterback, trades for RB by committee, and then drafts a RB. These moves not only worry Denver fans, they excite Raider fans. It has been a long time since the Raiders weren’t the most dysfunctional team in the division, and the Broncos now have a chokehold on that title.
Kansas City Chiefs – with the addition of Pioli, the change to Haley at head coach, the Chiefs aren’t much more stable than the Broncos. Given their old and low talent roster, the year will be challenging by itself. Cassel looked good with the Patriots, but that was the Pats offensive line, not the Chiefs. In addition, they let Gonzalez – the security blanket for any young QB go to Atlanta. The biggest question is – is Scott Pioli the next Belichick successor, or another Romeo Crennel clone? Being a descendant of the Belichick pedigree has lost some of its luster in the past few years. Bottom line – the Chiefs are in transition – and for 2009, there’s nothing to fear.
The Oakland Raiders - once the laughingstock, now the bastion of stability in the division. Cable's returning, plus an interesting draft, gives them have the advantage of running a similar system to last year, as well as a distinctly not cane-wielding, old, wrinkled team like our peers. Have some people imbibed a little too much silver-and-black homebrew before being so optimistic? Maybe.
However, for the reasons above, the Raiders – their 3 headed running attack, and the young receiving corps, the Raiders can surprise some people this year. With a division in disarray, that may just be enough to break the downward spiral – and get us moving on up the AFC-West Side!