How the AFC West Will Unfold
Writing my first ever article, I decided to stick to something I know, the AFC West.
After a surprising 2008-2009 season, the Chargers ended on top of the division after a late season Bronco collapse. Meanwhile the Raiders and Chiefs remained bottom dwellers for yet another season.
After an overall...*surprising*...AFC West draft this year (granted it was a weak draft class) and some offseason trades and meltdowns, this year looks to be anybodies year. Lots of young talent in the division, how will things pan out?
The Denver Broncos
Ahhh the Denver Broncos. With a late-season meltdown last year, the Broncos looked to make another playoff push in 2009. Unfortunately for the Bronco faithful, Coach McDaniels is going through his own reorganization.
The Broncos traded away Pro-Bowl QB Jay Cutler to the Bears for QB Kyle Orton and a first round pick. Yes, I'm aware Orton has put up some decent numbers, but he's seen as an average QB who checks down too often.
Compare it to Brady vs. Cassel, a Pro-Bowl QB goes down and an average QB steps in for him with plenty of weapons in place. The team goes down 5 wins and misses the playoffs. Expect a similar drop with the Broncos (yes I know Cutler =/= Brady on any scale).
On top of the QB blunders, Brandon Marshall reportedly is asking to be traded. So much for Orton stepping in with plenty of weapons in place. Eddie Royal is a very solid receiver, lit up Deangelo Hall week 1 and made a name for himself. But once he hits the double coverages that Marshall used to have, it will be tough for him to repeat the success he had last year.
Finally the Bronco defense...
Last year even with a powerful offense, the Broncos troubles all revolved around the defensive side of the ball. They were 29th in touchdowns allowed, and a measly 27th against the run. The reason behind this was a weak defensive line, so what do the Broncos do?
Switch to the 3-4.
The Broncos lack the big blocker-eater Nose/Defensive tackle necessary for an effective 3-4 scheme, and facing a very tough schedule I wouldn't be too confident in the defense this year.
The Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs opened this offseason with a splash by acquiring QB Matt Cassel and LB Mike Vrabel from the Patriots for an early 2nd round pick. Everyone has a different opinion on Cassel, product of the system or QB who thrived when given the opportunity, you decide.
The Chiefs last season were the youngest team in the NFL, and are undoubtedly rebuilding for the future. They're shaping up for the future but I'm not sold that this year is their year.
The Chiefs have some positives, WR Dwayne Bowe is a Pro-Bowl WR, Matt Cassel may step up and if Larry Johnson returns to old form they will have plenty of weapons on offense.
With Derrick Johnson, Monty Beisel and Tamba Hali coming into their own, and the addition of Mike Vrabal, the Chiefs linebacking corp can be very productive.
Although they are a team to watch, the Chief's have their fair share of problems. The offensive line is suspect, and as the season progresses we'll see how they perform.
On the defensive side Glenn Dorsey was a stud at LSU, but he's more of a 4-3 DT than the 3-4 DT the Chiefs are running. If he can develop into what the Chiefs need alongside 3rd overall pick Tyson Jackson they can have a VERY good front seven a couple years from now.
For now though, they have not quite reached their potential and expect flashes of greatness. However, they need one more year of mediocrity under their belts. This is a team to look out for in the future.
The Oakland Raiders
Enter The Oakland Raiders, with a controversial draft overshadowing an otherwise professionally run offseason, the Raiders enter this year as a dark horse team in the AFC West.
Last year with the coaching carousel known as Lane Kiffin, the Raiders started the season off playing well under their potential getting blown out by the Broncos, running all over the Chiefs, Choking against the Bills, and fading away against the Chargers. Thus began the Cable Man era.
Through the rest of the season the Raiders would go 4-8, 3-3 to finish out the year at a less than stellar 5-11.
Last year the Raiders passing attack was dismal, ranking dead last. But they were 10th in rushing, with banged up RB's playing consistently against 8 in the box.
With the additions to the O-Line, DE Greg Ellis, QB Jeff Garcia, and FB Lorenzo O'neal, the Raiders are starting to get some much needed veteran leadership for their young talents.
On the offensive side, JaMarcus Russell needs to step up and be the team leader at the helm if the Raiders want any hopes for the season. Lucky for him, he has a 3 headed monster in the backfield to hand the ball off to in Darren McFadden, Michael Bush, and Justin Fargas. Look for Russell to boom or bust this year, and if he fails to badly he always has Garcia right there to take over (would ruin the team though).
The Raiders also drafted 2 WR's this year, one in Maryland WR DHB (trade down Al!) and Florida 4th rounder Louis Murphy. While everyone is watching Heyward-Bey, Murphy is quietly outperforming all the other rookies in Raiders camp and looks to be a gem of this years draft.
If Chaz Shillens can stay healthy for a season he can also prove to be a 7th round steal and give Russell some much needed help at the WR position.
Their only bright spot in the passing game is soon to be Pro-Bowler TE Zack Miller. Hopefully the Raiders get a WR with more than 22 catches this year.
Defensively, the Raiders have all the tools in the back 7 to hold their own with the best of the best with CB Nnamdi Asomugha blanketing any receiver within 10 yards of him.
However, the Raiders have had trouble stopping the run ranking 31st behind only the feeble Detroit Lions.
If the Raiders want to succeed in 2009, they are going to rely heavily on new DC John Marshall and his blitz happy schemes to stop the run this season.
Overall on talent alone the Raiders can win 10 games, but like their division rival Kansas City they need another year before they begin to reach their full potential. Watch out of those 2 teams in the future battling for the AFC West title.
The San Diego Chargers
Surprise surprise, another person picks the Chargers to win the AFC West.
The Chargers are a perennial playoff team, they have the talent, the *regular season* coaching, and enough confidence to perform open heart surgery with a ball point pen.
Offensively, they have 2 young studs in their backfield, a Pro-Bowl worthy (wow they snubbed him last year, Favre? seriously?) QB in Phillip Rivers, a solid O-Line, and a great Red Zone threat in Antonio Gates.
Defensively, with the addition of Shawne Merriman back to the lineup, they should improve on their 25th ranked defense of last year.
If you look at this roster, they appear to be semi-stacked, but what's wrong with the Chargers? For whatever reason they are underachievers. Luckily for them they are in a weak AFC West.
The Chargers window of opportunity is closing quickly and if they want to win they better win now. With a ridiculously tough schedule though, they limp into the playoffs.