Over the next few weeks I will preview each NFL division from an over/under season win total perspective.
All totals and odds to win division courtesy of Bowmans.com as current as the date the article is published.
For additional division previews please find links at the bottom of this article for previews of the NFC North, NFC South, NFC West, NFC East, AFC South, AFC North, and AFC East divisions.
Kansas City: 6
2008 turned out to be a complete disaster all around for the Chiefs as they bottomed out with a 2-14 record. They tied with the Rams for the league’s second worst record and allowed the fourth-most points league wide with 440.
It’s hard to find a single positive stat line on KC from last season, as their offense was average at best, they were 30th defending the run, 28th defending the pass and set an NFL record for fewest sacks in a season with only 10, not surprisingly finishing a rock bottom 32nd in that category.
Results like that can only mean changes need to be made, and they certainly were. A new GM, coach and defensive coordinator highlighted the management changes.
Offensive Coordinator Chan Gailey had survived the initial round of pink slips from his new bosses, but he wasn’t able to get along with new coach Todd Haley and was recently relieved of his duties.
Gailey will be taking a front office position, while Haley will have his hands full as a first-time head coach by taking over the play calling duties on offense, as well.
A host of changes were made all over the roster, not the least of which is the addition of Matt Cassell through a trade with the Patriots. Free agent WR pickup Bobby Engram may be the biggest addition on offense, and he will have to try to replace some of the scoring the Chiefs lost by trading TE Tony Gonzalez.
The linebacking corps added some pieces with the additions of Monty Beisel and Mike Vrabel, to name a few. They’re both on the north side of 30, however, so neither can be seen as long-term solutions.
Questions abound on the right side of the offensive line, where free agent Mike Goff could be a new starter at RG, while RT is anyone’s guess as Damion McIntosh has just been released.
Being saddled with the fourth-toughest schedule last year certainly didn’t help matters for Kansas City, and only playing three teams (Cincinnati, Oakland and Buffalo) with losing records would be a tough chore for any team. The schedule should lighten a bit this season, coming in as only the 17th toughest.
That being said, most of KC’s “easier games” look to come near the end of the year, when they could already be long out of contention.
Playing Buffalo, Cleveland, Cincy, and Denver twice in their last five games may be a small consolation for having to play the likes of Baltimore, the entire NFC East, Pittsburgh and two games versus San Diego twice all by Week 12.
While Weeks 13-15 may be all home games, all three of those opponents will have had a few days extra rest as they played their game the week before on a Thursday.
The Chiefs have certain pieces in place which should be strong building blocks for the future.
Their secondary is very young, yet very promising, especially with the likes of sophomore CBs Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers.
The defensive line will need to really step up with a rotation that is also very young, where most of the key pieces are all 25 or younger.
Originally, I wanted to say the Chiefs have a legitimate shot to go over their projected win total. They have made some nice additions and the tail end of their schedule has the potential for KC to string together a few wins and end the year on a positive note.
Unfortunately, so far they have looked terrible in preseason play and the firing of their offensive coordinator roughly a week before the season can only mean the team is acknowledging things are a mess up front.
Quite honestly, looking at their schedule, they could conceivably have only two to three wins after Week 12. That would mean they would most likely need to win four or five of their final five games, and I just don’t think this team is talented enough to put together that kind of streak.
Prediction: Under 6 wins
After Week Five, the Broncos were sitting pretty at 4-1 and looking like the favorites to take the AFC West crown. They hit some rough patches over the next several weeks, but were still in position to win the division at 8-5 after Week 14.
One win in either of their next two games would’ve solidified their spot in the playoffs and atop the division, however, two straight losses set up a showdown in Week 17 vs. San Diego.
Having personally bet the Broncos to win the AFC West early in 2008, witnessing their slow collapse and eventual demise in San Diego was quite tough to watch.
A season which began with so much promise quickly went in the opposite direction, and the ramifications were significant.
Fourteen-year head coach Mike Shanahan was fired, leaving the door open for 32-year-old Josh McDaniels to leave his spot as offensive coordinator in New England for his first head coaching gig in Denver.
Mass changes were made on both sides of the ball, including the biggest move in Jay Cutler forcing his way out of town and ending up in a Bears uniform. It would seem that WR Brandon Marshall is attempting to engineer his own move out of Denver, but for now he has just been suspended for the remainder of the preseason for “conduct detrimental to the team.”
While Denver’s 2008 offensive statistics were very respectable, they will essentially need to be thrown out the window, considering some combination of most likely Kyle Orton and Chris Simms will now be behind center, and both are battling injuries as of this writing.
An offensive line that allowed the fewest sacks in the league will return fully intact and will now be clearing paths for rookie Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter out of the backfield.
Despite several changes along all lines of defense, the Broncos still have miles to go in improving upon a D which ranked 27th against the run and 26th against the pass. This unit also ranked 24th in sacks, had the league’s worst turnover differential at minus 17 and were second worst (only to the Lions) in points allowed with 448.
Denver won’t have the luxury of playing the 3rd easiest schedule again this year, but their schedule does only come in at the middle of the pack at 19th.
That being said, from Weeks Four to 12, the Broncos could conceivably go winless as they play almost all of the potentially “top” teams in the league. This stretch includes games versus Dallas, New England, San Diego, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Washington, San Diego again, and then the Giants. That doesn’t include games on the road versus Indy in Week 14 and versus Philly in Week 16.
The bottom line is that there’s no way this team is even close to the 8-8 team that finished the 2008 season.
No team which has gone through as much controversy in the offseason and as many public disputes with its star players can truly expect to succeed.
Kyle Orton may have been serviceable in Chicago, but he had some semblance of a defense behind him. In Denver, he has been throwing INTs left, right, and center in the preseason and will be exposed for the average QB he is.
How much worse this edition of the Broncos will be compared to the 2008 squad is yet to be seen, but at least two wins worse by no means seems like a stretch. This may actually be one of the worst teams in the league in 2009, and I even think the Lions could have a better year.
Prediction: Under 6.5 wins
San Diego: 9.5
A slow start to the season and a 4-8 record after Week 13 in 2008 had the Chargers looking like one of the biggest disappointments of the year. Regardless of the fact that their games in Denver and Pittsburgh were both decided with questionable calls that weren’t in their favor, this squad just couldn’t find a way to get things together.
Then in Week 14, when they looked left for dead, a light went on and San Diego steamrolled past the Raiders in a 34-7 victory. The win sparked the Chargers to close out the year on a four-game winning streak, including their season finale versus Denver, which they won 52-21 to steal the division crown right from under the Broncos noses.
The Chargers kept this momentum going into the playoffs by eliminating the Colts, but eventually flamed out in the Divisional round to the eventual Super Bowl champ Steelers.
For the last few years, this team has been touted as one of the league’s finest, and that window of opportunity could be closing with at least five key players entering contract years this season.
Add to that LT turning 30 years old and NT Jamal Williams being 33, and this roster could see some changes in the coming year or two.
To avoid being forced to string together several wins at the end of the year just to squeak into the playoffs in what is arguably one of the league’s weakest divisions, San Diego will need to be all business right from the get-go this year.
It would appear head coach Norv Turner feels the same way, as he has been playing several of his stars (such as Tomlinson) this preseason, something which he has rarely done in the past.
San Diego made some of the fewest changes to their roster this offseason, with the addition of LB Kevin Burnett being the only notable signing. GM A.J. Smith obviously is happy with the group he has and needed to save some cash for his own soon-to-be free agents.
The return of Shawn Merriman from injury is almost like a trade or signing though, as his absence last season most likely contributed to San Diego’s 28th ranking in sacks.
Ryon Bingham will replace Igor Olshansky at DE and the releases of both Mike Goff and Kynan Forney leave a bit of a question mark at RG, where rookie Luis Vasquez may be forced to start.
A 31st ranked secondary is very concerning, but if Antonio Cromartie is fully healed from the fractured hip injury he played through last year, the unit should improve.
Also, the Chargers could be in luck, as their schedule doesn’t include many teams with potent vertical offenses. With Jay Cutler no longer in the division, that’s two fewer games where they will face an elite QB.
That leaves Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, McNabb, Romo, and Palmer as the only “star” QBs the Chargers secondary will have to deal with.
Of that group, Pittsburgh, New York, and Dallas all focus more on the run, where San Diego was 11th last year. Palmer is already battling injuries and could be hobbled and out of contention by the time they face him in Week 15.
The Chargers are once again favored to do big things in 2009. They are overwhelming favorites to win their division at -450, and to bet the over on their win total you’ll have to lay -220, which has been bet way up from -150 earlier in the summer.
They are also right behind New England to win the AFC and rank as one of the top choices to win the Super Bowl at only +850.
While the value may not be there to win the division or to go over 9.5 wins, betting this team to win the AFC and/or Super Bowl can’t be seen as a poor decision.
They have a strong defense, a prolific offense which was seventh in passing a year ago, a core of players desperate to prove themselves in contract years, and, barring Miami-type turnaround seasons by their division rivals, virtually a red carpet laid out for them to the AFC West championship.
San Diego could very easily go 6-0 within the West, setting them up for double digit wins and a potential bye and home field advantage in the playoffs. They already proved they can beat Indy in the playoffs, and this could be the year they go all the way.
Prediction: Over 9.5 wins
The Raiders followed up a combined 15 wins from 2004-07 with yet another embarrassing season of five wins. They finished at 5-11, ironically their highest win total since 2004.
While the Raiders' deep backfield kept the chains moving and ranked 10th overall, the passing attack led by JaMarcus Russell was abysmal, plummeting to the bottom of the league at 32nd.
Only the Browns, Bengals and Rams managed fewer total offensive points on the year.
Oakland’s schedule ranks 19th in terms of opponents' winning percentages from last year, coming in slightly easier than 2008’s ninth ranking.
Notable additions are rookie WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Samson Satele at C and DE Richard Seymour, who was recently acquired from New England.
Jeff Garcia had been signed to back up Russell, however, he was released during the final days of roster cuts this past weekend. This leaves the weight of the offense squarely on Russell’s shoulders, something he has yet to prove he is capable of handling.
The secondary was a strong point last year, ranking 10th in the league. CBs Nnamdi Asomugha and Chris Johnson are solid, but safeties Hiram Eugene and Micahel Huff leave much to be desired. They will be hard pressed to replace the efforts of Gibril Wilson, who the Raiders weren’t able to afford to retain.
Oakland was 31st versus the run, so how much teams simply just avoided throwing on them is tough to distinguish. Take preseason for what it’s worth, but Oakland was 1-3 and their D continued to show many holes during their four preseason games, allowing the second most at 107.
Even the Titans and Bills, who played one extra game, finished with fewer points allowed.
Predicting the Raiders season win total seems almost impossible to call. Four of the last five years they’ve had four or five wins, which would probably make 5.5 about dead on for 2009.
Oakland did show a bit of a spark, ending 2008 on a two-game winning streak, but this team has been so bad for so long it’s hard to expect much out of them.
Playing to their favor is that they may very well be the second best team within their division. Compared with Denver and KC, they experienced the least controversy and roster change over.
They do have three instances this season where they travel East and then return home across the country the very next week, which could get tiring over a long season. I believe they should be able to pull out a few wins within the AFC West against the Broncos and Chiefs, meaning a few more wins here and there could get them over the total.
If they do go over, it will be tooth-and-nail all year and will hinge greatly on the hope that many of their young players reach the next stage in their development and improve this team from within.
Prediction: Over 5.5 wins, but by the smallest of margins, and it’s not considered a strong play.
Best Bet to Win Division: Almost by default and for all the reasons mentioned earlier in this article, the San Diego Chargers at -450. However, I see little point in laying such a large price.
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