AFC West Predictions: Do the Raiders Return to Form?

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AFC West Predictions: Do the Raiders Return to Form?
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The AFC west has been a joke in past years. It's only been about the San Diego Chargers. The Raiders have had seven straight 11-or-more-loss seasons, the Chiefs are just as bad, and the Broncos just can't finish what they start. This article is my prediction (some people may say bold) for the AFC West and their teams.

 

First - San Diego Chargers

Last season the Chargers finished 13-3, but then lost to the Jets in the Divisional Round of the Playoffs. Since last season the Chargers have made some interesting moves.

First they released long-time fan favorite LaDainian Tomlinson. This move made sense for the Chargers since LT's production has not been up to par the past few seasons. Saying this, I do not believe the Chargers are going to have a much better run game than they did last season, even with rookie Ryan Matthews.

Rookie tailbacks are some of the hardest to predict. They can be an Adrian Peterson-type player and shock the NFL or they can come out with a lot of hype and get injured (Darren McFadden). Until Matthews is put into play against a live defense, nobody knows how he will do.

The bright spot of San Diego is the QB position. Philip Rivers is one of the best QBs in the league. Last season he had a 65.2 completion percentage, passed for over 4,000 yards, and threw for 28 touchdowns. It is easy to say he was the best QB in the AFC West (which is not saying much). Rivers alone can get the Chargers at least seven or eight wins.

Unfortunately, he may be losing one of his biggest weapons in Vincent Jackson. Jackson had 1,167 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged 17.2 yards per catch. Now why would the Chargers be losing him? Well they gave him a restricted free agent tender, which he has refused to sign.  

Now after focusing on the Chargers Offense, let's spend some time on their defense. First off they traded away Antonio Cromartie to the Jets for a third-round pick. People believe Cromartie has lost a step, but I still think having him in the secondary made opponents think about him on plays.

Also, losing Jamal Williams, even though he was hurt for most of the season, is going to hurt the defense. Maybe not by losing his play, but because when they see the Denver Broncos he is going to want some redemption and try to show the Chargers they made a mistake in letting him go.

With all that being said, I do believe the Chargers are going to either win the AFC West or still make the playoffs as a Wild Card. I believe the Chargers will get somewhere between 9-11 wins, and the only real competition for the AFC West are the Oakland Raiders (yes I did say that).

 

Second - Oakland Raiders

Now on paper the Oakland Raiders have improved everywhere. Let's start with the biggest move that the Raiders did this offseason, exchanging QB JaMarcus Russell for Jason Campbell. Russell is a QB who is now being compared to Ryan Leaf as taking the "biggest bust" crown. Campbell, while he may not be the best QB in the league, is a huge upgrade for the Raiders. Russell played in 12 games, starting nine of them. In those 12 games, Russell threw just three touchdown passes and 11 interceptions.

Campbell is a player who I think still has not reached his prime. Every season since he became a starter Campbell has improved in all the key statistics: passing yards, touchdown passes, completion percentage, and QB rating.  

In 2009, Campbell completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 3,619 yards and 20 touchdowns; his QB rating was 86.4 

Putting Campbell behind the same line that the Raiders had last season would end up causing his stats to decrease. The Raiders will be getting some help on the offensive line this upcoming season. First, their best lineman, guard Robert Gallery, will be returning. Also rookies Bruce Campbell and Jared Veldheer will be helping add depth to the offensive line. Campbell is expected to compete for the other guard spot, and Veldheer is competing for the starting right tackle.

With a line that can protect the QB, and a QB that is able to get the ball to WRs, The Raiders should have a much better year than they did last season. First off, Chaz Schilens should be there at the beginning of the year; Louis Murphy and DHB each have another year under their belt. DHB has been working extra hard to get better at catching, which means he has been the first Raider to the workouts and then stayed after to practice with QB Bruce Gradkowski and Jason Campbell.

Throw in a very good TE in Zach Miller and the speed demon rookie Jacoby Ford, and The Raiders will have a solid WR core. I still believe the Raiders need a veteran presence at WR and before I get questioned about this, hear me out.

Terrell Owens's production was not up to par last season, but he was dealing with a team that had offensive line problems and played the QB shuffle. I believe he still has something left in the tank, and could get a good two or three years out of him.

Also, just having Owens on the field makes teams account for him, which takes pressure off of the other WRs. In Buffalo, Owens took attention away from Lee Evans and improved his stats. The Raiders will have teams always wonder where Owens is on the field and that would make the other WRs more of a threat.

Now let's spend some time on the Oakland Raiders defense. The Raiders clearly addressed the need to improve their run defense with their first two picks in the 2010 draft. They spent the No. 8 overall pick on LB Rolando McClain, who is expected to step in and make an immediate impact.

The Raiders have such faith in him that they traded away Kirk Morrison, who led the team in tackles the past five years.  

the Raiders made moves to their linebacking corps that will help them out. First they traded a third-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for Kamerion Wimbley. Wimbley had 6.5 sacks last season for the Browns, and many expect this number to increase with the Raiders.

It looks like the LB core will be Trevor Scott, who had seven sacks last season despite only starting six games, rookie Rolando McClain and former Brown Kamerion Wimbley. This LB core looks completely different than last years, despite still keeping Thomas Howard on the team.

After the LB core, the defensive line is completely new. I see it falling into place like this: RE Quentin Groves, who was acquired from the Jaguars this season, DT Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, and LE rookie Lamarr Houston. This defensive line should help against the run, and also provide a solid pass rush. Having a revamped defensive line is going to cause opposing QBs to rush passes, and when you have arguably the best CB in the league in Nnamdi Asomugha back there, it makes it harder on opposing teams.  

I believe the Raiders are the only team in the AFC West that can compete with the Chargers for the crown. Even if the Raiders do not win the AFC West, they have a good chance of making the playoffs as a wild card. Expect the Raiders to have somewhere between 9-12 wins.

 

Third - Denver Broncos

Some people expect the Broncos to do well this season and win the AFC West. I do not see this happening. It is not possible to get better by trading away your two best players.

I will start with the Brandon Marshall trade. This guy had 101 catches for 1,120 yards and 10 touchdowns. How do you trade him and get better?

I understand Demaryius Thomas is a good WR and maybe he will be as good as Marshall in a few years,  but that's just it, A FEW YEARS. The learning curve for the NFL is so strong, and it's even harder for WRs. Also, seeing Nnamdi Asomugha twice a year is not going to help him.  

Also, another thing that will hurt the Broncos is that Pro Bowl tackle Ryan Clady is injured. It will hurt them protecting the QB.

QB, that leads me to my next point; who is going to be the starting QB of the Denver Broncos?  Tebow is at least three years away from being a starting NFL QB. Orton had a solid season last year, and then there is Brady Quinn. McDaniels is somebody who can make anybody look like a good QB, just look at what he did with Matt Cassell in NE.  

Tebow has "tweaked" his throwing motion, but nobody has seen him do it in a game. How is he going to throw the ball when he is being chased down by Richard Seymour or Rolando McClain? It will take time to see how Tebow does in the NFL, but if he starts this season Broncos fans are going to be disappointed.

I am a huge Tim Tebow fan and do wish him the best, and hope he has a strong career but I think if you are looking for a QB, taking Tim Tebow over Jimmy Clausen was not the right pick.  

With all that being said I see the Denver Broncos having between five to eight wins this season, most likely being 6-10 this season.

 

Fourth - Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs are still going to be at the bottom of the league and finish fourth in the AFC West this season. The biggest asset on any team is the QB. The Chiefs passed on protecting Matt Cassell this season and went for Eric Berry. I do like Eric Berry but I think the better pick would of been Russell Okung.  

I think hiring Romeo and Charlie Weis were smart coaching options. With that said I don't even think Weis is going to be able to help Cassell. I just believe Cassell was a product of a system in NE.

Let's just look at who he had around him in NE. The WRs were much better than Kansas City's, as Randy Moss and Wes Welker are two of the best in the league. Also he was playing behind a much better offensive line than he is now in Kansas City.

One plus for the Chiefs was the signing of Thomas Jones. He had a solid season for the Jets last year, but he will be playing behind a much worse offensive line.

With all that said, expect the Chiefs to have between two to six wins, most likely going 4-12 or 5-11.  

 

Conclusion

The AFC West is pretty much going to be a competition between the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers. The Broncos and Chiefs will miss the playoffs and most likely end the season with losing records. The AFC West is left to be won by one of two teams, and don't be surprised if the the Raiders are the ones who win it all.

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