This is not an article about predictions. It is not an article about fantasy. This is an article about fact and current NFL reality in the AFC West.
I want to take a minute to talk about the current teams in the AFC West:
The San Diego Chargers: This is a team that has owned the AFC West for some time now (didn't do much with it but that is a highlight of this Raider fan and for another discussion). With Phillip Rivers playing some great football and should be even better this year, the Chargers are projected to win the west. But let's look at the team, it's recent history and this offseason.
Last season the Chargers (what seems to be the norm for them) started slow, then finished amazingly strong to end up with a fantastic record and find themselves in the playoffs (ummmm till they met the Jets, that was quick). The year before they started slow (their usual trend) then finished strong (it helped that Denver imploded or they wouldn't have made it) to finish a whopping 8-8. That isn't the strongest record for a playoff team, but never the less they made it in. I don't think an NFL team can keep starting so slow and count on the second half of the season to save their butts. Are they that lucky? I think not. Besides, the AFC West hasn't been the strongest of competition, thus padding the Chargers record.
Personnel wise, let's look at San Diego's hopes and realities.
The Chargers are looking to rookie Ryan Matthews (RB) to be their starter and running game (with some sprinkling of Sproles). Now I know that Matthews has done well and is a great prospect but who was he playing against while playing for that powerhouse Fresno State University. Let's take a look at their fierce 2009 schedule.
Fresno States 2009 Record: 8-5
San Jose State-W
New Mexico State-W
New Mexico Bowl - Wyoming-L
Do I really need to point out that this isn't the SEC they play in? He did run for 1808 yards in 2009 but really, against who? This guy isn't the Heisman winner nor was he in a tough conference.
The reality is that it is very very rare for a running back to come to the NFL and flourish in his first year (let alone later years). Reggie Bush was a dramatic top notch running back in a much tougher conference, same with Darren McFadden. Neither of those guys made a big splash their first year (or even yet). What makes anyone think this Matthews guy will do that well. The odds are against him, yet the Chargers are putting all their eggs into his basket. As a matter of fact the Chargers are counting on him filling in for LT and doing better. But I would say that LT last year with his NFL experience, is still a better running back than Matthews will be in his first year. I could be wrong but the odds are in my favor.
Other quick notes but huge issues with the "Playoff Bound" (notice the quotes) Chargers:
Vincent Jackson (WR), Shawne Merriman (LB) and Marcus McNeill (OT) are all camp holdouts. Those are pretty big names for the Chargers. To consider these hold outs as not important is ignorant. These are vital players for the Chargers. Those players not being in camp definately cramps their playoff potential (let alone winning games).
So that is just a light look at the Chargers and the reality of their team for the upcoming season (don't forget that Chambers is also gone, so Rivers has even less weapons to work his pass game with and Matthews wasn't a pass catcher in powerhouse Fresno either).
The Denver Broncos: The Broncos had a huge (no pun intended) weapon in wide receiver Brandon Marshall. That guy won games for them. News flash: Marshall is gone. Who will super QB Kyle Orton throw to? No other receiver is worth mentioning. Basically the pass game has left the building.
They did mortgage the house to pick up Tim Tebow for QB in the 2010 Draft. I am a huge fan of Tim Tebow. No matter how well I think he will do in the future, he is still a rookie quarterback not listed as the starter. He will not be a factor yet and even if he gets to start, he is a rookie and you still need wide receivers to complete the passing game.
Fortunately for Denver they have their running game. Oops, the running game is on the injured reserve. Both of their starting running backs Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter are out with injuries. Fortunately they picked up LenDale White to fill in, oops he just got injured too. So the best part of the Denver running game is the 5 minute sell out of the new Tim Tebow shoe!
Let's continue the list of lost players for Denver: Ryan Clady the 12 pick in the 2010 draft and slated OT starter is out. Elvis Dumervil, their top rusher is out and their replacement for him Jarvis Moss (a nobody) just broke his hand.
The list of injuries from this years Bronco team is huge. The Broncos already lacked any real threats on both side of the ball and now they are just decimated.
The reality is that the Broncos will try to find a way to not get embarassed this season. I believe it will be impossible to acheive.
The Kansas City Chiefs: Ahhh the Chiefs. The Chiefs have acquired some veterans that could be a factor. Thomas Jones (RB) was fantastic with the Jets last year and will be paired with Jamaal Charles (RB) who put up huge numbers the second half of last season. They are a pretty formidable running back duo but the Chiefs O line is one of the worst in football. They averaged 8th most negative yards for rushing. They were 28th for rushing touchdowns and the O line gave up the 6th highest amount of sacks in the league. With no fantastic upgrades to the O line, I don't see them rushing (let alone passing) very well this season.
The Chiefs passing game has been upgraded with the addition of Chambers and master "Importer" Jamaal Charles. Throwing the ball is the master of average- Matt Cassell. The passing game issue comes from the lack of an O line so I believe all offense for the Chiefs will suffer.
Regarding defense, the only description I can think of for the Chiefs is "Porous". The Chiefs were horrible in giving up yards last year ranked 30th (squashed between the power house Rams and Browns. They also gave up the 4th highest points in the league. Ok Ok that is enough about the K.C. defense, they stunk and haven't done much to improve it this year. They will be happy the Broncos take over the basement of the AFC West but will give them a run for it for "Old Time Sake".
The Oakland Raiders: The Raiders are the media darlings of the NFL. Nothing but raving reviews by all the Silver and Black loving reporters and especially ESPN.
Man that was a crock of poo to write but I was just making sure you were awake.
As the world knows, the media has no love for the Raiders. Fortunately this article is about fact and the reality of what is taking place with the teams of the AFC West.
The Raiders had some glaring needs in 2009. Let's take a look at the "Needs" list and see how the Raiders did with it for this upcoming season.
The Raiders needed a Quarterback, an Offensive Coordinator, some run stoppers on defense and a vet wide receiver. Many of these needs have been filled with a fantastic off season.
At Quarterback the Raiders went from "Purple Drank" sponsored JaMarcus Russell to a solid stat, hard working Jason Campbell. Do I have to say much about this replacement. Russell stunk and put up some of the worst numbers in the history of the NFL and is replaced with an pretty dam good QB.
At Offensive Coordinator they picked up Hue Jackson (I call him Huge Action).He nurtured Joe Flacco at the Ravens to some fantastic seasons and has brought life and action to the Raiders offense and practices. He will also be calling the plays this season and is regarded as quite a high quality coach.
For run stoppers the Raiders have Pro Bowler Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, signed the #1 MLB in college (The national champion Alabama Crimson Tide, not Fresno), and Kamerion Wimbley. With other high quality pick ups on defense the team shows that they are ready to stop the run.
The Raiders did not pick up the veteran wide receiver that I think they need but many feel the wr's they have are very good. Jason Campbell should make them even better.
So as you can see above, I didn't go into many details with the Raiders pick ups. What you will notice is they did really well at filling their needs with the top notch people available.
About the rest of the Raiders and the reality of the team right now, let's see if there is other quality on the team.
Oh yeah, that guy with the funny name. You know the one, Nnamdi Asomugha, rated as one of the best corners in the league. Opposite of him is Chris Johnson who is not too shabby either. At safety is Tyvon Branch who was rated as one of the most underrated players in the league. Many project him to be in the Pro Bowl this year. The Raiders also own the best kicker and punter in the league, but you already knew that.
In my opinion the Raiders have quietly (no arrests, no hold outs, no contract disputes, no prima donnas, no major injuries) amassed a team that has talent on both sides of the ball. Hue Jackson calling plays, Jason Campbell leading the O, and a defense that looks stout is the reality of the 2010 Raiders.
If this was the New England Patriots the media would be raving about their offseason and calling for the Superbowl. But it isn't. It is the Al Davis Oakland Raiders, a team that doesn't get respect for anything, they always have to take it. This season they probably will.
So to conclude this hand cramping article, it seems the facts, injuries, additions and hold outs have really made the AFC West interesting. Well interesting in the fact that the media has the Chargers picked to have some 10+ win season and be playoff bound, the Broncos picked to do decent, and the Chiefs and Raiders to battle for the basement. According to what I wrote above, that just doesn't add up.
Smells like some of the medias predictions will be stinking.
The San Clemente Kid