Football season has officially started and now that all four of the AFC West teams have played and the starters got to shake off a little rust I think it's time for a AFC West prediction.
Last year the Broncos had their share of problems, whether it was stopping the run, Dre Bly not playing up to expectations, Cutler's problem with diabetes, injuries, Travis Henry not earning his new contract, or the incompetent defensive coordinator, the Broncos had issues. And it showed in the win-loss column with a 7-9 record for the year. The Broncos were lucky not be 3-13: four of their wins came off last-second or overtime field goals by the now ex-Bronco kicker Jason Elam.
Only problem is that they haven't done much to shore up these problems and Brandon Marshall's suspension all but guarantees losses in the games he will miss. Marshall seemed to be th lone bright spot during last year's debacle, displaying sure hands, and was absolutely lethal after the catch. Jay Cutler will sure miss his talents against Oakland's aggressive new secondary anf the always-physical Chargers' defense in the first two weeks.
The offense with or without Marshall will probably sputter, as they did last year, in the red zone. I saw nothing to convince me otherwise in the preseason game. Granted it was preseason but usually the starters' play carries over. That said, Cutler looked really good. He keeps that type of play up and improves over last year, along with keeping his diabetes in check I think he may be able to pull out a couple of wins on his own.
The run game looks surprisingly promising. I still think there's questions on the O-line with a new rookie LT and old vet Tom Nalen still recovering from and injury last year, but I don't think run blocking will be much of a problem. Andre hall looked good enough to get his yards and move the chains, allowing Cutler to do his thing. Selvin Young didn't look as good.
The defense has questions all over the place and especially on the D-line. The first team got no pressure on the QB but the run defense looked improved, granted it was the Texans' backups. The linebackers took two more blows as newly acquired LB Boss Bailey suffered an ankle sprain and Louis Green left the field on a stretcher after a collision with a teammate.
I think they are still a couple of good run-stuffers and perhaps another offensive play maker away from serious contention. Also I need to see the Oline perform like in years past to be convinced the offense will put up points consistently.
I could easily see this team starting 2-6 and finishing 6-2 to go 8-8 with their schedule.
So begins the youth-movement/rebuilding project. Kansas City seemed to have a new draft pick for every veteran they cut. There's a lot of youth and new talent in Arrowhead now which the Chiefs are hoping get them some wins.
But don't let the youth fool you; this is still a bad team with questions marks making up the majority of their roster. The offensive line is has holes in it and with a new rookie LT and still recovering from the loss of Will Shields and Willie Roaf you can expect the offense to stall more often than not. Add into that the new starting QB Brodie Croyle and the Chiefs will have serious trouble scoring.
They do have stars on offense in Dwayne Bowe, Tony Gonzalez, and Larry Johnson as the workhorse back. The backfield has good depth with Kolby Smith and rookie Jamal Charles. If the line gives Brodie Croyle enough time to get the ball to his receivers then the offense may be able to put up enough points to squeeze out some wins against the weaker teams on the schedule. But to do this the defense can't give up late leads as they did last year.
The defense got younger and a little less talented across the board during the offseason. The run defense may improve if Glenn Dorsey can play up to his potential but he can't do it alone. Donnie Edwards, one of the few old vets that remained on the team, will do his part and rack up his usual 130+ tackle year but after him the depth is questionable.
The lone preseason game didn't do much to convince me otherwise either, giving up 175 yards rushing. They were playing without Dorsey, however, who was out with an injury.
The secondary is shaky at best, featuring Patrick Surtain and rookie Brandon Flowers at CB and holdovers Jarrad Page and Bernard Pollard at safety.
If the Chiefs are to taste any success at all this year, Croyle needs to play beyond expectations, the rookies need to play like the vets they replaced when they were in their prime, and the defense must protect any leads the Chiefs may get.
Until then I can only see the Chiefs muster six wins with this schedule.
All three backs that are expected to make the roster played as I thought they would. Michael Bush was a sledgehammer and pounded his way for extra yards and bulldozed at the goal line for a touchdown. Justin Fargas was the workhorse he was last year. Darren McFadden was one or two steps away from breaking some long ones but still managed consistent four to six yard gains during his time out there. many of his carries went between the tackles too.
That can only make JaMarcus Russell's job easier if opposing defenses are forced to respect the run.
I believe that the Raiders are an 8-8 team that will go 10-6 because of the soft schedule. If Russell plays to his potential then they could go from an 8-8 team that goes 10-6 this year to a 12-4 team that goes 12-4 next year.
San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers had some question marks over the offseason, mainly the injury concerns of offensive stars LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, and Phillip Rivers.
Tomlinson is reported to be healthy and there is no reason to doubt it and Rivers showed that the torn ACL he suffered last year is a thing of the past in the Chargers' preseason opener.
Speaking of the game, the Chargers shwed their one weakness and all of their strengths.The weakness is the same one that the Vikings exposed last year: the run defense is mediocre without NT Jamal Williams at 100%. If he's healthy the Chargers' defense is easily top 10 if not top 5 in the league. When he's not, the entire defense suffers because teams can run at will and pass at opportune times, catching the defense off-guard.
Despite that, the Chargers had the game won at halftime which brings me to their strengths: the team is undoubtedly the deepest in the league. Rookie FB/HB Jacob Hester will make San Diego fans say "Michael who?" and most likely claim the backup RB job from Darren Sproles by the Bye week. The second team defense still harassed the Dallas QB's, San Diego QB's had time, and Rb's has hole to run through. They showed that the Chargers, when healthy, are Super Bowl favorites.
If Phillip Rivers reverts to his 2006 form (less turnovers), then this team is 15-1.