Watching the second half of the blowout in Arrowhead Stadium by the Baltimore Ravens, it got me to thinking about where the AFC West (Worst) stands today and where it will be next year.
A lot has happened that led me to believe there is a lot more parity in the division now than there has been in the past. A team like the Kansas City Chiefs went from the bottom to the top in one year. The recent perennial champs, the San Diego Chargers, missed not only the division crown but the playoffs as well.
The Oakland Raiders, also recent doormats of the AFC West, went undefeated in the division and still missed the playoffs. And by making all that progress in one year, Krazee Al still fired the head coach. At least some things never change in Oak Town.
And then we come to the Denver Broncos, a team that went from two straight 8-8 seasons and made that great leap to a 4-12 season. And it has been quite a few years since Denver fans could even remember what it felt like to be the schoolyard patsies who let the other bullies beat them senseless for their lunch money.
So what does that mean or not mean for next season?
Well, for one thing, it looks like the division is wide open again. As much as KC improved, they still showed some major weaknesses. They have an offensive line that is substandard and needs some parts replaced. They have a QB that is, at best, serviceable but showed his weaknesses in an abysmal day. He was 9-18 for 70 yards and had three INTs. Oh, and he also had a lost fumble.
And to think, our departed coach Hoody McDaniels ran the Broncos franchise QB out of town and tried to get this guy. But I guess not all is thorns on the rose for Matt. He signed a $62 million contract on one decent season of play and can snicker all the way to the bank.
The Chiefs have some other worries as well. As fast as RB Jamaal Charles is, he isn't an every down back. He had a very nice run in the first half for KC's only score, but other than that 41-yard scamper had only 41 more yards the rest of the game. And Thomas Jones and Dexter McCluster, the other two RBs, were almost invisible, getting 15 and 5 yards respectively. And Dwayne Bowe, their No. 1 WR? He had goose eggs. Zero receptions for zero yards, just about the performance he had against Champ Bailey in the second game against Denver.
So, as much as KC improved, they have a long way to go to be an elite team in the AFC.
The Chargers, well, they have once again tried that old San Diego trick of starting slow and thinking they would sneak up on the rest of the division at the end. But this time they couldn't put the finishing touch on their finish and had the humiliation of playing Denver in the last game of the regular season for nothing but pride. And they won the Pride Bowl, beating the Broncos in Mile High Stadium 33-28, in spite of their typical lousy special teams play.
As long as they have Norvie Boy Turner at the helm, they will never make it to the Super Bowl. He chokes worse than a Chihuahua on a dinosaur bone. But at least he kept his job, unlike Tom the Cable Guy in Oakland and McDaniels in Denver. The Chargers do have one other thing none of the other three teams in the division have, though: a legitimate Pro-Bowl QB in Phillip Rivers.
Where will the Broncos finish next year?
So where does that place the Broncos?
They have a long way to go to get back to respectability, which in my mind would be a 7-9 or 8-8 season. The first order of business for John Elway in his new role is to find a new head coach and then build out the coaching staff and do it in time to properly prepare for the 2011 draft.
They have to completely dismantle and rebuild the worst defense in the NFL this past year and instill some backbone as well as talent in the unit. And a lot of how that will work out is whether they can convince All World CB Champ Bailey to forgo his shot at a Super Bowl ring and stay and help in this massive renovation project.
Then there is the matter of a running game, or lack thereof. Even though there were signs of improvement, it was clear to me that RB Knowshon Moreno is not the complete answer. He can't get the tough inside yards, and he spends about as much time in the training room injured as he does on the field.
Last but not least, there is the matter of finding a starting QB that can actually come out of the gate in the first game and allow the defense to jell by moving the ball and the chains on third down and scoring inside the red zone. Right now there isn't an answer to that large question. Currently, we have the starting QB Kyle Orton, who had another monster year and was on pace to set some records before getting hurt in the 13th game of the season and looks to be on the way out of town.
We have a raw and work-in-progress player in Tim Tebow who will have to spend the entire offseason learning the things he didn't learn in college about playing QB. Reading defenses, footwork, making accurate mid and longer-range throws and playing from under center, to name a few.
My early bottom line predictions for Denver for next season:
They will find a very good head coach and strong coordinators and will focus on the draft and free agency and trades to bolster the defense and bring in an experienced QB to help tutor Tebow and challenge him for the starting role.
Injured players OLB Elvis Dumervil and RB LenDale White will return and have very good years. Especially Doom, if we can get him some help in the draft.
The offense will sputter at times but will show improvement as the season progresses. Tebow will have an up-and-down year and will score some on the ground but will also find out that teams that prepare for him will not allow more than four running TDs all season. He will start maybe 8 or 9 games and will also miss at least one game due to injury.
The offense will be led once again by Pro Bowl WR Brandon Lloyd, who will have another 1,000 yard season and 10 TDs. Rookie WRs Demarius Thomas and Eric Decker will continue their development but Thomas will still be saddled with some injury issues.
Denver will finally find a replacement for the departed TE Tony Scheffler, a safety valve pass-catching TE either in the draft of through free agency (Marcedes Lewis, anyone?).
The Broncos will finish with an 8-8 record and tied for 2nd in the AFC West to the Chargers.
Just one Bronco fan(atic)'s opinion