Monday, September 7, 2009

AFC West Preview

There is only one way that the San Diego Chargers won't win the AFC West, and that is to tinkle down their legs.
Get it? They are a lock to win what is the weakest division in football.
The Chargers, who won the division last year, feature one of the deepest teams in the league, and the three other teams feature first-time head coaches and quarterback situations that have questions.
The Chargers have Philip Rivers; the other three teams have Matt Cassel (Kansas City), Kyle Orton (Denver) and JaMarcus Russell (Oakland).
The question then is how far can they go from there.
Coach Norv Turner's team has talent at every spot. They can run it. They can throw it with Rivers and they can play swarming defense, especially with the return of a healthy Shawne Merriman adding pass-rush help.
The only thing that might hold the Chargers back is Turner. There are still questions as to whether he's truly a big-game coach. Is he more coordinator than head coach? At some point, we will find out and this could be the year. He needs to get this team to a Super Bowl to quiet his doubters.
San Diego shouldn't lose a division game, barring an upset. That should give them a nice seed in the playoffs.
The rest of the division will be a battle for second. None of the three teams has a playoff look. All three look more like teams that will scramble to get close to .500.
The Broncos finished second last year, but won't this time around under first-year coach Josh McDaniels, he of the jettisoning of Jay Cutler fame. Denver will be lucky to win five games.
That leaves Oakland or Kansas City to finish second. The Chiefs are a year or two away from being a contender and the Raiders need to hope Russell turns into a special player to have a playoff chance.
That isn't likely. But even so, the Raiders will be the second team in the division, despite a horrible preseason.
Hey, somebody has to get it.
The San Diego Chargers have to love the spot their team is in right now, which appears to be the dominant favorite in the worst division in football.
Just don't tinkle down your legs.
San Diego Chargers
Significant additions: LB Kevin Burnett, OLB Larry English and G Louis Vasquez.
Predicted Order of Finish
1. Chargers
2008 standings: 8-8

Pts Scored: 439
Pts Allowed: 347
Off. Yds/G: 349.0
Def. Yds/G: 349.9
2. Raiders
2008 standings: 5-11

Pts Scored: 263
Pts Allowed: 388
Off. Yds/G: 272.2
Def. Yds/G: 360.9
3. Chiefs
2008 standings: 2-14

Pts Scored: 291
Pts Allowed: 440
Off. Yds/G: 308.7
Def. Yds/G: 393.2
4. Broncos
2008 standings: 8-8

Pts Scored: 370
Pts Allowed: 448
Off. Yds/G: 395.8
Def. Yds/G: 374.6
Significant losses: DE Igor Olshansky and G Mike Goff.
Biggest offseason move: Keeping LaDainian Tomlinson. They could have let him walk, but did the right thing by keeping him around. He is healthy now.
Will go to the playoffs if ... we're all still breathing come January. They are a lock.
Rookie to watch: English won't start, but you can bet you'll see more and more of him as a rush linebacker as the season moves along.
Overview: They remain one of the better teams in the league. They are deep and they have a star passer in Rivers. With Tomlinson expected to return to his old form, the offense should be tough to stop. The defense gets back Merriman to create problems for the opposing quarterback.The talent level here says this is a team that should compete late for a lot more. It's time for Turner to make that happen. We'll find out if he can.
Oakland Raiders
Significant additions: DT Richard Seymour, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, C Samson Satele and WR Louis Murphy.
Significant losses: C Jake Grove and S Gibril Wilson.
Biggest offseason move: Deciding to keep interim coach Tom Cable as the head coach. Cable has already made some headlines for the wrong reasons. How long does he have?
Will go to the playoffs if ... Russell turns into what the Raiders thought he'd be when they picked him first overall a few years ago.
Rookie to watch: Heyward-Bey. They surprised a lot of people when they took him seventh overall, but he has the speed to make plays down the field. He's an Al Davis player.
Overview: The Raiders looked awful in the preseason, worse than any other team in the league. But that doesn't matter now. They have some quality players, but it's all on Russell. He has to take his game up a notch. With Darren McFadden behind him, he should have a capable running game. The defense has major issues, although picking up Seymour in a trade with the Patriots will help a run defense that needed it. It looks like it's going to be another long year for the Silver and Black.
Kansas City Chiefs
Significant additions: Cassel, LB Mike Vrabel, WR Bobby Engram, G Mike Goff, DE Tyson Jackson, DE Alex McGee and K Ryan Succup.
Significant losses: TE Tony Gonzalez and LB Donnie Edwards.
Biggest offseason move: Trading for Cassel and then paying him a long-term deal. Couldn't they have waited to see if he's the real thing?
Will go to the playoffs if ... Cassel is Tom Brady. Doubt it. He might be more of a one-hit wonder than what we saw last year in New England. Rookie to watch: Jackson. He's already starting at left defensive end and would appear to be the perfect guy for the 3-4 scheme. He'll never be a huge sack guy in their defense, but he could end up with six or seven as a rookie.
Overview: New coach Todd Haley faces a tough first season. There is a lot of work to be done here. With Cassel, the Chiefs feel they have a quality quarterback, but we'll have to find out if he's a one-hit wonder. Larry Johnson should run better with the improved passing game. The defense, which will play a 3-4, will be better. They've upgraded that side of the football. Haley would love to be able to play an aggressive offensive style, but he might be a year away from doing so. Cassel has to show he can handle that like he did last year in New England. The Chiefs will battle each week, but the talent level is down.
Denver Broncos
Significant additions: Orton, QB Chris Simms, RB Correll Buckhalter, S Brian Dawkins, S Renaldo Hill, WR Jabar Gaffney, DT Ronald Fields, LB Andra Davis, RB Knowshon Moreno and DE Robert Ayers.
Significant losses: QB Jay Cutler, DT Dewayne Robertson and CB Dre' Bly.
Biggest offseason move: Chucking Cutler in favor of Orton. This is a move that will likely take down McDaniels.
Will go to the playoffs if ... McDaniels is more right than we know. He isn't.
Rookie to watch: Moreno. He missed time in preseason with injuries, but he is a big-play runner. In this system, he will be explosive.
Overview: McDaniels wanted to put his stamp on this team, so he got rid of Cutler. That is a decision that will follow him his entire time in Denver. How do you get rid of a player with that type of talent? The Broncos will now turn to Orton, who has to show he's capable of making plays down the field. To have success, he needs Brandon Marshall, who was suspended for the last two preseason games. The defense was a major issue the past two seasons. It can't be that bad this time around. Can it? It has to be better considering Cutler is gone. The Broncos won't be nearly as good on offense. This is going to be a long year in Denver.

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