NFL season preview – AFC West

 

1. Denver Broncos

Exit Tebowmania, enter an actual QB.  One of the best QB’s of all time actually.  As fun as Tebowmania may have been for a lot of you, the fact of the matter is that Broncos got to the playoffs because of the talent he had around him.  I will admit, he may have been THAT good of a leader to elevate that talent to the level it played at, but it wasn’t because of his quarterbacking.  Now they have a guy that is not only a great leader but an amazing QB as well. 

I don’t have any questions about Manning honestly and think while he might be a bit rusty in the first month of the season, he will be elite.  They have 2 very good and young WR’s in Thomas and Decker, and both are entering their 3rd season which for a WR is usually the time they bust out.  It remains to be seen if Willis McGahee can repeat his 2011 campaign.  Knoshown Moreno is still on the roster but at this point he’s considered a total bust.  As for the concern of keeping Peyton standing, well it’s one of the top offensive lines in the game in front of him led by LT Ryan Clady, so when you combine that with how quickly he gets rid of the ball he should be just fine. 

On the other side of the ball, the orange crush was back in full force in 2011.  Von Miller adjusted to playing in a 4-3 better than ok.  When a guy starts getting Lawrence Taylor comparisons and it’s NOT for what he does off the field…he’s doing something very right!  Dummervil is a beast on the d-line, D.J. Williams is still a very productive MLB, Champ Bailey is STILL one of the best corners in the game.  Not what he used to be, but still better than most. 

This team is loaded and I don’t think pundits are giving enough credit to how far Manning can elevate this team.  The Colts were humiliating without him, and the Broncos made the divisional playoffs without anyone close to him at QB.  This team is a Super Bowl contender.

 

2. Kansas City Chiefs

This may surprise a lot of people to have the Chiefs ahead of the Chargers but for me this is a no brainer.  Don’t forget the Chiefs won the AFC West in 2010 and last year were decimated by injuries yet still finished 7-9.  They are loaded just about everywhere, they just don’t have a great QB. 

But Matt Cassel is good enough to have this team at least in contention for a wild card spot if not challenge the Broncos for the division title.  The running game is going to be where this offense lives.  Jamaal Charles is back and if he is 100% he is one the top backs in the NFL.  Peyton Hillis was added in free agency and the beauty of Hillis is that he is a FB, not a RB so the Chiefs can have them on the field at the same time and should give defenses fits.  As if having 2 proven backs wasn’t enough, this o-line is one of the leagues best now that they’ve added RT Eric Winston.  Wide out is tricky for the Chiefs.  They have talent with Bowe and Baldwin, but Bowe held out and Baldwinapparently had a great offseason but has big time character issues.  If they use him right, Dexter McCluster is a great weapon to have as he can line up in the slot or at RB. 

The one thing to know with new head coach Romeo Crennel is that he will get the best out of his defense, and this team is talented on D.  Getting Eric Berry back this season is huge.  This kid is going to be a superstar as long as the injury doesn’t linger (tore his ACL last season).  And it’s kind of ironic that their d-line has some guys that have underachieved yet they still have enough to give them one of the best 3-4 lines in the league.  They added Dontari Poe in the 1st round, who was one of the higher risks of the 1st round.  A combine guy, Poe only had 1 sack last season and playing in Conference USA…not exactly the SEC!  But he is 346 pounds and have a nose tackle that big to go with Glen Dorsey and Tyson Jackson is really intriguing for the Chiefs.  Then at LB they have Tamba Hali who has become one of the top OLB’s in football, and Derrick Johnson who has become one of the top ILB’s in football.  Losing Brandon Carr hurts, but they still have the talent to be a top 3 defense in the AFC. 

Picking the Chiefs ahead of the Chargers may be a shock to some, and obviously Rivers is much better than Cassel at QB.  But the Chiefs have big time talent everywhere else and combine that with how the Chargers keep declining and it leaves me to believe the Chiefs finish 2nd in the division and challenge for a wild card spot.

 

3. San Diego Chargers

If you have been paying attention to this team under Norv Turner then predicting them to continue to fall should be no surprise.  Everyone in football with the exception of Chargers GM A.J. Smith knows that Turner simply isn’t a good head coach.  He should have been fired after they only went 8-8 in 08 and needed Denverto lose their final 4 games to sneak into the playoffs.  That team drastically underachieved.  He should have been fired in 2010 when they missed the playoffs.  And he should have been fired after last season when they not only missed the playoffs but failed to get over the .500 mark after a 4-1 start.  8-8 won the division, this wasn’t a difficult task for a team this talented yet they STILL failed.  Smith has a great eye for talent, but he has no clue what he’s doing when it comes to head coaches. 

Now coming into this season Phillip Rivers might have to do it all on his own.  No more Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates has trouble staying healthy and is entering his 10th season, and Ryan Mathews got hurt on the 1st play of the preseason and like Gates has trouble staying on the field.  This team is weak at WR.  Vincent Brown was a guy that was expected to step in and be a playmaker, but he broke his ankle in the 2nd preseason game and is now out for 8 weeks.  After Brown and Malcom Floyd (who are just ok to begin with), they don’t have much.  Eddie Royal had a good rookie season but has been declining ever since.  Robert Meachem has a lot of speed but his hands are suspect.  The o-line is suspect to say the least.  Rivers has his work cut out for him. 

On defense they have a lot of talent but they continually underachieve.  Melvin Ingram was a steal at the 17th pick in the draft, the kid was incredible in college.  2011 1st round pick Corey Liuget should be a lot better in his 2nd season as it takes d-linemen a few years to get a feel for the league.  Solid group of LB’s led by Shaun Phillips, Donald Butler and as mentioned Ingram.  You never know what you might get out of this secondary, although Eric Weddle is one of the top safeties in football. 

The talent is here, but not near as much as there has been in the past.  So if those teams underachieved under Norv Turner then I can’t imagine this team will do anything different.

 

4. Oakland Raiders 

Sad year for Raider nation last year.  Al Davis passed away in October, they gave up too much to land Carson Palmer at the trade deadline but were desperate with Jason Campbell injured, and then the AFC West was wide open for them to win and they couldn’t seal the deal.  Now everything has been overhauled.  New GM Reggie McKenzie brought in Dennis Allen as the teams 96th head coach in the last 3 years.  Ok, you caught me, it’s not the 96th in that span it just feels that way.  You really know how to sniff those out don’t you?  Anyways it’s a new era for the Raiders and they have a long climb back. 

I don’t think Carson Palmer is as bad as some people think.  Some think he is a shell of his former self.  He needed out of Cincinnati for a long time and last season he was rushed into action and never had a chance to learn the offense.  It’s a fresh start for him and while he won’t ever be elite again, he is a very capable starter who still has 4 or 5 good years left.  The biggest key on offense is Darren McFadden staying healthy.  If he does, he’s the best RB in football.  They likely have the fastest group of wide outs in football with Darius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford, and 2011 5th round steal Denarius Moore.  They’ll need to be damn good because they don’t have much else in the passing game. 

The defense isn’t going to strike fear into their opponents, but it should be able to hold their own.  They’re d-line is very solid with Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly plugging up the middle.  It still as of this time remains to be seen if MLB Rolando McClain will face a suspension, but if he skates on that it will be huge for the Raiders.  This is a big year for the 3rd year man out of Alabama.  More was expected from him entering the league and he could benefit the most from having a defensive guru like Dennis Allen around.  The secondary is led by Tyvon Branch, but they’re awfully thin at corner. 

The big reason it will take McKenzie and Allen to turn this franchise around isn’t because of lack of talent on the roster, but the fact that they hardly had any draft picks this season.  When you don’t pick until the 3rd round of the draft and have cap issues to deal with makes it pretty difficult for you to put your mark on a team.  McKenzie came over from the Packers though, so if he learned anything from Ted Thompson he should get them turned around.  

 

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