This will be the first of eight NFL previews that I plan on writing in the next three weeks before the first Sunday of the NFL season. I will write one about each division, this one is obviously about the AFC West. I’m choosing to start with this division because it should be, by far, the easiest. In a division that consists of the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders nobody with and educated and unbiased opinion will disagree that the Chargers are far and away the favorites to win the division and earn the automatic bid to the playoffs. It’s so much of a margin that I will be quite surprised if any of the other teams even come close to making the playoffs. I however wouldn’t be surprised if all three of the other teams end up with top ten picks in the draft next year and it’s definitely a possibility for all three teams to end up with top 5 picks. Though the Broncos pick would actually end up going to the Seattle Seahawks, but that is beside the point.
This year the AFC West will be facing off against the AFC North and the NFC East. So each of the teams in the division will be playing all four of the teams from those other two divisions. This is the worst division in football and having to face these two divisions won’t help their cause, especially with the NFC East.
The Denver Broncos had an eventful offseason to say the least. It started when Mike Shanahan was fired after having a 138-86 record as the Broncos Head Coach for the last 14 years and won two Super Bowl in the process. Denver replaced their long time coach with Josh McDaniel. After Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler heard that McDaniel was allegedly interested in trading for at-the-time New England Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel. Cutler threw a hissy-fit and refused to talk to his new coach and then ended up demanding a trade saying that he felt betrayed. The Broncos ended up sending him and a 2009 fifth round pick to the Chicago Bears in return for Kyle Orton, a first round and third round pick for 2009 and a first round pick for 2010. Then star wide receiver was accused of domestic battery against an ex-girlfriend but was acquitted. Then said wide receiver decided to disrupt preseason practices by punting balls (for those who don’t know, wide receivers definitely aren’t supposed to be punting balls) and batting down the balls that are thrown his direction (for those who don’t know, wide receivers are supposed to catch the balls that are thrown to them not knock them down.) What the Broncos will try to do this year is have a power running game and a strong defense and cross their fingers that Kyle Orton can at least play average as the signal caller. Newcomer on the team that will help this mission are safeties Brian Dawkins and Renaldo Hill, cornerback Andre Goodman and running backs Correll Buckhalter, and LaMont Jordan, who were all picked up in free agency and first round draft picks Knowshon Moreno from Georgia, and defensive end Robert Ayers Tennessee. They lost a lot of players in free agency but the only ones that were really important are cornerback Dre Bly, safety Marlon McCree and offensive tackle Erik Pears.The Broncos also brought in former Colts Darrell Reid. My Prediction: 3-13.
For the Kansas City Chiefs the offseason hasn’t been near as dramatic. Their biggest acquisition was Matt Cassel who they got in a trade from the New England Patriots. Well that was the biggest among player moves but the Chiefs also fired long-time General Manager Carl Peterson and brought in Scott Pioli, also coming from the Patriots franchise. Pioloi immediately fired Head Coach Herm Edwards, who was replaced by the Arizona Cardinals Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley. Then veterans Tony Gonzalez, Donnie Edwards and Patrick Surtain were released by Pioli; a move that plainly said “we’re rebuilding and are going to be building from the ground up.” Haley then put together a nice coaching staff that includes Chan Gailey, Bill Muir, Gary Gibbs and Clancy Pendergast. After that Pioli pulled off the trade for Cassel, which also brought linebacker Mike Vrabel for just a 2009 second round pick. The Chiefs needed some serious help on defense, especially in the pass rush, only getting ten sacks last year. Ten! I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of a team getting that few of sacks in a single season. That’s absolutely dreadful. So the team decided to go to a 3-4 defense and in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft selected defensive end Tyson Jackson, who was teammates with Glenn Dorsey at LSU, and Dorsey is the Chiefs current defensive tackle, and then for good measure they grabbed defensive end Alex Magee in the third round. According to the Chiefs current depth chart, Dorsey was moved from defensive tackle to left end, Jackson is listed as the starting right end and Ron Edwards is the starting nose tackle. The three of them weigh an average of 303 pounds. That is a big defensive line. The Chiefs also still have Bernard Pollard starting at safety, which always scores them a few bonus points. Don’t expect anything spectacular from the Chiefs this year but they are taking steps in the right direction. My Prediction: 3-13.
The Oakland Raiders are still being run by the crazy old man, Al Davis. This franchise has had the world’s longest Super Bowl hangover, going 24-72 since they lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII. That’s a ridiculously bad average of 4 wins per season. They have also had five head coaches in that time – bonus points if you can name them all. So all I can really say about the Raiders is that they don’t stand a chance. At all. I’m sure they lost some players in free agency (including Gibril Wilson) and picked up some other ones, and they definitely made at least a few poor draft decisions but really it doesn’t matter. Al Davis is still the owner? Yes, so they’re going to suck and on top of everything else they have a hard schedule. They probably won’t finish in the bottom of the league, but by no means do they have any shot at a successful year. My Prediction: 3-13.
Many people believe that it’s getting to the point for the San Diego Chargers that it’s now or never to get to the Super Bowl. I don’t know if I completely agree with this but I can see why it would be said. LaDainian Tomlinson is on the decline but other than that the Chargers have all the pieces in place to make a Super Bowl run. Unfortunately for them I feel like I could have said that in any of the past few seasons and they didn’t lose anybody important in free agency and they picked up Kevin Burnett who wasn’t resigned by the Dallas Cowboys. On offense they have quarterback Philip Rivers (had a 105.5 passer rating last year), running backs LaDainian Tomlinson (likely a future Hall of Famers) and Darren Sproles (averaged 5.4 yards per attempt last year), Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson (both great options for Rivers), tight end Antonio Gates (will go down as one of the best tight ends of all time), and a great offensive line. That is an offense that should be able to carry a team. The defense is also in good shape, especially if Shawne Merriman can bounce back and be as effective as he was before the injury. The secondary struggled last year but if they can return to 2007-form, when Antonio Cromartie had ten interceptions and the team had a league leading 30 interceptions. The Chargers will win this division with minimal effort so they will be playing the entire season for seeding in the playoffs. They have a tough non-divisional schedule though, so they’ll likely end up with the fourth seed again. My prediction: 11-5.
Division Standings Prediction:
1. San Diego Chargers
2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. Denver Broncos
4. Oakland Raiders
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