The NFL season is about to commence and now we break down the AFC West. Last year this may have been one of the best divisions in football. The two best rushing attacks in the NFL came from Kansas City and Oakland while the San Diego Chargers had the league’s #1 ranked defense. Actually the Chargers became the third team since the AFL/NFL merger to finish #1 in offense and defense in the same season. The other two?? The Dallas Cowboys went on to win Super Bowl XII and the ’87 San Francisco 49ers finished 13-2 and were upset in the playoffs. Yet the Chargers didn’t even make the playoffs with all this firepower, finishing with a disappointing 8-8 campaign.
Well if the old adage of “to win in football you have to run and stop the run” still holds true, something definitely went wrong. The Oakland Raiders went undefeated in the division behind the second best rushing attack yet missed the playoffs along with the San Diego. The Chargers achieved their #1 offensive status with WR Vincent Jackson and TE Antonio Gates missing a combined 17 games. This should have sabotaged the Chargers top rushing defense yet Rivers threw for more than 4,700 yards. Only the Kansas City Chiefs with Jamaal Charles’ 1,467 yards, the NFL’s second leading rusher, and Thomas Jones with 896 yards, made the playoffs. So what made the Chiefs complete the postseason equation where their counterparts could not?? By adding the performance of quarterback Matt Cassel who threw for 27 TDs and only 7 interceptions. He was third in interception percentage with only a 1.6% of his 450 attempts. This performance by Cassel solidified him as a legitimate quarterback and showed his 2008 season with the Patriots was no fluke. Now add to this equation the free agent signing of WR Steve Breaston, from Arizona and 1st round draft pick WR Jonathan Baldwin and you’ll see where our story begins…
2011 AFC WEST PREDICTIONS
Kansas City Chiefs 12-4 *
San Diego Chargers 10-6 #
Oakland Raiders 7-9
Denver Broncos 2-14
So the Kansas City Chiefs banner will sit atop this division again. No team did more to strengthen themselves when it comes to balance. After leading the NFL in rushing attempts (556), rushing yards (2,627), and finishing tied for 4th in rushing attempts with a 4.7 yards per carry average, this team comes off the ball with consistency. The seven man sled is alive and well in Kansas City practices. This team had 72 runs of over 10 yards or more and pushed for first downs on 3rd or 4th and 2, 73% of the time up the gut. When a team can come off the ball and push their opponent back it bodes well for the passing attack.
Do you realize the last time Coach Todd Haley last saw Steve Breaston, they were in Super Bowl XLIII together with the Arizona Cardinals?? Now Haley brings him in to line up with Pro Bowler Dewayne Bowe, who only gained 1,162 yards on 72 receptions and led the league with 15TDs. So the Chiefs will field one of the biggest sets of receivers and lets ask the question: What won’t this team do on offense?? They’d definitely like a rematch with the Ravens in the playoffs with this new group. It would definitely be a different story.
The Oakland Raiders have fielded one of the most underrated defenses for years yet their “send in the clowns” offense has sabotaged their efforts. They jettisoned JaM…we can’t even say his name…and brought in Jason Campbell and now grabbed former OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor. So you can’t say Raider brass isn’t trying. With the emergence of Darren McFadden, there should be passing windows open just beyond the linebackers. Campbell has to throw the ball down the field and be more accurate this year.
Last year’s drafting of Rolando McClain and fellow linebacker Kamerion Wimbley are the heart and soul of the defense. Losing Namedi Asoumgha would doom most teams but the drafting of Demarcus Van Dyke (The U) at corner, Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson have covered well in pre-season. Most folks don’t realize that they finished 2nd in the NFL against the pass. They will not miss Asoumgha. The Raiders can go further than the 7-9 record we project if Campbell can play beyond his capabilities. However we see him as a marginal NFL talent and his upside is somewhere around a 3,000 yard season and 18TDs v 12 int. at best.
The enigmatic San Diego Chargers seem to lack a motivator to get them going. They keep falling behind early in games and come roaring back. Some games they win and others they fall too far behind and that is the reflection of Head Coach Norv Turner not getting his team up for the lessor teams. Phillip Rivers last year was magnificent and is the best of the young quarterbacks. He is in his prime, and without his two best receivers for 17 combined games, thew for 4,710 yards 30TDs and only 13 interceptions. He had to take some chances and still came up a winner. This year he will benefit from a projected 1,500 yard season for second year back Ryan Matthews out of Fresno State. Then when you add the defense and their play this team has no obvious onfield weaknesses. This team may be in need of a different coach to get them over the top. A coach that is more of a grinder that can get this team a little more battlehardened to go out and take care of business, no matter the opponent. We look for Coach Turner to be replaced at the end of the season. Remember they fired Marty Schottenheimer after he led the Chargers to a 14-2 record, so don’t be surprised.
As for the Denver Broncos, this is a rebuilding year. Coach Fox needs to let Tim Tebow start the season. It would energize the fanbase and possibly the organization. Then they could make a move to Kyle Orton if he founders. With a season start hosting Oakland and the Bengals, and if they can get to a 2-0 start, they could salvage the season with the early promise. This would be the recipe to offer your team and fans some hope. However Tebow isn’t favored by John Elway, who is in the front office, and that doesn’t bode well. During the pre-season Tebow was dropped to #3 on the depth chart and you could hear the disappointment from Bronco fans all over the blogosphere. With all of this going on and the need to revamp the defense, it’s time to completely rebuild and go younger. Don’t be surprised if a trade couldn’t send a Champ Bailey or a Kyle Orton away for future draft considerations. So start Tebow and see what you have. He’s under contract and you have nothing left to lose.
So that is your AFC West in a nutshell. All indications point to Kansas City reigning over the division with some competition from the San Diego Chargers. It’s hard to pick against a team that has several former NFL head coaches in one staff. They learned a valuable lesson about playoff intensity from the Baltimore Ravens in last year’s playoffs. They will be more formidable this time around. The road to Super Bowl XLVI is a path that they can take with a few lucky bounces of the ball. Are the Chiefs ready for primetime?? We say absolutely…