2016 AFC West Previews & Predictions

The real reason Osweiler may have left the division.

The real reason Osweiler may have left the division.

What is it about the Denver Broncos winning Super Bowls and having quarterbacks retire?? This of course wouldn’t mean as much had Brock Osweiler stayed around. Now they have Mark Sanchez and highly regarded 1st round pick Paxton Lynch. This time around there won’t be a Mike Shanahan brain fart going with untested Brian Griese over veteran Bubby Brister. Hopefully Coach Kubiak will opt for the veteran and bring his prized rookie along slowly.

However an autumn wind is billowing in from the west. Its always fun to watch a team as it starts growing before your very eyes. Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, and Amari Cooper headline a young star studded group out in Oakland. The question is will it grow to a point to challenge for supremacy in the AFC West this season??

raiderfanlogo2016 AFC WEST PREDICTIONS

Oakland Raiders 10-6 *

Kansas City Chiefs 9-7

Denver Broncos 7-9

San Diego Chargers 4-12

Most will scoff at the notion of the Raiders overtaking the Chiefs until you realize Alex Smith is still their starting quarterback. We have seen the best of his abilities and he will just keep you in ball games. At times he plays scared of throwing the football down the field. Jamaal Charles just made it off the PUP list but when will he gain his original explosiveness??  Now with LB Justin Houston returning from knee surgery also can we expect the same production there?? They were 11-5 with the 7th best defense in the NFL and OLB Tamba Hali is coming back from a broken thumb. This team will slide back in 2016.

Anderson will breakout n 2016.

Anderson will breakout n 2016.

In Denver the preseason has played out exactly as The Chancellor thought, no one is taking control at the quarterback position. Mark Sanchez’s penchant for turnovers has come back to haunt him in both preseason games. We still don’t have a starter named going into week 3 of the preseason. First rounder Paxton Lynch still needs grooming. He’s taken a few more sacks than you’d like but could become the starter by mid season if the offense sputters. His arm has shown zip. Now he needs to develop touch and throw the ball on time.

For a team that was 6-1 in games decided by 6 points or less the one thing they can ill afford is turnovers. Turning the ball over 3 & 4 times a game will get a defense in trouble. Even a #1 ranked defense. Go ask the ’85 Bears, 2000 Ravens and ’02 Bucs why they didn’t repeat. So expect Coach Kubiak to lean on RB CJ Anderson who should breakout with a 1,400 yard season. However the ball doesn’t bounce a team’s way 2 years in a row and QB instability will lead to 3 or 4 close losses this season.

Carr will lead Oakland to the playoffs in 2016.

Carr will lead Oakland to the playoffs in 2016.

It won’t be enough to hold off the growing Raiders under Coach Jack Del Rio. Look no further than the stunning development of Derek Carr. Last year’s performance (350 of 573  3,987 yds 32 TDs / 13 ints) marked him as an up and coming superstar and this will be the year he cements that notion. Both Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are back as his main receivers along with 1,000 yard rusher Latavius Murray.

The improvement has to come from last year’s 22nd ranked defense. Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr did get LB Bruce Irvin from Seattle this year and signed S Reggie Nelson to replace Charles Woodson. Both are coming from winning organizations which should provide veteran leadership to help a young team learn how to win. First round draft pick Karl Joseph has Nelson to groom him for the pro game.

Circle the week 6 match-up with Kansas City, where the Raiders could be sporting a 4-1 record against a 1-3 Chiefs team. The knockout blow that could ignite an AFC West Championship for the Oakland Raiders.

The Chancellor & Super Bowl LI Trophy at the Hall of Fame.

The Chancellor & Super Bowl LI Trophy at the Hall of Fame.

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SUPER BOWL XXIX RUNNER UP 1994 SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

Talk about a surprise conference champion…no one saw the 1994 Chargers making it to the Super Bowl yet when I see this ring I think of Dennis Gibson knocking down Neil O’Donnell’s last pass from the 3 yard line touching off the Charger AFC Championship celebration.

29.1I think of the bomb to Tony Martin in the 4th quarter that alerted Pittsburgh that they were in for a dog fight for this game even though it was played in old Three Rivers Stadium. All was right with the world…except one of the greatest conference championship contestants, possible 3peat chance Dallas Cowboys or a free agent laden San Francisco team built to take down the Cowboys.

29.3Funny how this team navigated its way to the Super Bowl where those of “Air” Coryell lore would have been better suited to face Steve Young and company.  The upset of the Miami Dolphins in the divisional round was what threw the 94 playoffs for a loop.  Natrone Means, Stan Humphries, Junior Seau, were on a mission thru the AFC playoffs to prove they DID belong and that the turnaround from a losing season to a winning one wasn’t going to be like 1991-1992.

After a 4-12 record in 1991 they hired Bill Arnsparger and the defense took off and they turned around their fortunes to an 11-5 season.  Many pundits didn’t believe they were real and when they lost 17-0 to the Kansas City Chiefs at home in the wildcard round, they learned they hadn’t garnered any respect.  After a losing season in 1993, San Diego used the same formula, a last place schedule and defense to have another miracle turnaround from a losing season.  The ’94 Chargers swore to make 1994 different…they just ran into the 49ers.

sb29They at least have this glistening bauble as AFC Champions for 1994.

2015 AFC Predictions

Before we get into the heart of this conversation, The Chancellor of Football is going to take you back to a simpler time. The year was 1999 and the St Louis Rams were gearing to take on the NFC West bully on the block San Francisco 49ers. The Rams won the 1st game of the 1990’s between the two then lost the next 17 straight. They were the laughingstock of the league and beating the Bengals, to go 3-0 broke the tie between St Louis and Cincy as to which team had the most losses in the decade.

For the Rams to be taken seriously, they had to beat their long time division bully. A young Chancellor of Football explained to my friend Allan Kennedy – if the Rams can win this game they will make the playoffs. If they beat them handily they can make it to the Super Bowl. He looked at me as though I was crazy. When a team builds and the animosity permeates the entire roster, when its good enough, it goes looking for that bully. Do you realize with a win today Buffalo will have beaten the two teams that faced off in last year’s AFC Championship Game??

buffalo bills2015 AFC East Champions: Buffalo Bills

2015 AFC North Champion: Cincinnati Bengals

2015 AFC South Champion: Indianapolis Colts

2015 AFC West Champion: San Diego Chargers

Wildcards: New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC Champion: Buffalo Bills

This is what sits before the Buffalo Bills today as they take on their nemesis in the New England Patriots. The confidence gained from knocking down a conference heavy is what cements a team on the rise. In 1980 the Bills beat the Dolphins for the first time after losing all 20 games to them in the 1970’s. They made the playoffs andnearly the AFC Championship Game.

The Indianapolis Colts will win the South but Andre Johnson looks extremely slow in a Colts uniform. They need to establish Frank Gore and gain some physicality on the offensive side of the ball. Luck is a growing quarterback but struggles against Defensive Coordinators that give different looks. Do they have enough defense to get to Super Bowl L?

Phillip Rivers will have a great 2015.

Phillip Rivers will have a great 2015.

The team that is growing steadily is the San Diego Chargers under Mike McCoy.  Phillip Rivers and his Charger teammates in the past have played up and down to their competition. This is the year they break the hex the Denver Broncos have over them and win the division. Last year Rivers threw for 4,286 yards 31 touchdowns and just 18 interceptions. Once they can get rookie Melvin Gordon running the football and Antonio Gates back from suspension, this team could be 3-1.

They fielded the NFL’s 9th best defense and added Jacoby Jones to bolster their return game. Their solid at every position on their roster now the young talent needs to mature and Rivers can’t have down games. He’s 33 now and a veteran that should put it all together this season.

The AFC is wide open this year and the Steelers and Patriots have serious deficiencies on defense. These units will grow and mature but not in time to to serious damage this season. Malcolm Butler is a Super Bowl hero but he got torched by Brown of the Steelers in week 1. If corners Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis gave the Pats a championship pedigree defense, then losing them reduces them to the latter half of the league.

Taylor is prepared to lead the Bills into the playoffs.

Taylor is prepared to lead the Bills into the playoffs.

Which brings us back to the Bills who return the 4th best defense in football. Rex Ryan the season before had the 6th best defense when he ran the New York Jets and the Bills have better personnel. Now that DT Marcell Dareus is back to join Mario Williams this team can be lethal if they can play with a lead. They will finish as the #1 defense and have a stable of backs. LeSean McCoy and Percy Harvin are the wildcards to keep Tyrod Taylor from feeling like he has to make all the plays. Rex will play him like the AFC version of Russell Wilson. If you get through the first two reads and aren’t comfortable, take off for 5 yards.

Ryan used the formula of power running, solid defense, and a quarterback minimizing turnovers and made it to back to back AFC Championship Games in 2009 and 2010. That was with a rookie in Mark Sanchez at quarterback. Tyrod Taylor has a Super Bowl ring from his days in Baltimore as he learned the NFL going against the Ravens defense in practice. he is not overwhelmed and will do fine.

Tyrod Taylor celebrating at the end of Super Bowl XlVII.

Tyrod Taylor celebrating at the end of Super Bowl XLVII.

As for the intro?? The St Louis Rams blew out the San Francisco 49ers in that 1999 match-up 42-20, went on to sweep them for the season and won Super Bowl XXXIV. Buffalo will win handily today over New England.

If they can get to Super Bowl L as The Chancellor of Football thinks…. they’ll run right into a former Buffalo Bill playing running back for the NFC Champion.

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Report Card: San Diego Chargers

While the Denver Broncos have retooled their defense in an attempt to make it back to the Super Bowl, one team has begun to turn heads. The San Diego Chargers aren’t just posing as the #1 challenger for the AFC West crown. They’re posing as a legitimate threat to win the entire conference.

Phillip Rivers is the early season MVP of the league.

Phillip Rivers is the early season MVP of the league.

We keep wanting to take the Cincinnati Bengals seriously but when it’s time for them to win that champion’s building block landmark game, they fall flat on their face. Enter the San Diego Chargers…

Do you realize the Chargers are on a 5 game winning streak which began with a win over the defending champion Seahawks?? Did you know Phillip Rivers is the first QB in NFL history with 5 straight games with a passer rating of 120 or higher?? He is tied for 2nd with 15 touchdown passes thrown. Although Andrew Luck leads with 17, he’s thrown 7 interceptions to Rivers 2.

Head Coach Mike McCoy could be up for NFL coach of the year honors this season.

Head Coach Mike McCoy could be up for NFL coach of the year honors this season.

Their only loss was to the 4-1 NFC West leading Arizona Cardinals. So this team has been through an early crucible that should serve them well as they gear up for a huge game against Denver in 2 weeks. Therein lies the problem. How do they not look ahead of this weeks game against the Kansas City Chiefs?? That is the #1 item for Head Coach Mike McCoy to convey to his team.

Has anyone coached better than Mike McCoy this season?? You would be hard pressed to find one. At the beginning of the season you had backfield cogs Ryan Matthews & Danny Woodhead. Since they have been lost to injury, Branden Oliver (249 yds rushing / 124 yds receiving) has emerged as a spark plug. He runs with an explosive fury where Donald Brown is the steady sacrificial runner for this offense.

I know what you’re thinking… sacrificial?? Yes sacrificial.

The Chargers have been a power rushing team averaging 31.6 rushing attempts per game. The Chargers know Brown (59 car. 126 yds)will not break any nifty shifty runs. His runs are the equivalent of a boxing jab to just help wear down the defense. In keeping defenses honest TE Antonio Gates has re-emerged with 6TDs on 24 receptions. He hasn’t scored at this pace since 2004.

San Diego stands to get Ryan Matthews back from injury in 5 weeks. The ground and pound approach that has allowed Rivers to flourish has kept the defense rested as well. Right now they field the 3rd best defense in football.

Right now the Chargers have the NFL’s longest winning streak in football with 5. They have scored 30 or more in 4 games and it was their blueprint Dallas took to Seattle in their watershed victory last week. Two weeks from now they could be 6-1 going into that Sunday Night tilt in Denver. At stake, control of the AFC West and possible control of the conference as a whole.

Don't forget how well Charger coach Mike McCoy knows Peyton Manning.

Don’t forget how well Charger coach Mike McCoy knows Peyton Manning.

Last year the Chargers won in Denver on a Thursday night 27-20 but lost the rubber-match in the playoffs there 24-17. Those were the two lowest point totals for the record setting Bronco team a year ago who this year aren’t as potent. This year the Chargers are a little more battle hardened and must show it by not overlooking the Kansas City Chiefs.

The following week will take care of itself. Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Legends of The Fall: Wes Chandler & John Jefferson

During the glory years of Air Coryell, the receivers were John Jefferson, Charlie Joiner, and Tight End Kellen Winslow. Head Coach Don Coryell had taken full advantage of the rule changes in 1978 to produce the most prolific passing offense in league history. His San Diego Chargers were the evolutionary link between Sid Gillman’s high scoring AFL version of the Chargers and the offenses we know today.

The acrobatic John Jefferson was Lynn Swann 3.0

The acrobatic John Jefferson was Lynn Swann 3.0

Quarterback Dan Fouts was the trigger-man and was in the midst of building a Hall of Fame resume. In 1979 he broke Joe Namath’s single season passing record with 4,082 yards. Then shattered it with 4,715 yards the following year. So it was imperative that management keep top level receivers for Fouts to throw to. As a team they won the AFC West in ’79 and made it to the AFC Championship Game in 1980.

 

However going into 1981, several players desired new contracts and were holdouts. Upset with the inability to bring WR John Jefferson and DE Fred Dean to camp, each man was traded to teams thought to be NFC wastelands in San Francisco and Green Bay. Although they were the odds on favorite to make it to Super Bowl XVI before this, management pulled the trigger that could have brought down Air Coryell.

Wes Chandler scoring on a punt return in the

Wes Chandler scoring on a punt return in the “Epic In Miami” 1981 AFC playoff against the Dolphins.

Yet they had an ace up their sleeve and traded for Wes Chandler a few weeks later. Whom they were sure could fill the shoes of former All Pro John Jefferson. You have to understand Jefferson was the most electrifying talent in the league. His circus catches and boundless enthusiasm was the lightning rod spirit of those Charger teams.

Asking Chandler to fill his shoes was not going to be easy. Yet week 6 of 1981, right before the trade deadline, the Chargers turned in their trade papers to Pete Rozelle’s office.

Yet first you need to understand the man he was going to replace. John Jefferson’s first 3 seasons with San Diego, they set the record and broke it for passing offense each season. His years from 1978-1980 were the most electric of any incoming receiver in NFL history. The acrobatic Jefferson produced highlight reel after highlight reel level catches. He amassed 199 rec. for 3,431 yards and 36 TDs as 1/3 of Air Coryell!! In this vignette about the ’80 Chargers you’ll get a better glimpse.

His battles with Lester Hayes that year were epic. Hayes was NFL Defensive Player of the year as he amassed 13 interceptions. Jefferson had 2-100 yard receiving games against him and 3TDs. Both were voted All Pro as he had a career best 1,340 yards on 82 receptions and 13 touchdowns.

In fact, the 1980 Chargers were the first team in history to have the standard set of receivers (2 wideouts and tight end) go over 1,000 yards in the same season. Against the Giants in week 7, they became the first standard set to all go over 100 receiving yards in the same game. Now they were going on without his services. How would the Chargers fare?

Well over in the NFC, another wideout from the 1978 draft was toiling away in New Orleans:

That 1982 season by Chandler ranks in The Chancellor of Football’s top five all time seasons by a receiver. He caught 49 passes for 1032 yards and 9 touchdowns in that strike shortened season. Just 8 games. Projected over a full season he would have had 98 receptions for 2064 yards and 18 TDs. At the time, 101 was the record for catches by Charley Hennigan back in the AFL in 1964. The TD record in a season was 17 held by Hall of Famer Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch from 1951. He would have become the first and only 2,000 yard receiver and come close to or broken the other two records.

jefferson inspired figurine

jefferson inspired figurine

John Jefferson went on to team with James Lofton and made the Packers a formidable passing team for several years. In fact he made his fourth and final Pro Bowl in 1982 when he and Lofton went as teammates. However his best days were left in the team he should have helped to a Super Bowl in San Diego. Contract disputes kept that team from it’s greatest triumph.

For their careers

  • John Jefferson 351 rec. 5,714 yds 47TDs
  • Wes Chandler 559 rec. 8,966 yds 56TDs

When you picture Air Coryell in your mind, these two and their acrobatic catches are the first you envision. They were the spectacular performers of the group where Hall of Fame voting went with the numbers and impact of Charlie Joiner, Dan Fouts, and Kellen Winslow.

Amazingly Head Coach Don Coryell also sits outside the Hall of Fame. Too much is made of a coach not winning a Super Bowl yet Joe Gibbs left his staff and won 3 in Washington. He deserves to be in as well.

The high flying Chargers of the early 1980s. Just as we remembered them.

The high flying Chargers of the early 1980s. Just as we remembered them.

Although Chandler and Jefferson didn’t have Hall of Fame numbers, these two shouldn’t be forgotten for their contributions were just as great. Definitely legends of the fall.

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Legends Of the Fall: James Brooks

From time to time you’ll find NFL teams trying to recreate what they once had and totally undervalue a current player on their roster. Never was this more evident than when the San Diego Chargers overreached for a big back to replace the aging Chuck Muncie. At first they signed late Ricky Bell who couldn’t stay healthy. Then they made one of the worst trades in NFL history, trading the multifaceted James Brooks to Cincinnati for FB Pete Johnson.

James Brooks burst onto the NFL scene in 1981 out of Auburn.

James Brooks burst onto the NFL scene in 1981 out of Auburn.

How lopsided was that trade in 1984?? Pete Johnson only played 3 games with the Chargers before being released. Brooks went on to play 8 seasons for Cincinnati gaining 9,459 combined yards and 64 touchdowns. During that time he ran for 1,000 yards on 3 occasions while compiling 5 seasons with over 1,200 yards from scrimmage. Not only did he make the Pro Bowl 4 times, he broke Johnson’s all time team rushing record and helped the Bengals to Super Bowl XXIII.

Although they brought in another Auburn tailback in Lionel James, this was the end of the Air Coryell reign. Age and injuries derailed their effectiveness where Brooks played on with the Bengals through the 1991 season. Why would you trade a proven commodity that led the league in all purpose yards in his first two years?? One could speculate how Chargers ownership under Gene Klein was dreading impending contract demands. Don’t forget this was only 3 years removed from trading away WR John Jefferson and DE Fred Dean for the same thing.

JamesBrooks2Brooks was one of the toughest and most durable runners at 180 lbs in NFL history. His game was a speed game but he broke tackles when he ran inside traps. He took on linebackers and safeties. His best run ever was a 56 yard TD run against the Patriots in 1986 in which he broke several tackles and drug SS Roland James into the endzone.

James Brooks was a great performer whose numbers will fall just short of Hall of Fame consideration. His trade stands as a cautionary tale to GMs everywhere. He was one of a long line of Auburn running backs that came into the NFL starting with Joe Cribbs, himself, Lionel James, and Bo Jackson during the 1980’s. Yet it was Brooks who out rushed them all.

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