Thursday, September 2, 2010

NFL Preview: Day Four- AFC West

In 2010, the AFC West is a division of new blood. Whether it's an old vet on a new team, a rookie on an old champion, a second year player looking to become the fresh new face as the focal point of the offense, or the young guns adding another weapon from the draft, the story of the West lies with the new faces in new places and what they will bring to the uniforms they are slipping on.

The AFC West

Denver Broncos

2009 Record: 8-8

Just shy of 1,000 yards in a rookie year rushing is not too shabby. Neither are 7 TDs. It's the basis of the numbers for second year runner Knowshon Moreno, taken in the 2009 NFL Draft out of Georgia. After injuries beset the Broncos running core, he became the focal point and performed admirably when the Broncos weren't relying on the arm of Kyle Orton. With star receiver Brandon Marshall gone, Orton's numbers look to decline and it looks to be on the shoulders, and legs, of Knowshon Moreno to lead the Broncos to victory.

While the offense performed well last year, ranking in the middle of the pack with Moreno running and Orton passing for over 3800 yards, the aforementioned loss of Brandon Marshall, who was like a vacuum for passes, leaves a big hole for the passing game. Who will step up? The likes of Brandon Lloyd and Eddie Royal as the top two receivers aren't exactly striking fear into the corner backs league wide. If the Broncos want to score, it's gotta be at the mercy of Moreno and just because I need to mention him, the Broncos drafted Tim Tebow. Just FYI.

What also remains a big question mark: How will the defense play in 2010? The defense was on lock down in the first six games of the season where the Broncos went 6-0, allowing only 11 points per game. The bottom fell out after as they allowed a stunning 25.8 points per game. It led to a 2-8 end of the season and a quick fall out of playoff contention. Will the first half defense show up in 2010 or will it be the second half defense? I'm thinking it'll be more second than first.

2010 Prediction: 5-11

Kansas City Chiefs

2009 Record: 4-12

He was a big threat in college football, leading Ole Miss to multiple Top 25 rankings. He was a focal point of the Rebels offense. He filled many roles from kick returner to running back to wide receiver. From the looks of things early on, not much looks to change with Dexter McCluster as he reaches the pros and the Kansas City Chiefs. Already being used as a mixed back, it looks as if Matt Cassel has a new toy to play with.

The depth of McCluster should definitely aid a Kansas City offense that is looking to improve on it's 2009 season. The run was decent, ending 11th overall. The additions of McCluster and Thomas Jones should mean only continued improvement in this area of the game. The passing game remains the question mark. This year will show us whether the Patriots made Cassel or if he's just that talented. A duo of Dwayne Bowe (not suspended by the league) and Chris Chambers plus McCluster should push Cassel over 3,000 yards passing. Just how much remains to be seen.

A huge shot in the arm to the awful, awful defense of the Chiefs (ranking in the bottom third of the league in both rush and pass stopping) is the drafting of Eric Berry. His clogging up the middle should help improve the 31st ranked run defense. Will his extra pressure on the line rush the quarter back any more? Will this improve the 25th ranked pass defense? Will they continue to flounder? The Chiefs can be competitive again. They're a year or two away before that happens, though.

2010 Prediction: 6-10

Oakland Raiders

2009 Record: 5-11

The Raiders and Jason Campbell have a big thing in common. They were both the butt of jokes. The Raiders have long been known for championship, toughness, and pride. As of recent, things haven't been so bright. It's been a rough go as first round pick JaMarcus Russell bombed terribly. Jason Campbell was considered a bomb in Washington, DC but having never had a consistent offensive coordinator he was never able to prove himself, despite always improving his numbers year after year very quietly.

The off season acquisition of Campbell, and the ultimate dumping of Russell after a legal run in during the off season, it's a fresh start for both. There's almost no where to go but up for the 29th best passing game in the league and with Campbell at the helm (3,618 yards and 20 TDs in 2009) commanding a familiar offensive scheme, it's likely the air attack will be formidable. The key becomes keeping Michael Bush and the run game healthy.

Another sore spot for the Raiders in 2009 was the defense. Not the passing game, which ranked 7th overall, but the running defense which was all the way down at 29th. A bevy of additions in the off season should keep the passing stoppers still in the top end of the league. However, if you can run at will on the Raiders, who needs to pass? The big question that could cost them quite a few games is will they be able to control the clock by stopping the run? The Raiders are making strides, but they're not there yet.

2010 Prediction: 7-9

San Diego Chargers

2009 Record: 13-3

No one wants to be the one to replace a legend, especially when the legend runs for 12,490 yards and 138 TDs in 8 seasons with the San Diego Charges. However, LT's departure is the gain of rookie Ryan Mathews, drafted in 2010. While LT put up 12,000 plus yards in 8 years in San Diego, his last season was one that seemed to be of apathy in gaining less than 800 yards and only 12 TDs, he seemed to be aging. While no one expects a hall of fame career from Mathews, they do expect over 1,000 yards rushing.

While Mathews should be an improvement over the 31st ranked rushing attack of the Chargers, the passing game (which ranked 5th overall) looks to be in question. The questions don't stem from All Pro quarterback Philip Rivers, but from hold out Wide Receiver (and leading pass catcher) Vincent Jackson. Not only is he suspended for the first three games of the season, he is planning on holding out for a new contract. Behind he and Antonio Gates, the receiving core is thin.

If the Chargers want to look to avoid another let down come the post season playing in the sub par AFC West, they should hope to improve their defense. They severely lacked all season in the run stopping department, as showed during the Playoffs when they allowed near 130 yards to Shonn Greene in a loss in the Divisional Round. Is this the year the Chargers shore it all up and advance to the Super Bowl? Too soon to say, but they'll sure have their chance.

2010 Prediction: 13-3

AFC West Final Projected Standings-

San Diego Chargers- 13-3
Oakland Raiders- 7-9
Kansas City Chiefs- 6-10
Denver Broncos- 5-11

Bold= Division Winner
Italics= Wild Card team

Coming Saturday: NFC East

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