The AFC West is basically cut in half. The San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos are clearly the class of the division and will battle for the top spot not only in the West but also in the AFC. Meanwhile, Kansas City’s Chiefs will be happy to win 6 games or an Emmy for HBO’s ‘Hard Knocks’, while the Oakland Raiders look to set the record for an abysmal offense paired with a terrific defense, previously set by the Illinois Fighting Illini of the early-90s. (See, that reference is horrible. First of all, who remembers how bad the Illini’s offense was back then? Also, why compare U of I’s squad from 20 years ago to the Raiders of today? I suck.)
Anyway, here is how I see the division breaking down:
–Denver Broncos: It seems like everyone and their momma likes the Super Chargers to win the West, which means I have to go against the grain and pick the Broncos. But I actually have better reasons than just trying to be different. Jay Cutler is a really talented quarterback, and I think in his second year he will be much improved. Sure, there will still be growing pains and he will make silly mistakes, but his arm strength and athletic ability will more than make up for those. The running game got an infusion with the addition of runner Travis Henry, who if he stays healthy could top 1300 yards with no problem. Also, Mike Bell works as the team’s number two back and has proven he can carry the load for short periods of time. The team’s receiving corps, led by Javon Walker, is great and we all know the offensive line is strong. Defensively, the Broncos had a tough off season with the death of solid cornerback and team leader Darrent Williams. But Champ Bailey is still there, and the addition of Dre Bly means opposing offenses will have a very difficult time throwing the ball against Denver. I believe the players will rally around each other and have an inspired campaign. I think the Broncos will go 12-4, and could very well be the Patriots’ best competition in the AFC.
–San Diego Chargers: The Chargers are easily one of the two or three most talented teams in the NFL. We all know about the guy running the ball, who is the best player in the league. Philip Rivers is an up-and-coming stud at QB, and he had a great 2006. Other standouts include Antonio Gates, Shawne Merriman, and Luis Castillo. But last season’s playoff loss to New England still stings the Chargers, and I think the doubt of their ability to beat the best when it counts most will appear again. Plus, new coach Norv Turner, in essence, sucks. We may see a major improvement in receiver Vincent Jackson, but Norv’s head coaching resume is not stellar. The team’s talent is enough to get them to 10-6, but they are one unfortunate LT injury away from a sub-.500 season.
–Kansas City Chiefs: The re-signing of running back Larry Johnson assures Chief fans that coach Herman Edwards will not go insane. See, now he knows what play he’ll be calling about 60 percent of the time. If LJ wasn’t coming back, he’d either have to give Michael Bennett 400 carries or get his license to practice medicine and bring Priest Holmes back to football life.
But LJ is back, and this assures the Chiefs will have at least a bit of offense. Outside of him, however, there isn’t much there. The quarterback job is up for grabs, and either Damon Huard or Brodie Croyle will be the man. Odds are they will both play at some point. Better odds are that both will suck to high heaven. The receiving corps, even with first round pick Dwayne Bowe, is not very good. And Tony Gonzalez, despite the fact that he has one of the hottest athlete wives I’ve ever seen, is getting old and can’t be counted on for 90 catches and 10 TDs as he once was. While the defense is improved over a few years ago, it lacks the playmakers on the front line or secondary to carry the team. The Chiefs will be lucky to finish .500. I pick them to go 7-9.
–Oakland Raiders: This team is truly putrid. Last year’s Raider offense was easily the worst I’ve ever seen. It really is amazing that they scored 14 TDs all year. Its like when you’re playing Madden against the computer, and about a third of the way through the season you realize that the level you’re playing on is way too easy. You’re winning every game like 45-0, and you’re picking off 6 passes and getting 9 sacks a game. That’s what it was like to be an opposing defense against Oakland last year.
But the Raider defense is suprisingly good. Their secondary is one of the best in the game, and even with the loss of linebacker Napolean Harris, the silver and black should have a top-10 defense again in 2007. But when your offensive line is atrocious, your best receiver is Jerry Porter or Ronald Curry, and Daunte Culpepper has a noticeable limp–and he’s your likely starting quarterback–things are not good. Tha Raiders will be happy with 4-12, and might secure the number 1 overall pick for the second straight year. Darren McFadden, Arkansas running back, enjoy Oakland.