Tuesday, August 21, 2007

2007 Sports As Life NFL Preview - AFC West

Ok, good day and welcome to Day 1 of the 2007 Sports As Life AFC Preview. A couple of quick things before we get down to business. First, some people are wondering why I haven't written about Saturday's Roughrider game and my reason is this - I think that was one of those games where a person had to be there to really understand the whole situation, so I'll leave it to those who were there. Also, I knew the Corey Holmes/coming home headline was just too good to pass up for someone around here - and it was your official Roughrider Blogger who went with "Welcome Holmes" - hilarious! And about Michael Vick - I am going to write something, as you may have heard he accepted a plea deal yesterday in his dogfighting conspiracy case, but I'm thinking early next week for that - as he's not in court until Monday so there really won't be any more information until then. Plus the AFC Preview is going to take up all my time this week.

Here we go with the AFC West...

Denver Broncos

The Jake Plummer era if officially over in Denver. This means no more wildly inaccurate throws and questionable decision making. Unfortunately it also means no more bad porno mustaches and flipping off the fans. So it's a toss up I suppose. The Broncos have been one of the strongest rushing teams in the league for the better part of a decade. However, this has less to do with the running backs they have and is more about their offensive line and the knee-destroying cut/zone-blocking system they use. The Broncos could basically take anybody from off the street and have them rush for 1,000 yards. This year's 1,000 yard rusher will be Travis Henry. If Henry is healthy by the regular season (he hurt his knee this week in a pre-season game) he has the potential to be a great back for Denver. The Broncos also have Mike Bell, who fantasy owners know steals most of the touchdowns from the #1 running back, whoever that might be. Since Jake Plummer is no longer in Denver, Jay Cutler is now the starting quarterback. Cutler has a laser rocket arm and is probably an upgrade to Plummer in most aspects except mobility. The Broncos actually pulled Plummer in favour of Cutler last season when they had a chance to make the playoffs. Of course they didn't make the playoffs but Cutler should be better this season with a full training camp as the starter. Javon Walker gives Cutler a go to receiver and Walker should now be 100% recovered from his knee surgery 2 years ago. Where the Broncos could be frightening this year is on defence, especially pass defence. Champ Bailey has been the top shut-down cornerback in the league for the past few seasons and now he is going to be paired with Dre' Bly on the other side of the field. How opposing teams are even going to throw on the Broncos remains to be seen. The Broncos have one of the easier schedules in the AFC which should help out the young QB Cutler.

2007 Prediction: 10-6. This is one game better than last season's 9-7 and if the Broncos can beat San Diego once this year or beat Pittsburgh at home they could have 11 wins or more. If Henry can stay healthy and if Cutler doesn't cost them any games the Broncos are going to be a solid team.

Kansas City Chiefs

It's hard to write about "your" team without being a big homer but I'm going to try and provide some objective insight. And here it is - Kansas City is going to be awful this year. How's that for objective? Under head coach Herm Edwards, running the ball has been the main focus, as he ran Larry Johnson into the ground last year - Johnson had 416 carries and 41 receptions, which is an absolutely ridiculous number of touches. Johnson had over 2,000 total yards and 19 touchdowns out of those touches but the problem is that LJ is holding out for a contract extension, which means he hasn't been in training camp or playing in the pre-season (Author's Note: As I was writing the Chiefs' breakdown this morning it was announced that Larry Johnson had finally signed an extension and practiced with the team today). So that leaves Priest Holmes, who hasn't played in 2 years and Michael Bennett *shudder* as the potential #1 running backs right now - and Holmes hasn't even practiced yet because of lingering injury concerns. Even if Johnson signs a new deal and ends his holdout don't expect this to solve the Chiefs' problems on the ground, with his 450 touches last year and close to 400 the year before, Johnson now has more miles on him than Jenna Jameson. Running backs with that kind of workload almost always decline soon after. And if the running game isn't going to be a strength for Kansas City it doesn't bode well for their quarterbacks. Brody Croyle and Damon Huard will be the stewards of the offence this year - they won't be asked to win games but will be asked to not lose them. I remember when quarterbacks were actually expected to make plays, not just take care of the football. Tight end Tony Gonzalez has declined somewhat in recent seasons but he's still Kansas City's #1 receiving target. The Chiefs don't have a lot of strength at wide receiver so Gonzalez will probably be their main threat. Kansas City should have a solid defence though, especially when Jared Allen returns from his 4 game suspension. Even if Kansas City was fielding a quality, well-rounded team this season their schedule is such that a drop-off from last season would have been expected. There doesn't appear to be too many winnable game for the Chiefs this year.

2007 Prediction: 5-11. That's a 4 game drop from last season. The Chiefs lost another member of their once-dominant offensive line in the off season (Will Shields). Add that to the shaky running back situation, the inexperience at quarterback and the lack of depth at wide receiver and it looks like Kansas City's powerful offence is a thing of the past. They do have the defence to win some games - not many though.

Oakland Raiders

Finishing with a record of 2-14 last year, there is really nowhere for the Raiders to go but up. There is some optimism for the team this year with a solid defence, the #1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell (of course he hasn't signed and hasn't taken a snap yet) and team got rid of human punchline Art Shell at head coach and replaced him with the up and coming Lane Kiffin. If the Raiders can get any production from their offensive line, and I mean any production - offensive tackle Robert Gallery has to be the worst player in the league at any position - the Raiders have the running backs to do some damage on the ground, in LaMont Jordan and Dominic Rhodes. The quarterbacking situation is a little murkier than the running back situation. First overall pick JaMarcus Russell still hasn't signed and probably wouldn't have been a starter until late in the season anyway, if not until next year. So that leaves newly acquired Daunte Culpepper, who has looked both awful and great in his pre-season action, Josh McCown and the widely reviled Andrew Walter - who should be on his way out of town soon, if he isn't found floating in the bay that is. Culpepper will probably end up starting the season if he can stay productive and healthy - having had major knee surgery 2 years ago. Of course with that offensive line he might not have time to throw the ball anyway. The loss of Randy Moss at wide receiver doesn't really hurt the Raiders too badly as he was a total bust in his 2 seasons in Oakland, of course he didn't really have anyone to throw him the ball. Now that Jerry Porter's arch enemy, Art Shell, is gone he might actually get back on the field again and give whoever is quarterbacking a decent deep threat. The Raiders defence is solid but a little over-rated after last season, especially the pass defence. Opposing teams got up so quickly on the Raiders that they really had no reason to throw the ball - which helped Oakland's stats. The Raiders do have some very winnable games on their schedule and there is potential for some serious improvement on last season.

2007 Prediction: 5-11. Doesn't seem all that great but it is a 3 game improvement over last season. If the Raiders can surprise a few teams, especially Detroit on opening day, they could get to 6 or 7 wins.

San Diego Chargers

Having parted ways with ultra-conservative but always successful (at least in the regular season) head coach Marty Schottenheimer in the off season, the Chargers hired slightly less conservative and almost never successful head coach Norv Turner (career head coaching record 58-82-1). However, Turner has always been a successful Offensive Co-ordinator, winning Super Bowls in Dallas and helping to turn around San Francisco the last few years. His head coaching record is pretty ugly but he should help to make a very good offensive team even better - or he might just kill them. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson is the best player in the league hands down. He runs for touchdowns, catches them and even throws a couple every year. LDT has had a lot of carries the last few years, so he might have a slightly reduced workload as he has the best backup in the league, Michael Turner, but he'll still be the Chargers go to guy. Quarterback Phillip Rivers is going to face some tough defences in his second year but he has Tomlinson standing in the backfield with him on most plays, so that will take the pressure off. If Rivers is forced to throw the ball he does have some talented options. Tight end Antonio Gates is an incredible athlete and cannot be covered by a linebacker alone. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson is entering his third year, which is usually the breakout year for wide outs - so I would expect to hear his name quite a lot this season. Pressure, pressure, pressure is what the Chargers' defence is all about. They were tops in the league in sacks last year, led by cheater/steroid abuser Shawne Merriman. Expect more of the same. San Diego does have a fairly difficult schedule, as you would expect after they went 14-2 last year. But they do have that talent to win a lot of those difficult games.

2007 Prediction: 13-3. That's a one game drop off from last year. The Chargers are going to have a bulls eye on their back all year plus Norv Turner might cost them a game - hence the drop from last season. I have those 3 losses being: at New England, at Denver, and Indianapolis at home. The Chargers have always played Indy tough, so they could end up at 14-2 again.

So that's the AFC West - probably not going to be a real competitive division this year in terms of win/loss records. But this is always an exciting division to watch because the teams hate each other so much that the divisional games are always entertaining and hard hitting.

AFC West

Kansas City....5-11
San Diego......13-3

Tomorrow - the AFC North.

No comments: