2010 NFL Preview Part 3: AFC West

Team                                                                                Projected Wins – Losses (Range)

1. San Diego Chargers                                                  8-8 – 11-5

The Chargers will have a good, but not great team. Their offense has the potential to be much better than last year, even without suspended star Vincent Jackson for the first 3 games, if not the first 6 because of him being “roster exempt” (which will happen if he doesn’t sign by September 4th, and now seems very likely). Left Tackle Marcus McNeill has not been signed either, and is, along with Jackson, ready to sit out the entire season. McNeill and Jackson are two of the best players on this team, and not having them on the field would be a major blow to San Diego. Luckily  QB Phillip Rivers has some solid targets to throw to including Darren Sproles, who is a great option out of the backfield, Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee, who can both be major threats in the red zone, and of course 6 time Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates. Veteran receiver Josh Reed was also signed this offseason. After seeing Reed play for 8 season in Buffalo, I would have to say Reed is a very good slot receiver and has a different skill set than most of San Diego’s other receivers. The main reason the Chargers might have a better offense this season is rookie RB Ryan Matthews. LaDanian Tomlinson will go down as one of the best RB’s in the history of the NFL, but I think its obvious he wasn’t the same player these past 2 seasons. Matthews may not have the year most people suspect, but if he delivers the Chargers offense will be electrified. Marcus McNeill’s replacement at  Left Tackle is 2nd year player Brandyn Dombrowski. Dombrowski is being praised for his run blocking, but I’m not convinced he can play at the level of McNeill. The Defense is where the Chargers could have some problems. The loss of nose tackle Jamal Williams is a big one. His replacement is listed on the depth chart as Antonio Garay, who since being drafted in 2003 has just 17 career tackles and no sacks. Former star ROLB Shawne Merriman, in my opinion, is done and should move on with Larry English, who was drafted 16th overall in last years draft.  At LOLB Shaun Phillips has seen better days. The Chargers are in serious need of a new pass rusher. San Diego’s secondary is average at best. With the Chargers suspected struggles on defense they will not be a great team, but with a weak division and a strong offense they should have no troubles making the playoffs, getting out of the first round is a different story.

2. Oakland Raiders                                                        5-11 – 8-8

The Raiders, by no means have a good team. But neither do the Cheifs or Broncos, and improvements on defense will vault them over both of those teams. Offensively speaking, Oakland is in for a rough season, but adding QB Jason Campbell will help quite a bit. Campbell was under heavy pressure to succeed in Washington and didn’t have the tools necessary to do so. The bad news is neither do the Raiders, but there is much less pressure because he is going to be better than bust JaMarcus Russell. At RB the Raiders have Michael Bush, a bruising power back, and Darren McFadden, an underachieving speed back similar to Reggie Bush. Michael Bush is going into the year as the starter, but Al Davis did spend a high pick on McFadden (then again he wasn’t afraid to cut Russell). WR Darrius Heyward-Bey struggled mightily adjust to the NFL last season as a rookie mostly because of suspect hands. This year his pass catching ability should be somewhat more reliable. Other options in the passing game are Louis Murphy and Chaz Schilens (who is out for 3-6 weeks with a knee injury). Both Murphy and Schilens outplayed Heyward-Bey, despite Schilens only playing 8 games. The Raiders O-Line is nothing special. On defense, Oakland has a improving front 7, especially when they added former Brown, Kamerion Wimbley and drafted top MLB Rolando McClain.  The line has veterans Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, John Henderson (who is a backup), and rising youngsters Matt Shaughnessy and rookie Lamarr Houston. In the secondary, the Raiders have one of the best corners in the league with Nnamdi Asomugha, unfortunately 2nd CB Chris Johnson get targeted too frequently and gives up some huge plays. Both Safety positions have good starters. FS Michael Huff surprised last season with 3 picks, and SS Tyvon Branch is a great tackler. Oakland is an improving ball club, but they are still a few years away from returning to the playoffs, but their defense could give them a shot to be the surprise team of 2010, if not then 2011.

3. Kansas City Chiefs                                                  5-11 – 8-8

The Chiefs are in a similar situation to the Raiders, they’re not quite there. Matt Cassel is an above average QB and should have a better season than last year, just don’t expect him to duplicate what he did with New England. RB’s Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles couldbe a very good combination, but they can’t win games by themselves. Kansas City’s wideouts are definitely not the best in the league, but veteran Chris Chambers, Dwayne Bowe, and rookie Dexter McCluster should get the job done. Like the Raiders, the Chiefs do not have a spectacular line. So far defensive ends Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson have not lived up to their potential, but they are both still very young and should improve. Kansas City does not have a great group of LB’s beyond Tamba Hali, who at times was great, especially against Denver recording 4 sacks in 2 games. At corner, the Chiefs have Brandon Flowers, Brandon Carr, and rookie Javier Arenas. All of them have the potential to be great someday. FS Eric Berry, in my opinion, is a lock for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Overall, Kansas City is on the rise, but I wouldn’t expect them to do anything for a while.

4. Denver Broncos                                                  4-12 – 7-9

Last year the Broncos started off the season as the hottest team in the NFL. At 6-0, rookie coach Josh McDaniels was the sure-fire Coach of the Year. Then the Broncos rolled over and died for the rest of the year going 2-6. McDaniels has made some bold moves since becoming coach, trading stars Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, but has the team gotten any better? I don’t think they have, they’ve gotten worse. It doesn’t make much sense to trade these players, but then McDaniels drafted QB Tim Tebow and WR Demaryius Thomas in the first round of this years draft. I’m not saying that those are bad picks, but why not keep Cutler and Marshall, and improve on other positions instead of messing up position that are already set? Kyle Orton is a serviceable QB, but there’s no way, without Brandon Marhshall ,that he can match last years statistics. RB Knowshown Moreno was expected to make an impact right away, he has yet to prove himself as a good starting RB in the NFL. With Eddie Royal, Jabar Gaffney, Brandon Lloyd, Brandon Stokely, and Demaryius Thomas, the Broncos have a very average receiver corps. Royal should rebound from a rough 2009, but without Brandon Marhshall to draw coverage away from him, I wouldn’t expect him (or anyone on the team for that matter) to get 1000 yards. Thomas is eventually become a good receiver, but I don’t see him do so right away. Denver has a much better line than other teams in the division, but other than Ryan Clady none of the starters are great. On the defensive line, starting ends Ryan McBean and Justin Bannan are average. Nose Tackle Jamal Williams is good, but on the decline of his career. Other than D.J. Williams, the Broncos are lacking quality starting linebackers. 2nd year OLB Robert Ayers has potential to be great, but didn’t do much last season. CB Champ Bailey and FS Brian Dawkins are excellent veterans, but they are slowing down and this is the oldest secondary in the history of the NFL.  Denver could have been a good team this season, but confusing personnel moves have knocked them out of contention for at least this year.

Check back later for the AFC South Preview

This is also posted on ESPN.com

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,