By Will Robinson

philip_rivers-482

Ladies and gentlemen, THE LOCKOUT IS OVER! I was excited to find out last week when Jay Glazer tweeted that an agreement had been reached, and was even happier to wake up to news that the NFLPA’s vote was unanimous.

Thankfully, no regular season games were missed, and the only things we truly missed were OTAs and player movements. The latter has just started, and it should be very exciting. So starting today, I will be posting two division previews per week, one from the AFC and one from the NFC. I’ll start with the AFC West today, and I’ll have the NFC West later this week. I’ll go back and edit in some transactions if they are major so they will stay current. After giving each division a preview, I will make a full season preview along with my division winners, playoff seeding and Super Bowl champ. Without further ado (frankly, 136 days was enough), let’s start in with the second worst division! (Note: bolded player names in “Notable Team Free Agents/ Possible Departures” means they have officially moved teams)

Also: check out the other previews (Note: projected records have been removed and will return in my season forecast/playoff predictions. I’m still working out who I want in the post-season, and I want the records to add up correctly):

NFC West

AFC South

NFC South

 

Denver Broncos

2010 Record: 4-12

Notable Additions: Von Miller (LB), Rahim Moore (S), Orlando Franklin (OL), Willis McGahee (RB), Daniel Fells (TE), Derrick Harvey (DE), Brodrick Bunkley (DT), Ty Warren (DE/DT)

Notable Team Free Agents/ Possible Departures: Ryan Harris (OT), Jabar Gaffney (WR), Renaldo Hill (S), Justin Bannan (DT), Daniel Graham (TE)

Strengths: Receiving corps, defensive backs

Weaknesses: Quarterback uncertainty, consistent offensive line play, running back depth, running game, defensive tackle.

2010 Season Summary: The Broncos started 2010 with a mediocre 2-2 record, but then the rest of the season happened, and they lost ten more games and their head coach. They had a prolific passing game with Kyle Orton and Brandon Lloyd leading the way, but their running game was anemic and their defense could not have been worse. Lloyd, who had bounced around from team to team before landing in Denver, was one of the NFL’s best receivers. Orton was solid, but he would often make errors that would put the team in a tight spot; he was the epitome of a 20-20 quarterback (a quarterback that could move the chains but could not finish off a drive. Credit to Michael Lombardi of NFL.com and NFL Network). The bright spot for Broncos fans was the play of Tim Tebow in the last three games of the year. While he didn’t light the world on fire, Tebow played valiantly and led a comeback victory in his first and only win of his career. The defense, with only one All-Pro caliber player in Champ Bailey, was consistently torched last year. The darkest moment? 59-14. Against Oakland. At home. Oakland scored 38 unanswered points to start the game. Granted, Denver’s best pass rusher Elvis Dumervil missed the whole season, but I’m not sure Elvis could have made much of an impact to a squad that looked so poor throughout the year. Head coach Josh McDaniels was fired in the middle of the season after Spygate 2: Electric Boogaloo and an overall crappy team performance. He seemed to think that he could run the show by himself, and clearly, he could not.

2011 Prospects: This season doesn’t look too much better for Broncos, as new coach John Fox has barely even talked to his players. New coaches are at some disadvantage this year compared to the past few because they weren’t able to hold OTAs to communicate with and coach players during the offseason. Though training camp is still intact, I have a feeling it won’t be easy assimilating new talent and old with a new defensive system: especially a defense as barren as Denver’s. They also didn’t get any help from the schedule makers; Denver pulled the AFC East (boasting two of the elite teams in the conference) and the NFC North (my favorite division this year) as their out-of-division match-ups. Since they are in a poor position with the salary cap, they were not (yet) able to attract a key free agent. Instead, they have picked up a bunch of average guys and former draft busts for cheap. While something is better than nothing, they could have benefited with an Albert Haynesworth or Brandon Mebane (they DID add former Patriot Ty Warren who, if healthy, will be a nice addition to their weakest position). I am excited to see how rookie Von Miller performs this year; SI’s Jim Trotter noted that Champ Bailey thought Miller was a very special talent. Today, they just lost Ryan Harris – a very good right tackle; rookie Orlando may be expected to fill in ASAP. When talking Knowshon Moreno: even though he’s had a rough start to his career, he could thrive in Fox’s running scheme. The Broncos thrived under Shanahan with his zone blocking, which Fox will employ, but possibly at the risk of the passing game.. Perhaps the main problem for Denver is their quarterback controversy: who will start? Will Orton stay or be dealt? If they attract a sweet deal from a team in dire need of a signal caller, I think Orton is gone and Tebow will be given the reins. As it stands now, Orton looks to be QB1 for the season (or until there is some trade value built up mid-season). I do think the team will be slightly better than last year, but it would really hard not to after that train crash.

Sleeper Fantasy Player to Have: Knowshon Moreno (RB)

Bust Fantasy Player to Avoid: Brandon Lloyd (WR)

 

Kansas City Chiefs

2010 Record: 10-6

Notable Additions: Jonathan Baldwin (WR), Rodney Huston (G), Ricky Stanzi (QB – 5th round), Steve Breaston (WR), Kelly Gregg (DT), Brandon Siler (LB), Le’Ron McClain (FB/RB)

Notable Team Free Agents/Possible Departures: Ron Edwards (DT), Mike Vrabel (LB), Shaun Smith (DT), Brian Waters (G)

Strengths: Running game (Jamaal Charles), offensive line, secondary, linebackers (Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali)

Weaknesses: Receivers minus Dwayne Bowe, defensive line, running game (Thomas Jones),

2010 Season Summary: Much to the surprise of many football fans and writers (except Football Outsiders), the Kansas Chiefs were not bad last year. In fact, they won the AFC West and hosted a home playoff game. It wasn’t necessarily important that Baltimore rolled them at home; the Chiefs had already passed most people’s expectations. The Chiefs succeeded due to these three reasons: their schedule, Jamaal Charles, and Tamba Hali. Now boiling down a team of 53’s formula to three factors isn’t fair, but I’ll do it anyways. And yes, Dwayne Bowe had some monstrous performances throughout the year, but he was also the subject of LOTS of criticism in terms of dropping balls and not showing up in certain games. Alternatively, Charles was tremendous last year. He became the third player since the 1970 merger with at least 200 carries to average at least six yards per carry. The other two men guilty of that crime against defenses? Barry Sanders and O.J. Simpson (yay, he’s guilty of something)! Charles almost surpassed Jim Brown’s NFL Record of 6.40 YPC, but failed in his last game to do so. On the other side of the ball, Hali was a beast and a nightmare for opposing passers; he tore down the quarterback 14.5 times last season

2011 Prospects: Hali will be a key piece of their future defense, and with Eric Berry and the two Brandons behind him, a little help up front would go a long way (perhaps a free agent). If another pass rushing force emerges for Kansas City, it would be very beneficial to Hali, because currently, he is their only threat getting to the opposition. As hard as Denver’s schedule looks this year, the Chiefs have a harder one, swapping out the Broncos’ opponents in the Bengals and the Titans for the Steelers and the Colts. Yikes. If Jamaal Charles receives more of a workload, or they find a back that is better than Thomas Jones (8/10: Le’Ron McClain gives a great power contrast to Charles’ speed), they will have the strongest running game in the league. Their main offensive problem will be establishing another receiving target for Matt Cassel. Bowe received a ton of attention from teams later in the year as Cassel was throwing it to him so much. If Bowe was shut down, the passing game failed. Look for newly drafted receiver Jonathan Baldwin or last year’s rookie tight end Tony Moeaki to step their games up. Also: the Steve Breaston signing should help take the load off Bowe. Breaston succeeded under Coach Todd Haley in Arizona, and is reunited with him now. I don’t foresee a large drop off here, but with the angry Chargers looming, it may be hard to win another division title.

Sleeper Fantasy Player to Have: Steve Breaston (WR)

Fantasy Bust to Avoid: Dwayne Bowe (WR)

 

Oakland Raiders

2010 Record: 8-8

Notable Additions: Stefen Wisniewski (C), Trent Edwards (QB), Kevin Boss (TE)

Notable Team Free Agents/Possible Departures: Nnamdi Asomugha (CB), Robert Gallery (G), Zach Miller (TE), Samson Satele (C), Bruce Gradkowski (QB), Thomas Howard (LB)

Strengths: Running game, front 7, safeties

Weaknesses: Receiving playmakers, corners, offensive line

2010 Season Summary: The Raiders don’t play a particularly pretty brand of football, but they avoided their eighth season with double-digit losses with an 8-8 outing. The Tom Cable led squad had a very up and down season, from losing their season opener by 25 points, to killing Denver by 45 in the middle of the year, to being embarrassed by the future AFC Champion Steelers in Week 11, to flattening the AFC West winning Chiefs on their home field to close out the year. The revelation for Oakland was Darren McFadden. In his third year, McFadden showed signs of justifying the fourth overall selection in the 2008 Draft that the Raiders spent on him. Even though he missed some games, he produced at a very high level when he played. Richard Seymour played very well too on the defensive side, proving that the pick they gave up for him wasn’t the highway robbery people thought that trade would be (the main thought being Seymour would walk after a year).

2011 Prospects: With a new head coach in last year’s offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, the Raiders’ roster is relatively intact. A large issue and hole could arises now that Nnamdi Asomugha has departed for Philadelphia; that leaves them with Stanford Routt as their top corner. They desperately need to get another body there (even with newly drafted Miami CB DeMarcus Van Dyke). I expect their front seven to play well, but without the help on the edges, the corners could lose them some games. On the offensive side, if Hue Jackson deviates from a run-first focus, I would be shocked. Considering that he was, as previously mentioned, the offensive coordinator, he would probably have split personalities if the Raiders decided to chuck it downfield 50 yards every play. His best skill position player is undoubtedly Darren McFadden and priority number one should be getting the ball in his hands. Michael Bush is a very capable backup and a nice complement to McFadden’s speed game with his more power-centric approach. Since Zach Miller didn’t stick around, the passing game’s main threat is gone, unless Darrius Heyward-Bey can step up his game and Louis Murphy can become more consistent. Or, if Jacoby Ford isn’t a one-trick-return-pony, and he learns to catch.New tight end Kevin Boss will have to fill the void left by the great Miller.

Sleeper Fantasy Player to Have: Michael Bush (RB)

Fantasy Bust to Avoid: Any receiver – don’t draft any of them.

 

San Diego Chargers

2010 Record: 9-7

Notable Additions: Corey Liuget (DT), Marcus Gilchrist (CB), Jonas Mouton (LB), Takeo Spikes (LB), Travis LaBoy (LB), Laurent Robinson (WR), Bob Sanders (S)

Notable Team Free Agents/Possible Departures: Darren Sproles (RB), Kevin Burnett (LB), Legedu Naanee (WR), Brandon Siler (LB)

Strengths: Passing game, pass defense, run defense, linebackers

Weaknesses: Offensive line, special teams, running game

2010 Season Summary: By traditional metrics, the San Diego Chargers were the best team in the league; they led the NFL in yards gained and allowed, second in points scored and tenth in points allowed. However, the whole special teams unit threw a wrench in their tumultuous 9-7 season. They were far and away the favorites in the AFC West, and even though they had a traditionally slow start, they could not rebound like year’s past to make the playoffs. Philip Rivers had a phenomenal season, racking up 4,710 yards, 30 touchdowns and 13 interceptions; Rivers was sacked 38 times, a fault shared with him and the offensive line. Malcom Floyd was great filling in for Vincent Jackson with a great 19.4 yards per reception, and the typically elite Antonio Gates was on form, with the exception of his injury. Rookie running back Ryan Mathews disappointed in his rookie campaign, failing to reach 1,000 yards in an injury plagued year. On defense, Shaun Phillips was an absolute monster, recording 11 sacks and a pick from outside linebacker. Eric Weddle and Kevin Burnett also played well. The real issue was special teams. San Diego had one of the worst special teams’ years I can remember. Long snapping was an issue throughout the year; they allowed critical kickoff returns to end games; and even though Nate Kaeding and Mike Scifres played well, the rest of the unit would allow big gains on easy plays.

2011 Prospects: I must say, if the Chargers disappoint this year, Norv Turner has to be gone; yet, I think they will avoid a (relative) let down this year and win the AFC West. You could make the case, if you were convincing that Philip Rivers is a top-five quarterback. He sure as hell played like it last season. I think Ryan Mathews will come out of his shell and be able to run very effectively, even with Mike Tolbert there. The passing game will be firing on all cylinders since they kept Malcom Floyd and added the capable Laurent Robinson to partner with Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates. Defensively is where things could fall apart if they lose veterans and the rookies can’t fill in soon. San Diego used their first three picks on defense, which will definitely help strengthen an already deep squad. If their special teams’ hiccups are resolved, then San Diego can be a contender from the West. The problem is that whenever you think you have the Chargers penned for what they are, they seem to fail to reach those expectations. They will need to come out fast and hard to shut down out of division opponents.

Sleeper Fantasy Player to Have: Ryan Mathews (RB)

Fantasy Bust to Avoid: Malcom Floyd (WR)

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Kyle says:

    Thanks for naming the two UTexas players as the strengths of Kansas City. I appreciate it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s