August 23, 2006
NFL Preview: AFC West
Denver: First, the Broncos were part of a three-team trade completed this morning, sending WR Ashley Lelie to Atlanta, former Falcons RB T.J. Duckett to Washington, and draft picks to Denver. Lelie had been a major distraction for the Broncos during camp, and they felt it was better to send him somewhere else. Denver had a surprising 13-3 season last year, winning the division and going to the AFC championship game. The Broncos will continue their running-back-by-committee ways this year, with undrafted rookie Mike Bell likely to get the majority of carries at the beginning of the year. First-round draft pick Jay Cutler has, by all indications, looked very good in training camp, but he won't take over this team until next year at the earliest (barring an injury to Jake Plummer). Plummer last year became a decent NFL quarterback, which is good enough for this team. The defense overall was average last year, but they were very weak against the pass. One main reason was the fact that their linemen weren't able to get pressure on the quarterback, giving him time to pick apart the secondary. Champ Bailey is an excellent cornerback, but teams with multiple threats at the wide reciever position should be able to put points on the board. I expect somewhat of a regression for the Broncos this year, but still a playoff team. I'll go with 11-5.
Kansas City: Larry Johnson will finally get to start for the entire year with Priest Holmes old and injured, and his fantasy owners everywhere are salivating. (LJ should be the #1 pick in your fantasy league, by the way.) Johnson averaged 150 yards per game in nine starts, which projects out to 2400 years over a full season. He won't be able to keep up that pace, but he should be good for at least 1700-1800 yards this year, assuming he can stay healthy. Trent Green is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in football, and having LJ behind him should take even more pressure off the passing game and give Green more open targets. The offensive line isn't as strong as it was last year, but this offense still should have no trouble putting points on the board. The defense is another story, however. They picked up Ty Law to help shore up last year's 30th-ranked pass defense, but the 32-year-old cornerback will not be able to solve all the Chiefs' problems. New coach Herm Edwards will likely bring some new ideas to the defense, but whether they will be successful or not remains to be seen. I'm not sure if this team will be much better than last year's, but their schedule seems fairly easy. They were 10-6 last year, barely missing the playoffs, and this year I'll give them an 11-5 record and a wild-card berth.
Oakland: There are three very good teams in this division, and then there are the Raiders. The Raiders are coming off a 4-12 season last year, and they don't really look much better this year. They have a young offensive line and a bad running game, but their biggest problem right now is at quarterback. Aaron Brooks will be the opening day starter, but Randy Moss has already expressed displeasure with how Brooks is playing. But Brooks' backup, Andrew Walter, isn't likely to be making the Pro Bowl anytime soon, either. Walter has been playing well in the preseason, but he's not as talented as Brooks. This team has too much talent to go 4-12 again, but not enough to make a decent run at the playoffs. I can't see them doing much better than 6-10.
San Diego: The Chargers last year were considered one of the most talented teams in the league last year, but finished 9-7, two games out of a playoff spot. The disappointing record was not really a case of underachievement; rather, it was the Chargers' brutal schedule that did them in. This year, their schedule is a bit easier, but they have other questions. How will Phillip Rivers handle his first year in the spotlight? Rivers has been impressive so far in the preseason, but it's still just the preseason. If it turns out Rivers doesn't have what it takes to be a big-time QB (or at least a servicable one), then this franchise will be crippled for the rest of the decade. The Chargers defense last year wasn't great last year, especially against the pass (it's a good time to be an AFC West QB). San Diego has plenty of weapons on offense - especially TE Antonio Gates and RB LaDanian Tomlinson, who both are arguably the best in the league at their position. But there are questions on the offensive line, and overall this team has too many potential flaws that I can't put them in the playoffs. A 10-6 record keeps them in contention until Week 17, but they ultimately lose out and miss the postseason again.