Tuesday, September 7, 2010

2010 NFL Predictions - AFC West

If you had said on October 19 of last year that the Chargers would win the AFC West and Denver would miss the playoffs, I would have said you were nuts. On that day, the Broncos won a Monday Night Football matchup at the Chargers to go 6-0 on the year and sent San Diego to 2-3. It looked like clear sailing from there on for the Broncos. Instead, they would finish the year with just two more victories, and the Chargers would go on to win the remainder of their regular season contests, all eleven of them. The Raiders were once again a bad football team, finishing third for the third straight year. Oakland has finished third or worse every year since ’03. The Chiefs somehow finished behind the Raiders which underscores just how miserable their ’09 was.

Predicted order of finish

1) San Diego Chargers
Philip Rivers really impressed me last year, showing the ability to lead his team to meaningful victories on the road. That’s what championship QBs do. As part of that eleven game win streak, San Diego was able to defeat the Giants, Broncos, and Cowboys on their home turf. Rivers is entering the prime of his career, and I think his swagger, fiery personality, and improvisation skills are Brett Favrely familiar. I expect continued growth from Rivers this season as he and Aaron Rodgers begin to separate themselves from the rest of the younger QB pack. Rivers is going to have a tough go of it early it appears, as he’ll be without his top WR Vincent Jackson for at least the first three games of the season, at least. Still, he’ll have the game’s best TE to throw to, and rookie RB Ryan Mathews to ease his offensive burden. I like what they’re doing in the secondary, especially at safety. Up-and-coming Eric Weddle covers the entire field at FS, and I’m expecting huge things from him in this his fourth year as a pro. The Chargers are replacing the Steve Gregory / Kevin Ellison SS combo with Darrell Stuckey, the rookie from Kansas. Stuckey has impressive strength and closing ability, and I think his skill set is a really nice compliment to Weddle’s. Quentin Jammer enters his eighth season as a starting corner and is still in the shutdown category. With Antonio Cromartie and his child support payments heading east, Antoine Cason steps into the starting lineup across from Jammer.

Reasons for optimism –
Rivers’ back-to-back elite level seasons in ’08 and ‘09
Replacing an aging LaDainian Tomlinson with a promising rookie
Eric Weddle’s development as one of the conference’s best defenders

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
Shawne Merriman contribute nothing for a third year in a row
The OL struggles to block/protect without Marcus McNeil
Antonio Garay and Cam Thomas fail to improve the unit’s run defense

2) Kansas City Chiefs
If there was anything positive to come out of a 4-12 season and third consecutive sub .500 finish it was the emergence of RB Jamal Charles. In just ten starts, Charles rushed for 1,120 yards, good for 11th in the league, and was also the teams second leading receiver, hauling in 40 passes. It’s too early to call Charles an elite back, but he has elite game-breaking ability. He’s not going to be a Michael Turner type pounder between the tackles, but as I guesstimated when he came out of college, he can handle being more than a third down change of pace player. Dwayne Bowe has a chance to be one of the game’s best receivers if he can stay out of Todd Haley’s doghouse. Can Matt Cassel improve upon a sub-3000 yard 16 TD 16 INT season? He’ll need to if they’re going to finish second in this division. Watch for Tamba Hali to have a huge year as a pass rusher.

Reasons for optimism –
A full season of Jamaal Charles could produce a ton of Chris Johnson comparisons
Brandon Flowers is quickly and quietly becoming one of the game’s best corners
R1 pick Eric Berry gives them a needed playmaker in the back of the defense

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
Matt Cassel can’t become anything more than Matt Cassel
The OL peaked late last year
The DL fails to show up again this year

3) Denver Broncos
Denver’s bye came at a horrible time last year. After a six game win streak to start the season, the Broncos sat out week seven. When they resumed play, Denver went on to win just two of their last ten games. If they’re going to be competitive this season, their defense needs to quit giving up so many damn points. They had two separate stretches, four and five games, where they allowed 20 points or more, including a combined 55 points to the Chargers in their two matchups. One guy who will get more of the blame than he probably should is QB Kyle Orton. If you believe what some say about the guy, you’d think he was this over the hill washed up QB when it reality he’s a five year vet with a 29-19 record as a starting QB. I don’t think he’s going to be an Aaron Rodgers or Matt Schaub, but the guy can run an offense. Knowshon Moreno’s hamstring injury isn’t inspiring a ton of confidence in the run game, and they’ll be without Brandon Marshall and his 100+ catches. Looks like a long year to me.

Reasons for optimism –
Unlike last year Eddie Royal will apparently be used on offense this season
Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins might not be young, but they can still play at a high level

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
Moreno’s hamstring injury hampers him all year
No one fails to step up as a #1 receiver
Ayers and Moss fail to produce half as many sacks as Dumervil did on his own in ‘09

4) Oakland Raiders
Oakland had one of the league’s worst offenses last year, and I think it’s safe to say that at least 120% of it was due to the bustastic wonder that is JaMarcus Russell. In three shoddy seasons as a pro, Russell exhibited zero leadership skills and carried himself around like he was doing the world a favor by being the worst starting QB in the game. Effort and hard work apparently aren’t part of Russell’s vocab, and he’s now, rightfully, found himself out of the league. Stepping in to give the Raiders life at the position is Jason Campbell, the former Redskins starter. Campbell is familiar with chaos, so Oakland will be nothing new for him. During his five seasons in Washington, Campbell had about 35 offensive coordinators each with a different system for him to learn. He’s not a tremendous downfield passer, but he’s athletic and can maneuver an offense downfield when given a second or two (unlike he was behind Washington’s line). Campbell could be the best they’ve had at the position since Rich Gannon.

Reasons for optimism –
They’ll line up a QB behind center this year
Rolando McClain looks to bring stability to the defense at MLB
Nnamdi Asamogha, one of the game’s top corners, and Tyvon Brandy, one of the game’s more underrated defenders, roaming the secondary

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
The OL remains horrid, negating the upgrade at QB
McFadden continues to be a McFlop leaving Bush as the only reliable runner
The reshuffled and restocked DL fails to generate pressure

Conference Awards
MVP (best talent in biggest role) – Philip Rivers
Offensive POY (most impressive season) – Jamal Charles
Defensive POY – Eric Weddle
Offensive ROY – Ryan Mathews
Defensive ROY – Rolando McClain
Offensive Breakout Player – Michael Bush (if his hand injury isn’t too serious)
Defensive Breakout Player – Tamba Hali

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