Tuesday, September 3, 2013

2013 NFL Predictions - AFC West

1) Denver Broncos

It didn’t end well (keep your head up Rahim Moore), but Peyton Manning’s first season back was a huge success.  How will they follow up a 13 win and #1 seed season that ended with a deeply deflating loss?

As if Manning and this passing game wasn’t dangerous enough already, the Broncos stole Tom Brady’s security blanket, Wes Welker.  I wouldn’t think he’s going to catch 100 balls in an offense that already has a legit #1 in Demaryius Thomas and a solid #2 in Eric Decker, but I’m sure he’d be happy with another deep playoff run.  Thomas is easily a top 10 receiver in the league.  He’s not as refined as Marshall, Cobb, or Green, but only Calvin Johnson trumps him from a dominance potential standpoint in my opinion.  I think Manning has another MVP caliber season or two in him, and having that trio of receivers will extend that window.  They also got better in the running game, adding Montee Ball in the draft.  Last year’s Doak Walker winner is expected to eventually sit atop the Broncos depth chart, but for now it looks like he and Ronnie Hillman will be sharing those duties.    

Let’s get the bad news out of the way.  Defensive stud Von Miller, he of 30 sacks in two years as a pro, is out for the first 6 games of the season due to repeated violations of the league’s substance abuse policy.  This was on the heels of losing Elvis Dumervil to a bizarre contract mix up and after missing out on Dwight Freeney and John Abraham in free agency.  So that’s well more than half of their sack production that is either playing elsewhere or suspended for a third of the season.   They need that Robert Ayers to play like a starter more now than ever.  Last year’s second round pick, Derek Wolfe, looks like a steal.  He played all along the line last year but settles in as the starting RE this year.  They brought in Terrance Knighton and drafted Sylvester Williams to give them a large three man rotation at tackle.  After the way last year ended, the spotlight should be awfully bright on this secondary.  Future HOFer Champ Bailey remains at left corner, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was brought in on the cheap to start on the right side.  Tony Carter and Chris Harris are nice depth.  Here’s hoping Rahim Moore makes a game-winning play or two this year. 

Is this still the team that ran off 11 straight wins starting in October?  How much will they miss Miller? 

MVP – Peyton Manning
Breakout – Montee Ball
Disappointment – Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

2) Kansas City Chiefs

When you have the worst record in the league, change is expected.  Change happened.  Andy Reid takes over as head coach after another forgettable season in Philly.  Can he turn around a franchise that has had one winning season out of the last six?

Alex Smith isn’t Len Dawson, but he’s an upgrade over the Cassel-Thigpen-Huard trio that languished in KC for the last seven seasons.  The former Niner should give Reid his high percentage, albeit low risk passer.  Smith had become a better protector of the football over the last couple of seasons, so at a minimum he’s unlikely to be the turnover machine Cassel became.  If Jamaal Charles has been paying attention to things in Philly, he should be ecstatic about Reid taking over.  Charles is one of the most dynamic backs in the league and will undoubtedly be used in the same manner Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy were in Philly.  I expect him to have a huge year.  Dwayne Bowe should be happy now.  He got paid, and as long as he’s still hungry, he’s got a chance to be a huge producer in the most explosive offensive he’s been a part of as a pro.  They still lack anything behind Bowe and gave up on bust Jon Baldwin by dealing him to San Fran.  Expect to see a lot of Charles and Bowe.  The Chiefs spent the #1 overall pick in the draft on Eric Fisher, who for now will start at right tackle with Branden Albert remaining at left tackle.  With those two and Rodney Hudson and Jon Asamoah, the Chiefs have one the better young lines in the game. 

You’ve got to be impressed with the young talent on this Chiefs defense.  The front seven is anchored by the trio of Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, and Derrick Johnson.  Houston is the guy I wanted the Bucs to get the year they drafted Clayborn and Bowers.  Last year he registered 9.5 sacks or 2.5 sacks less than what Clayborn and Bowers have combined for in their careers.  But I digress.  Hali barely missed out on his third straight double digit sack season and pairs with Houston for one of the more impressive pass rushing duos in the game.  Johnson does a great job of containing the action up front, and what does get past him is usually snuffed out by Eric Berry.  The Chiefs safety has a year under his belt from that knee injury and should be poised for the best season of his career.  The Chiefs already had the very dependable Brandon Flowers at one corner spot, but the Chiefs doubled down this offseason bringing in both Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson.  The Broncos/Chiefs matchups should be interesting. 

I don’t want to overhype a team that won just two games the previous season, but this is a club that had five Pro Bowlers last year, six if you count punter Dustin Colquitt.  The division is wide open behind the Broncos, and the Chiefs have enough talent and, now, coaching to be a playoff threat.

MVP – Jamaal Charles
Breakout – Eric Berry
Disappointment – Sean Smith

3) San Diego Chargers

I consider it an accomplishment that last year’s Chargers team won seven games.  They weren’t very good on either side of the ball, and I can’t say I’m impressed with their efforts to improve.

Things for the Chargers start and end with Philip Rivers.  Once thought of as the shield’s heir apparent to Brady and Manning, Rivers may become irrelevant before either legend is out of the game.  He’s coming off two straight disappointing seasons and doesn’t appear to be showing signs of coming back.  All of these guys are competitive, but I’ve got to think that someone as physically animated as Rivers often is has to be wearing down due to continually falling short of expectations.  Speaking of falling short, Ryan Mathews certainly hasn’t become the workhorse the Chargers were hoping they traded up in the draft for in ’10.  He has the physical gifts and has had an impressive preseason.  Is this his year?  I do like their acquisition of Danny Woodhead, the free agent from New England.  Don’t be surprised if the Chadron State product is a big part of the offense.  San Diego is still trying to replace Vincent Jackson.  Malcolm Floyd, Vincent Brown, Eddie Royal, and rookie Keenan Allen lead a receiver group that should have Rivers shaking his head a lot again this year.  Antonio Gates is supposedly finally over his foot issues, but how much does he have left at this point?

Corey Liuget is the best player up front, and they’ll need a big second year from him as last year’s first round pick Melvin Ingram looks to be out for the year with an ACL injury.  Dwight Freeney was signed to stop the bleeding, but how successful will he be at 33 and without the Indy turf?  The other OLB, Jarrett Johnson, didn’t make much of an impact in his first year as a Charger.  As if I didn’t have enough reasons to be down on this squad, they went out and drafted drama queen Manti Te’o to solidify the middle of the defense.  I can’t say I’m optimistic.  Not that they could afford it, but the Chargers took a big step back at corner this offseason, replacing the departed Antoine Caron and Quentin Jammer with Derek Cox and Shareece Wright.  Eric Weddle is the only guy in the secondary that causes offenses to pause.

The only thing keeping this team out of the basement is the Raiders. 

MVP – Eric Weddle
Breakout – Corey Liuget
Disappointment – Manti Te’o

4) Oakland Raiders

I’ll be quick here. 

After the failed Carson Palmer experiment, the Raiders are starting over yet again at QB.  Matt Flynn sat behind Russell Wilson last year, and he may end up sitting behind Terrell Pryor this year.  The former Seahawk and Packer had a bad preseason, and the more physically gifted, yet mechanically inept Pryor may be given the job.  Either way, the Raiders will feature a limited passer as the #1 QB for a team with limited weapons.  Darren McFadden is still looking for his first 16 game season as a pro, and with his wreck of an offensive line, he’s unlikely to see 16 this year either.  McFadden is the name, but I think Marcel Reece is the better pure player in the backfield.  With the departures of Brandon Myers and Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore is the lone passing game weapon, and with Flynn’s lack of arm strength, the Raiders won’t be able to utilize Moore’s greatest asset of tremendous deep speed. 

Richard Seymour, Desmond Bryant, Tommy Kelly, Michael Huff, and draft disappointment Rolando McClain are all gone.  Lamarr Houston is their best player up front, which isn’t saying much if you scan the depth chart.  Defensive tackle signings Pat Sims and Vance Walker should help against the run, but they’ve got no one outside of Houston to put pressure on the passer.  The linebacker unit is uninspiring, and the starting cornerback duo of Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter should be picked apart regularly.  Charles Woodson must really love football (and/or money) to return to this mess.

This squad is my favorite to pick first in next year’s draft.

MVP – Marcel Reece
Breakout – no one
Disappointment – Flynn/Pryor; whoever plays more games at QB

Division MVP – Peyton Manning
Division Breakout – Eric Berry
Division Disappointment – Flynn/Pryor; whoever plays more games at QB

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