by Robert Ferringo - 07/24/2005
All I'm saying is - bet the over.
I hate to go to the cheesy Wild, Wild West reference when talking about the AFC's Left Coast representatives, but good god. Their divisional games will look like Arena League contests this season. San Diego, Denver, Kansas City and Oakland combined to score 1,650 points last year. That was tops in the league - by a lot. They also gave up 1,494 points, meaning the average score of one of their games was 26-23. These teams should be even more explosive and entertaining this year.
So, the teams realized that in a division full of high-octane offenses the club with the best defense should come out on top, right? Not quite. In fact, it went the other way.
Enter Randy Moss.
In the league's most high-profile offseason move, Randy Moss was acquired from the Minnesota Vikings by the Oakland Raiders in exchange for linebacker Napoleon Harris and the No. 7 pick in the draft. Moss instantly transforms the Raiders from side show to front row. Not content with getting Moss, Oakland went out and picked up LaMont Jordan to solidify the running game. A lot of heads turned when the Raiders picked up Moss, whose issues on and off the field led to him getting shipped out of Minnesota. But if there's anything that owner Al Davis loves, it's a badass whose very presence intimidates the other team.
Even with the upgrades, is Oakland's offense better than Kansas City's? The Kansas City Chiefs have been one of the highest scoring teams in the NFL since 2000. Last year Peyton Manning and Indianapolis Colts were lauded for ringing up points at an astronomical rate. Well, Indy only scored about 50 more than the Chiefs. The game that best defined K.C.'s domination was their 59-10 maiming of the Atlanta Falcons (yeah, the same Atlanta that went to the NFC Championship Game). The Chiefs were actually the only team that looks appreciably better on defense this year, but that's not saying much on a team that gave up about four touchdowns a game.
Even the Denver Broncos put up over 30 points in six of its games. The Broncos are easily the most balanced of the four teams in this division. Last year they were the only squad in the NFL to rank in the top 5 in both offense and defense. They are still led by the enigmatic Jake Plummer, who is a turnover waiting to happen. But he still has enough moxie to make you believe he could take them to the next level. However, you know that tremendous, enormous, ridiculous mental block that Indianapolis has about New England? Well, Denver has one about that same size when it comes to the Colts.
Last, but not least, that leaves us the defending division champions. The San Diego Chargers had an outstanding year last year, with Drew Brees and Antonio Gates taking the NFL by storm. Their overtime loss at home to the Jets in the Divisional Round has to still sting, and all 22 starters from that team are back to try to make amends. The Chargers were only 1-5 against playoff teams last year. They took advantage of an easy schedule, but they won't have that luxury this year. They play seven playoff teams from 2004 this season, including Philadelphia and New England on the road. It will be tough, but I think they have the balance and experience to make another run at a playoff spot.
2005 AFC West previewSAN DIEGO CHARGERS
2004 Record: 12-5 (7-2 home, 5-3 road)
2004 Rankings: 10th offense (16 pass, 6 run); 18th defense (31 pass, 3 run)
2004 Against the Spread: 13-2-2 (6-2-1 home, 7-0-1 road); 9-8 vs. over (6-3 h, 3-5 r)
2005 Odds: 25-1 to win Super Bowl, 15-1 to win AFC, 5-2 to win AFC West, 8 as O/U win total
2005 Strength of Schedule: 2nd (.543 opponents 2004 win %)
Returning starters: 22 (11 offense, 11 defense)
Key acquisition: Shawne Merriman, LB (draft)
Key departure: Tim Dwight, KR/WR (to N.E.)
Key stat: The 29 sacks out of their defense was the third worst total in the league.
Offense: With slick LaDainian Tomlinson running and bulldozer Lorenzo Neal plowing the road, they scored 24 rushing touchdowns last year. That number was second to Kansas City's 31. With Antonio Gates as a match up nightmare, Drew Brees will always have a go-to guy in the passing game. They were the fourth best team on third down last year, converting 46.6 percent.
Defense: Despite their lack of pressure on the quarterback, they still managed to intercept 23 passes, good for third in the league. However, that 31st ranked pass defense needs to improve considering the WRs they'll face. Donnie Edwards is back to lead an underrated linebacking core. If they're still in the top 5 in rush defense at the end of this year, especially after facing Denver and Kansas City twice apiece, that means they won more than 10 games.
X-factors: Reche Caldwell and Eric Parker. Keenan McCardell is 35, so I don't know if you can still count on him to catch 80+ balls. The other WRs have to make some strides (Caldwell was playing well before his season ended prematurely in '04) to keep defenses honest and prevent teams from stacking against LT.
Outlook: A lot of people expect a big drop off from the Bolts (especially with such a tough schedule). But they are the only team to return all 22 starters, and they still do what it takes to win: run the ball, and stop the run. If they keep doing that, I see them returning to the playoffs.
2004 Record: 10-7 (6-2 home, 4-5 road)
2004 Rankings: 5th offense (6 pass, 4 run); 4th defense (6 pass, 4 run)
2004 Against the Spread: 6-8-3 (3-4-1 home, 3-4-1 road); 7-8-2 vs. over (4-2-2 h, 3-6 r)
2005 Odds: 35-1 to win Super Bowl, 17-1 to win AFC, 13-5 to win AFC West, 8.5 as O/U win total
2005 Strength of Schedule: 10th (.523 opp. win %)
Returning starters: 16 (9 offense, 7 defense)
Key acquisitions: Stephen Alexander, TE (from Detroit); Ian Gold, LB (from TB); Jerry Rice, WR (from Seattle); Ron Dayne, RB (from NYG); Courtney Brown, DE (from Cleve); Gerard Warren, DT (from Cleve); Michael Myers, DT (from Cleve); Ebenezer Ekuban, DE (from Cleve); Todd Sauerbrun, P (from Carolina)
Key departures: Kelly Herndon, CB (to Seattle); Reuben Droughns, RB (to Cleve); Reggie Hayward, DE (to Jax); Kenoy Kennedy, S (to Detroit); Dan Neil, G
Key stat: Denver hasn't won a playoff game in six years A.E. (after Elway).
Offense: They're going to have a 1,000-yard back. We know that. But can their receivers play well enough to help out Jake the Snake? Rod Smith looks like he's about 50 years old, and Ashley Lelie disappears too often. Plummer threw for over 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns. However, he also had 20 interceptions. It's been the knock on him his entire career - consistency. Until he finds it, they can't take the next step.
Defense: In one of the strangest offseason makeovers ever, the Broncos - they of the 4th ranked run defense - picked up all four starters from the previous season's worst rush defense. Denver (94 rush yards per game) now has four former Browns (144 rypg). The secondary takes a hit losing Herndon and Kennedy. But they tried to make up for it by taking three speedy corners with their first three draft picks.
X-factor: Plummer is too obvious. Instead I'll go with Ian Gold. He's two years removed from ACL surgery, and Denver's hoping that he'll have a the same type of effect in his second tour as Jeremiah Trotter did in his return to Philly last year.
Outlook: Like Plummer, this team is maddening. Seven of their 10 wins were by double digits. But four of their losses were by 13, 13, 28 and 25. You figure it out. It's all or nothing with these guys.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
2004 Record: 7-9 (4-4 home, 3-5 road)
2004 Rankings: 1st offense (4 pass, 5 run); 31st defense (32 pass, 12 run)
2004 Against the Spread: 6-10 (3-5 home, 3-5 road); 10-6 vs. over (5-3 h, 5-3 r)
2005 Odds: 14-1 to win Super Bowl, 11-1 to win AFC, 11-5 to win AFC West, 9.5 as O/U win total
2005 Strength of Schedule: 5th (.535 opp. win %)
Returning starters: 21 (11 offense, 10 defense)
Key acquisitions: Kendrell Bell, LB (from Pitt); Sammy Knight, S (from Miami); Patrick Surtain, CB (from Miami); Freddie Mitchell, WR (from Philly); Derrick Johnson, LB (draft)
Key departures: Monty Beisel, LB (to NE); Derrick Blaylock, RB (to NYJ); Vonnie Holliday, DE (to Miami); Johnnie Morton, WR (to SF)
Key stat: They had 398 first downs last year, 19 more than Indianapolis.
Offense: Well, this isn't the problem. They've been one of the top 5 scoring offenses over the last four years. They averaged 30.2 per game last year, only three less than Indianapolis. The offensive line is a year older, but they'll still manhandle 90 percent of the defenses they face. I don't know if you can have a quiet 102-catch season, but Tony Gonzalez did.
Defense: Kansas City hasn't finished higher than 29th in total defense the last three years. Surtain and Knight were nice pickups, but Bell is a gamble. Everyone is raving about Johnson, the top defensive player in the draft who was a steal at 15. They actually have depth this year, meaning that last year's questionable starter is this year's solid backup. Their linebackers are much better, their secondary is much better, and their D-line is full of high picks that need to start performing.
X-factors: Larry Johnson and Freddie Mitchell. Priest Holmes is starting to wear down and looks vulnerable. Also, Johnson has had some "issues" with coach Dick Vermeil. Fred-X needs to put up or shut up. Wideouts have never been the strong suit of this offense, but they still need consistent production. Mitchell (despite what he says) has been a huge bust so far.
Outlook: They still have more than enough firepower, and I think they'll be in the wild card hunt in Week 17. But their offense can be stopped. Four times they scored less than 20 points in '04. That happened to the Colts only once.
2004 Record: 5-11 (3-5 home, 2-6 road)
2004 Rankings: 17th offense (8 pass, 32 run); 30th defense (30 pass, 22 run)
2004 Against the Spread: 6-10 (2-6 home, 4-4 road); 10-6 vs. over (4-4 h, 6-2 r)
2005 Odds: 18-1 to win Super Bowl, 18-1 to win AFC, 16-5 to win AFC West, 8 as O/U win total
2005 Strength of Schedule: 9th (.527 opp. win %)
Returning starters: 17 (9 offense, 8 defense)
Key acquisitions: Randy Moss, WR (from Minn); LaMont Jordan, RB (from NYJ); Derrick Burgess, DE (from Philly); Ed Jasper, DT (from ATL) Key departures: Napoleon Harris, LB (to Minn); Philip Buchanon, CB (to Houston); Doug Jolley, TE (to NYJ); John Parrella, DT
Key stats: 72 percent of Oakland's plays (582 of 809) were passes. That was the highest pass/run ratio in the league.
Offense: Booooooooooombs away! Yup, with Moss, Jerry Porter, Ronald Curry and Doug Gabriel, they have one of the most absurdly athletic receiving cores in NFL history. Jordan has been tough, averaging about five yards per carry for his career. That's easy when you're only getting 93 carries in a season. The key is the offensive line. Barry Sims and Robert Gallery at the tackles anchor what is a pretty good crew.
Defense: 31st in points allowed, 30th in yards allowed, 30th in passing yards, 32nd in time of possession. You make the call. It appears that they're going back to the 4-3 base - which better fits their personnel - after a horrific season in the 3-4. With Jasper and Warren Sapp clogging the middle, and if Burgess could get some pressure…they might not give up 500 points this year. The linebackers are terrible, and they still have the overrated and overpaid Charles Woodson at corner.
X-factor: Jordan. He may get some help from Zack Crockett and Justin Fargas, but Jordan needs to carry the load. With teams having to focus so much on Moss and Co., that should only leave 6 or 7 in the box. If he stays healthy the offense could be a top 3 unit.
Outlook: When they play Kansas City we could see 100 points. However, defense wins championships and the Raiders are about eight players away from having a good one.
If you enjoyed Doc's 2005 AFC West preview, check back throughout the week for more NFL division previews.
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