Doc's 2007 AFC West Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 08/25/2007
The AFC West is the NLL League in the NFL: No Love Lost. All divisional rivalry games in professional football are salty, bloody struggles. But they are particularly testy on the Left Coast. And this year will be no different. The Chargers are the clear-cut No. 1 team in this division and have goals beyond a second-straight AFC West title. However, after that there is a steep drop-off in overall talent and the fight for second place should be a cold-blooded one.
Denver has the upper hand because of the overwhelming strength of its management. They have the second-most talent and the most experience in the division. Oakland is rebuilding around a stellar, scrappy defense, but will once again be leaving the offense in the hands of a Walking Disaster. Kansas City is in a bit of disarray. A quarterback controversy, the holdout of a star player, the suspension of their best defensive player, and some depth questions at several spots are all working against a repeat playoff appearance.
Here's Doc's 2007 AFC West Preview:
1) SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
2006 Record: 14-3 (8-1 home, 6-2 road)
2006 Against the Spread: 9-8 (5-4 home, 4-4 road); 10-7 vs. total (3-5 h, 3-3-1 r)
2006 Rankings: 3rd offense (2nd pass, 18th rush); 21st defense (2nd pass, 32nd rush)
2007 Odds: 6/1 to win SB, 3/1 to win AFC, 4/1 to win AFC West, 11.0 wins O/U
Outlook: My feelings about the Chargers are pretty clear: I just don't see how you can lose your head coach, both coordinators, and two starting linebackers and then come back and be better the next year. I just don't. There isn't much higher to go from the 14 wins they managed last season as is, but I still don't know if this is a Super Bowl squad. I mean, it's Norv Turner people. He's 58-82-1 as a coach for crying out loud.
The offense is still jacked. The defense is still vicious. I can't know the talent level. And I don't really have many complaints other than they don't have any proven receivers besides tight end Antonio Gates and their back seven isn't airtight (they can get to the quarterback just fine, but can they stay strong up the middle and can they defend the pass when teams do have time?). Also, their entire season rests on the shoulders of one player - and it's not LaDainian Tomlinson. The Chargers could manage with Michael Turner for 16 games. But if anything serious happens to Pro Bowl NT Jamal Williams this defense will crumble like a homeless person's shanty during a California earthquake. Also, the schedule is certainly more difficult this year, with games against Chicago, New England, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Baltimore dotting the schedule on top of the always-jovial divisional slate.
The Chargers have been the NFL's best team against the spread over the past three seasons (31-16-3), cashing at a phenomenal 66-percent clip. But how long can you really expect that to continue? This is the NFL, after all, and the books always correct the market on teams. The Chargers are a combined 2-14 against their opening three opponents (Chicago, New England, Green Bay) and I don't see them covering more than one of those lines. I think that start will set the tone for a season where the Chargers will return to the playoffs but won't be profitable while doing it.
2) DENVER BRONCOS
2006 Record: 9-7 (6-2 home, 3-5 road)
2006 Against the Spread: 12-7 (4-5 home, 8-2 road); 8-11 vs. total (3-6 h, 5-5 r)
2006 Rankings: 21st offense (25th pass, 8th rush); 14th defense (21st pass, 12th rush)
2007 Odds: 25/1 to win SB, 14/1 to win AFC, 1/6 to win AFC West, 9.0 wins O/U
Outlook: Prior to the preseason I had the Broncos pegged as the No. 1 team in this division. Mike Shanahan's famous pederast scowl is good for eight wins all on its own, and the running game and defense should be able to kick in two Ws on top of that. But the more I see from this team the less I like them. Injury, tragedy, free agency and trades have robbed them of talent and depth. Factor in that Jay Cutler isn't exactly what I would call a "winner" and things are shaky. A variety of red flags (weak/injured defense laying down at Dallas, memory of that choke job against San Fran in Week 17 last year, six of their last nine games on the road) have me bumping the Broncos out of the top spot and onto the playoff bubble.
I bust Cutler's balls about being a loser everywhere he's ever quarterbacked but the kid did look pretty good in the last three games of 2006. The Denver offense is well established and as user-friendly as Pam Anderson so it shouldn't be a stretch to think his numbers will be very good. Javon Walker is going to have a big year, but Rod Smith and Brandon Stokley are both already banged up. The offensive line is good, but not great, and although Travis Henry seems like a shoo-in for 1,400 yards keep in mind that he's only logged 300 carries twice in his six-year career (none since 2003).
Defensively, the Broncos were a disaster over the last seven games of the season. They were torched for an average of 27.7 points per game during that stretch and have certainly lost more from that unit than they've gained. Al Wilson, Michael Myers, Warrick Holdman, Darrent Williams and Gerard Warren were all key pieces of that unit. Besides swapping Dre Bly for Williams, none of the other starters have been ably replaced. Denver had trouble mustering a pass rush last season (35 sacks) so they spent their top two picks on ends (Tim Crowder, Jarvis Moss) that have been injured through most of camp. Two thumbs down.
3) OAKLAND RAIDERS
2006 Record: 2-14 (2-6 home, 0-8 road)
2006 Against the Spread: 6-10 (3-5 home, 3-5 road); 3-12-1 vs. total (2-6 h, 1-6-1 r)
2006 Rankings: 32nd offense (31st pass, 29th rush); 3rd defense (1st pass, 25th rush)
2007 Odds: 150/1 to win SB, 75/1 to win AFC, 15/1 to win AFC West, 5.0 wins O/U
Outlook: Just when you think that the Raiders get it, just when you think they're turning the corner, they do something to remind you why they are now one of the worst franchises in the NFL. To what am I referring? I'm referring to the fact that they seem ready to hand over the keys to one Daunte Culpepper. Stay with me here: Kerry Collins to Aaron Brooks to Daunte Culpepper. That's the trifecta right there. Those are the three worst quarterbacks to bet on, three of the most turnover-prone, soul crushing, overrated, maddeningly nonsensical, inconsistent quarterbacks that I have ever seen. And they are going to follow in a twisted, surreal, Polanski-like succession at the throne of the Raiders offense. Ken Stabler and Jim Plunkett are rolling over in their graves. Well, they would be if they had graves.
So that's it. The Raiders have one of the top five defenses in the league and a pair of solid running backs (LaMont Jordan and Dominic Rhodes). However, the ceiling for this team is five wins with Culpepper under center. The man with hands the size of a six-year-old girl is good for at least two awful turnovers per game and all he will do is sell out that spectacular D. Pepper is going to constantly put the defense in trying positions and make critical red zone mistakes. I don't think that Josh McCown is a savior. However, he does have a 9-8 record in his last 17 starts, and that was with the disgustingly bad 2005 and 2004 Arizona Cardinals. I say give him the keys, tell him not to make mistakes, and try to grind out 6-8 wins.
But I doubt they will. And that's why they're the Raiders.
4) KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
2006 Record: 9-8 (6-2 home, 3-6 road)
2006 Against the Spread: 8-9 (5-3 home, 3-6 road); 8-9 vs. total (4-4 h, 4-5 r)
2006 Rankings: 16th offense (22nd pass, 9th rush); 16th defense (18th pass, 18th rush)
2007 Odds: 75/1 to win SB, 35/1 to win AFC, 12/1 to win AFC West, 7.5 wins O/U
Outlook: Things have gone really badly, really quickly for the Chiefs. Last year they defied my humble preseason expectations and made a solid playoff run. Kudos to them. However, Herm Edwards' quarterback mismanagement has come to a head and the lack of a leader will be one of several factors that submarine this team's season. That being said, there is still enough talent on this roster where the Chiefs could be a sneaky team ATS. Their schedule is manageable and their defense is still strong, and getting stronger. But in the end, I think the ceiling here is somewhere around seven wins.
I was a huge Damon Huard proponent last season and I thought it was a major mistake that Herm went back to a shell-shocked Trent Green for the stretch run and playoffs. I also get the sense that he's about to make an even larger mistake by going with Brodie Croyle as the starter. The Chiefs play five of their first seven games against Top 10 defenses, and then meet Green Bay (12th) and Denver (14th) after that. If they try to go with Croyle they may average 13 points per game. Even if they go with Huard, behind that offensive line and with subpar receiving threats, things could get dicey.
There are also some very disturbing trends facing L.J. this year as well. Running backs off a 400-carry season generally suffer a precipitous drop-off the following season. Most get injured. Throw in the fact that he didn't have a training camp and I think that hurts him more than it helps. Finally, we don't have to look any further than Shaun Alexander last year to see what happens to the hunger of a star running back after he signs that fat contract. Not good. Not good at all. And I think that serves as an excellent barometer of what this team has to look forward to.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.