Crushed Optimists

We are twin brothers who grew up in Central Washington. This blog is devoted to the life of Seattle sports fans, as well as various other topics that we will espouse for your enjoyment. We could be called another OFFICIAL SEATTLE SEAHAWKS site, but we'll take our uneducated crack at the Mariners, Sonics, and Huskies as well. A Seattle Sports Blog? Must be the land... of crushed optimism!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

NFL Preview: AFC West

2004 Standings:

San Diego: 12-4
Denver: 10-6
Kansas City: 7-9
Oakland: 5-11

Overview:
The AFC West was an entertaining division last year, with the surprise team of the season coming in the form of the San Diego Chargers. This year's version may be the deepest division in football. All four teams are improved and should challenge for playoff positions.

San Diego:
As stated above, Coach Marty Schottenheimer's team blew everyone's preseason expectations out of the water, compiling an impressive 12-4 record. They were left with a sour taste after a quick postseason exit at the hands of the NY Jets.

Key Losses: None

Key Additions: OLB Shawne Merriman, DT Luis Castillo

Offense: The Chargers improved by not trading QB Drew Brees. There really isn't much need for upgrade, as long as he is able to build on his impressive 2004 campaign. The former Boilermaker star needs to continue playing with a chip on his shoulder, as last year's first round pick Philip Rivers is waiting in the wings. At some point San Diego is going to have to make a decision and that's going to be an interesting problem. LaDainian Tomlinson is one of the top-five running backs in the league. Sure like him better than Shaun Alexander. The offensive line is solid. Keenan McCardell is the headliner of the WR corps, which could use better depth. The hidden gem is Antonio Gates, the TE who is the key to it all. Signing him to a contract extension was a major recent coup for this team.

Colin: I think everybody realizes that Drew Brees is the key for this offense to succeed. Yes, Tomlinson is amazing, but he was also amazing when they were LOSING 12 games a season. Brees gave the Chargers-O balance, and gave Tomlinson free rein to be the amazing catcher and runner that he is. I am unconvinced that Brees is here to stay. Not that I really believe that Brees will fail, but 1 year does not a quarterback make. It reminds me of Hasselbeck after that stellar 2nd half. I was unconvinced then, and Hasselbeck proved himself. That is what Brees will have to do this season, because Rivers is willing and waiting to get in there.

Defense: The Chargers have been known for their defense since when the Hawks were a member of the league and last year was a fairly solid middle of the pack effort, allowing 313 points for the year (8th in the AFC). Adding Merriman and Castillo in the draft only adds great depth. Merriman especially has the look of a playmaker. The strength of the defense is in the front seven, with players like Igor Olshansky and Jamal Williams fronting stud LB Donnie Edwards. Quentin Jammer is an excellent cover corner, but the safety support seems weak, and in the pass-happy West the Chargers could be exploited.

Overhyped Myth: The Chargers improved overall by standing still. This is a mistake many surprise teams make. The problem is that when you overacheive it sets the bar too high the following year. Words like "chemistry" are thrown around to cover for just not adding some playmakers. The WR corp especially needed some fresh blood, and draft pick Vincent Jackson is not the answer.

Understated Reality: LaDainian Tomlinson may be the best back in football, and really doesn't get much press for it. You just know that he will pick up the tough yards.

General Prognosis: The Chargers beat up an easy schedule to make a huge leap. With the improved depth in-conference and higher expectations, a return to 12-4 is highly unlikely. Still, until another team shows, San Diego is the class of the AFC West.

Colin: I disagree with that statement, but will talk more about that when we make our general predictions post. Because the Chargers mostly stood pat, I look at Kansas City as the class of the AFC West. The Chargers will have to prove something before I believe in them.

Early Season Game I'm looking forward to: Oct. 2 at New England... statement game in the AFC

Denver:
The Broncos improved themselves defensively last season by adding Champ Bailey in an effort to slow down Indianapolis. For the second year in a row, the effort failed.

Key Losses: RB Ruben Droughns, the defensive line

Key Additions: Cleveland Browns Defensive line, LB Ian Gold

Offense: I had QB Jake Plummer last year on my fantasy team and enjoyed all the highs and lows with Broncos fans. He is, to put it mildly, frustrating to watch. The 4000 yards and 27 touchdowns were great, but the 20 INTs were insane, and generally at really bad moments. I think the NFL is catching on... Jake Plummer is a mediocre quarterback. That ridiculous Paul Bunyan look didn't help last year either. Denver should be worried about its offense. Mike Shanahan is always able to plug in another back, so RB Tatum Bell may be this year's Droughns. However, WR Rod Smith is another year older (35). How long can he keep it up? WR Ashley Lelie has underacheived. Can he deliver on his promise? They signed WR Jerry Rice for depth... does he have anything left in the tank (Hawks fans say no). Lots of questions here.

Colin: Honestly, this will be another year of the same exact Denver offense we have become accustomed to. They will start strong, usually every game, and then fade in the 2nd half, with one or two games that they shine, causing everyone to stupidly believe that they are for real. They just don't have enough talent to be more then they are, a middle-of-the-road team that has no shot at going deep in the postseason.

Defense: The defense was the best in the AFC West last season before getting smacked around by the Peyton Manning Experience in the playoffs again. To help, Denver drafted 3 CBs with their first three picks. That's right... three. How many do people like? Try... none. To the Broncos credit, they did resign LB Ian Gold, which gives them the best linebacking corps in the division. However, trading for or signing the entire Cleveland Browns defensive line was a fairly suspect move. I definitely see this defense sliding below... not a good sign in the AFC West.

Colin: Just one of the weirdest offseasons I have ever seen. For all Broncos fans, I can only hope that this was Mike Shanahan's LAST offseason as GM. What in the WORLD was he thinking with that defense? If this works, I will truly be amazed.

Overhyped Myth: Mike Shanahan is not an offensive genius. He has not been a genius ever since losing John Elway (and Terrell Davis). Can he turn it around himself this year? I'm not convinced.

Colin: It is time for Mike Shanahan to leave. He might be able to call back the magic at another job, but his winning days are done in Denver. It was a good run, but..... no.

Understated Reality: The defense is not good enough to compete with Oakland, Kansas City, and San Diego. The linebackers are quality, and will hold Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates in check. However, the dearth of quality up front and in back (aging S John Lynch) will catch up.

General Prognosis: The Broncos had one of the worst offseasons in the league and wouldn't surprise me at all if they finished last in the division.

Colin: If the Raiders improve like I expect them to, I see no reason that the Broncos WON'T finish last in the division. What is a team in this division that they are better than?

Early Season Game I'm looking forward to: Sep. 18 vs San Diego... are they going to be competitive in this division?

Kansas City:
The Chiefs scored lots of points and gave up lots of points. Dick Vermeil was an idiot not getting more defenders and paid the price in mediocrity.

Key Losses: WR Johnnie Morton

Key Additions: CB Patrick Surtain, S Sammy Knight, LB Derrick Johnson, LB Kendrell Bell

Offense: Not much more to say about this finely tuned machine, which pumped out 446 points last season, second only to Indianapolis in the NFL. QB Trent Green is smart and still has a few solid years left in his arm. RB Priest Holmes is healthy and the key to the entire attack. Not since the glory years of RB Marshall Faulk has there been a comparable weapon out of the backfield. TE Tony Gonzalez is back and still stretches the field with the best of them. WR Eddie Kennison is a bit of a head case, but runs effective routes. One weakness is the lack of a solid second wide receiver. WR Freddie Mitchell (from Philadelphia) may be able to fill that spot. Otherwise I really like WR Samie Parker out of Oregon. Can't forget WR Dante Hall in there as well as one of the best special teams players in the league. The offensive line might be the best in the NFL, headlined by performers like Willie Roaf and Will Shields.

Defense: If all the new pieces can gel quickly under coordinator Gunther Cunningham, the Chiefs could have an exciting year. The Chiefs needed help almost everywhere and got it. Derrick Johnson was a steal of a pick, and should get the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Paired with Kendrell Bell and Kansas City has a solid corps. The secondary, which was abysmal, acquired Patrick Surtain to shut down one side and Sammy Knight as a playmaker at safety. Knight is slowing down but still can cause a few fumbles.

Colin: This will be the unit to watch not just in the AFC West, but in the entire AFC. If the defense improves to mid-range, the Chiefs are a viable Super Bowl pick. Seriously. They can beat New England. Bill Belichick is not in Priest Holmes' head. Personally, I see them really improving. They have, now, a solid linebacking corps, and some decent players in the secondary. If the D-Line holds..... this team could be special.

Overhyped Myth: The Chiefs can succeed without Priest Holmes. They showed it last year with RB Larry Johnson filling in admirably. While he is a weapon and makes the team unquestionably better, fans should rest easy knowing there is a capable backup ready at any point.

Understated Reality: The defense only has to be mediocre for the Chiefs to challenge for the division title. That's pretty much what they're going to get, since there were that many holes. Expect a lot of high scoring affairs, but with a defense that can actually get key stops.

Colin: See, I would take that one step further, in that the defense only has to be one step ABOVE mediocre to challenge for the Super Bowl. I'm serious.

General Prognosis: Kansas City will give San Diego everything they can handle, and make Arrowhead Stadium yet again a terrible place for an opposing team. Look for an upset of the Eagles to happen on Oct. 2 in a home statement game for this team.

Early Season Game I'm looking forward to: Oct. 2 vs Philadelphia... biggest chance to reclaim respectability early

Oakland:
The Raiders made the biggest splash in the offseason, trading for WR Randy Moss. With the other moves Al Davis made, can this team reverse its crumbling fortunes?

Key Losses: QB Rich Gannon, TE Doug Jolley, LB Napoleon Harris

Key Additions: WR Randy Moss, RB Lamont Jordan, DE Derrick Burgess

Offense: Everything hinges on QB Kerry Collins. When on, as he was in the last few games of the 2004 season, Collins is capable of 5 TD games. When off, he's capable of 5 INT games. If Collins can control himself, he has a plethora of weapons to choose from, starting of course with Randy Moss in what might be the deepest WR corps in the NFL. WR Joey Porter would be the #1 guy on most teams, and WR Ronald Curry impressed before getting injured last year (he was on my fantasy team). Lamont Jordan is a tremendous upgrade at running back, and should easily give the Raiders a 1000 yard rusher behind a young and growing offensive line headlined by last year's pick Robert Gallery. Former Stanford WR Teyo Johnson is a sleeper at TE this year.

Colin: KC's defense might be the most important unit to watch, but Oakland's offense might be the most interesting to watch, with the addition of Randy Moss and Lamont Jordan to what was an already improving offensive corps. There is no much to be excited about with this team. However, I agree with Gavin, everything is on Kerry Collins. He can be maddingly inconsistent, as Giants fans can attest. He can also win, and has gone to the Super Bowl once before.

Defense: Can Oakland stop anyone? When reading one preseason report on their linebacking corps, I got shivers down my spine remembering our experience last year. Unfortunately, the Raiders have nothing but scabs. Some people have to step it up. Up front they have aging warriors DT Warren Sapp and DT Ted Washington. Do they still have it? Does CB Charles Woodson have a comeback season? This is the worst defense in the league and will be the biggest question mark before the Raiders are taken seriously.

Overhyped Myth: The return to the 4-3 defense does not automatically grant Warren Sapp the ability to become a Pro Bowler again. He's old. He's lost a step. He will depend on Ted Washington taking up multiple blockers so he can use his speed to disrupt opposing offenses. I'm not optimistic.

Understated Reality: Until defensive improvements become reality, all the hype about Randy Moss is going to end in an 8-8 season. Still, I'm optimistic about Kerry Collins and his chance to shine. He throws the deep ball well, and Norv Turner will open it up.

General Prognosis: This team is still one year and a much better draft away from competing for a division title, but with one or two swings of favor could challenge for a wild card spot.

Early Season Game I'm looking forward to: Sep. 18 vs Kansas City... can the defense stop that offense once?

Conclusion:
This is going to be an exciting year to follow this division, as plenty of storylines abound. Still, as I wrote above, until another team proves otherwise, San Diego is the class and I look for them to repeat as champions.

Colin: We'll discuss this later, but KC is the class. San Diego..... could win, but will have to prove it.

posted by Gavin @ 2:36 PM  0 comments

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