Tuesday, August 4, 2009

2009 AFC West Preview

The AFC West has only one serious contender that could make any noise come January, and the San Diego Chargers should easily run through the competition in 2009. After a year of bickering between Al Davis and Lane Kiffin, head coach Tom Cable is the newest candidate to restore the “Raider mystique.” The Kansas City Chiefs may not make the playoffs this season, but they could become the most improve team in the NFL. New Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels wanted to acquire QB Matt Cassel to run his offense, but instead, he will have Kyle Orton or Chris Simms under center this September.

In order of finish:

1. San Diego Chargers
After going 8-8 and winning the division in the final game of last season, the Chargers knew that their defense sorely lacked intensity and intimidation. The return of Shawne Merriman from injury will add swagger and persona to the starting lineup. His tremendous pass-rushing ability from the outside could also help S Eric Weddle and CB Antonio Cromartie, who were left exposed on pass coverage all last season. A non-existent pass rush allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw over 67 percent against their secondary. Offensively, the Chargers have transformed from a running attack led by LaDainian Tomlinson to a well-rounded passing team with Philip Rivers at the helm, and are about as explosive as anyone in the NFL.

2. Kansas City Chiefs
One of the surprise moves of the off-season was Scott Pioli leaving New England for Kansas City, and he wasted no time in making changes: new coach, new quarterback and switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense. As opposed to managing the game in New England, Matt Cassel will now be asked to make plays in Todd Haley’s offense. It will be difficult, as the Chiefs have downgraded the amount of weapons to choose from with the trade of TE Tony Gonzalez to Atlanta. Cassel’s main receiver could be DeWayne Bowe, who could challenge for a Pro Bowl berth this season. His other options have too many holes in their game to make plays.

3. Denver Broncos
McDaniels was widely regarded for his play-calling ability after replacing Charlie Weis as the Patriots offensive coordinator. And he learned under the tutelage of one of the brightest minds (Bill Belichick) in all of football. Unfortunately, McDaniels may have learned too much, as he may not possess enough personality or savvy to handle the fallout from the Jay Cutler fiasco. Less than three months on the job, McDaniels managed to widen the rift between them so much that it ended with Cutler’s trade to Chicago. The Broncos also failed to improve their run defense in a division that features LT, Darren McFadden and Larry Johnson, and that could make this season a scary proposition.

4. Oakland Raiders
Al Davis wants over-weight, over-hype JaMarcus Russell as his starting quarterback, but expect to see Jeff Garcia at some point in the season. He isn’t flashy or inspires others on the field. No, Garcia only completes 60 percent of his passes with double digit touchdowns and single digit interceptions as his career average. The Raiders best off-season move might be the signing of FB Lorenzo Neal because his team is always one of the leaders in rushing for the season. Expect opposing teams to exploit their rushing defense, as the Raiders back seven are under-sized and better suited in handling pass coverage than stopping the run.

Written By Thomas Conroy