Wednesday, August 13, 2008

AFC West Rundown

AFC West Rundown
Over the next week or so, I'm going to churn out one of these Rundowns for each of the 8 NFL divisions, which will be the beginnings of my NFL Preview. As the season gets closer, I will have some more in-depth coverage, including projected standings, and an in-depth Steelers preview. Part 4 of 8 can be found below. Enjoy.

The Chargers are the class of this division, without question. LaDainian Tomlinson continues to be the best all-around back in football, though he could be challenged this season by the amazing Adrian Peterson. It will be very interesting to see how well Phillip Rivers recovers from the knee injury he suffered at the end of last season, and he still remains something of a question mark as a franchise type quarterback. He is in the middle of an incredibly talented offense but questions about his character and his overall talent are still being raised. His main targets will again be the trio of Antonio Gates, Chris Chambers, and Vincent Jackson. Chambers is the consistent top receiver the team had been lacking, and enables Jackson to slide over as a lesser option in the offense, a spot he is much better suited for. The offensive line is the capper to this talented offense, as they are a solid unit led by the franchise tackle Marcus McNeill and sound young center Nick Hardwick. The defensive side of the ball is just about as talented as the offense, which is really saying something. Linemen Luis Castillo and Jamal Williams, linebacker Shawn Merriman and corner Antonio Cromartie are all among the best at their position in the conference, though Williams may be declining, and I personally think Cromartie is overrated because of his ball skills. The rest of the defense is sound enough, and this squad as a whole may be the most talented in the league from top to bottom. This could be a make or break year though for coach Norv Turner as the team's window is definitely closing.

In the second position in the division, the Denver Broncos are a team that is very tough to read for the coming year. They seem to be stuck in the middle of the conference, and are led into this middling position by the solid but unspectacular Jay Cutler who has had health issues of late. Selvin Young appears to be another nice find in Mike Shanahan's stable, but he isn't the franchise back the team once had in Clinton Portis. It's sometimes worth thinking about whether the Broncos have been hurt over the years but Shanahan's smugness and the fact that he has outsmarted himself on too many occasions. The line has faltered in recent years from its once legendary status, but is still among the better units in the league. Losing Rod Smith will certainly hurt, though, and Brandon Marshall being suspended for the first two games (at least) of the season will also damage an already limping passing game. The defense for Denver also appears to be on the down slope, as players like longtime vets Champ Bailey and Dre Bly may not have many years of effectivness left, and outside of DJ Williams and Elvis Dumervil there is little in the way of young playmaking ability at their disposal. All in all, the Broncos don't appear to be any better then 8th or 9th in the AFC, but are still good to enough to be considered well ahead of cellar dwellers. It's a tough spot to be in, and they need to make a definitive move in one direction or the other.

The Raiders are among the most intriguing young teams in the league, which is stunning considering how dreadful they were just two seasons ago. Young studs JaMarcus Russell, Darren McFadden, and Michael Huff all have bright futures on the way, but none are proven entities yet and have room to grow. The Raiders may have hurt some of their natural young progress, though, with the foolish spending spree they went on this past offseason, handing out ludicrous contracts to the likes of Tommy Kelly (inconsistent and injury-prone), Javon Walker (What happened in Vegas didn't stay there), DeAngelo Hall (maybe the most overrated player in football), and Gibril Wilson (a nice enough player, but they paid him like an All-Pro). Still, the Raiders have a ton of natural talent, and if Lane Kiffin, who evidently has zero ownership support, can mold this group and get them pointed in the right direction, this club could be wildly intriguing in 2009, and will certainly be a tough opponent for many squads in the coming season.

The Chiefs appear to be bringing up the rear for the coming year, but like Oakland, they have quite a bit of young talent, and a potentially bright future. The Chiefs were widely praised for their work in last April's draft, and I couldn't agree more. First rounders Glenn Dorsey and Brendan Albert should both be impact starters for this club for a long time, and other rookies Jamaal Charles and Brandon Flowers could both be impact players before long with bright futures. The big issues in KC, besides the need for Larry Johnson to have his workload drastically reduced, is the quarterback position. If there's one beef with the Chiefs offseason plan, it's that the team is still relying on the mediocre Damon Huard and the unproven and equally mediocre Brodie Croyle to helm an otherwise talented offensive squad. Young receiver Dwayne Bowe will help out whoever starts quite a bit, and he is expected to build on a shockingly productive rookie season. Losing Jared Allen from the defense will hurt, but it may have been worth it to further the rebuilding process and keep the team chemistry intact. All in all, this team is moving in the right direction, but they will take their lumps while they build for beyond the coming season.

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