Thursday, July 07, 2005

Improved Chiefs look to win the West

The AFC West is an interesting division because it has the most balance of any other division in the AFC. A team like the Kansas City Chiefs who were down last season has a great opportunity to win the division; while possibly the best team in the division, San Diego, won’t win because of a brutal schedule. I believe that only three games will separate first from last in this division. Here is a team by team breakdown of the AFC West.

DENVER BRONCOS Projected Finish 8-8 (3rd)
KEY QUESTION: Who is going to run the ball for the Broncos?

Last year the Broncos started the season with Quentin Griffin at running back, but fumbles and a knee injury sent him to the bench and put Reuben Droughns and Tatum Bell in the spotlight. Since then Droughns has left and the Broncos have signed Ron Dayne and drafted Maurice Clarett. The Broncos can’t get it done running by committee they are going to have to choose someone to be their feature back. There is plenty of talent there and Denver has a way of making running backs shine.

The Broncos passing game should be effective again this year. This is, “a do or die” season for Jake Plummer. Denver added Jerry Rice as a third option behind Rod Smith and Ashley Lelie at wide receiver. They also added Stephen Alexander at tight end.

The Broncos defense has been abused the last two seasons in the play-offs, but to their credit they have had to play the Colts. Before last season the Bronco acquired Champ Bailey from the Washington Redskins. Even though Bailey has the ability to be a shut down corner it wasn’t enough to keep the Broncos from their second play-off blowout.

Denver has added a lot of youth in the secondary through the draft and signed DE Courtney Brown to try to increase their pass rush. Only time will tell if this will be enough to carry the Broncos past the first round of the play-offs.

KEY LOSSES: RB Reuben Droughns, SS Kenoy Kennedy, OG Dan Neil.
KEY SIGNINGS: TE Stephen Alexander, DE Courtney Brown, RB Ron Dayne, LB Ian Gold.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS Projected Finish 10-6 (1st)
KEY QUESTION: How good is the new Chiefs defense?

Kansas City gave much needed attention to their defense during the off-season. They traded to get CB Pat Surtain, drafted LB Derrick Johnson, signed LB Kendrell Bell and S Sammy Knight. Now the pressure is firmly on the coaches. The Chiefs have the personnel they need on defense to win the division and if they don’t get it done this season heads (coaches) will roll.

Offensively the Chiefs should be explosive. If RB Priest Holmes stays healthy he has a shot at winning the rushing title and leading the Chiefs into the play-offs. Kansas City also gave QB Trent Green a new target by signing WR Freddy Mitchell to complement WR Eddie Kennison and TE Tony Gonzales.

KEY LOSSES: LB Monty Beisel, RB Derrick Blaylock, DE Vonnie Holliday, WR Johnnie Morton.
KEY SIGNINGS: LB Kendrell Bell, S Sammy Knight, WR Freddy Mitchell.

OAKLAND RAIDERS Projected Finish 7-9 (4th)
KEY QUESTION: Is Randy Moss enough to boost the Raiders offense.

Randy Moss wont be the answer to the Raiders offense this season unless RB LaMont Jordan and QB Kerry Collins become productive as well. The offensive line has question marks and so does the tight end position. Moss is a piece of the puzzle, but he is not the answer.

The defense has just as many questions as the offense and fewer answers. The Oakland lost S Ray Buchanon, CB Phillip Buchanon and LB Napoleon Harris and have no proven players to fill those holes. They still have CB Charles Woodson to cover one side of the field and DT Ted Washington to stop play up the middle, but it won't be enough for the Raiders to get out of the bottom of the division this season.

KEY LOSSES: S Ray Buchanan, CB Phillip Rivers, LB Napoleon Harris, TE Doug Jolley, RB Tyrone Wheatley.
KEY SIGNINGS: DE Derrick Burgess, CB Renaldo Hill, RB LaMont Jordan, TE Josh Norman.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS Projected Finish 9-7 (2nd)
KEY QUESTION: How bad will a brutal schedule hurt them?

The Chargers will be a better team then what their final record will show. Because they won the division last season they have to play a tough first place schedule this season and I'm not sure they are ready for it. They have to play at New England, Philly, and Indy and have home games against Pittsburg and Buffalo. This on top of their division games and NFC opponents will be enough to keep the Chargers out of the play-offs this season.

Offensively and defensively look for the same Chargers team that you saw last season. San Diego did not sign very many free agents and didn't lose any starters from last year's squad, other than WR/KR Tim Dwight. QB Drew Brees will try to prove that last season's success was no fluke and WR Keenan McCardell will be a good target for him. Look for LaDainian Tomlinson to challenge Chiefs RB Priest Holmes for the rushing title.

KEY LOSSES: WR/KR Tim Dwight, QB Doug Flutie, RB Leon Johnson, TE Josh Norman.

AFC West Predictions
Chiefs 10-6
Chargers 9-7
Broncos 8-8
Raiders 7-9