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2008 AFC WEST PREVIEW

CHARGERS SET TO ROLL

In the AFC West we have the San Diego Chargers primed and ready to make one more run at the Super Bowl. The Chargers were the only team in this division have a winning record last season and made it all the way to the AFC Championship game where they were sent packing by the New England Patriots. They are prohibitive favorites to win the West and rightly so. They are loaded with talent and should have no excuses. The only other team in the division that should compete is the Broncos. You can never count out Shanahan. The Chiefs are rebuilding and the Raiders, well, they have a ways to go yet. Let's take a look at each team.

 

San Diego Chargers: Odds to win AFC West - 1-4

Head Coach: Norv Turner (2nd yr. in S.D.)

Off. Coord: Clarence Shelmon; Def. Coord: Ted Cottrell

2007 Record: SUR 13-6, Point Spread Record 14-5, O-U 11-7-1

The time has come when the Chargers must go to the Super Bowl this season. First of all, LT has only two or at the most three good years left before a rapid decline in play. Both sides are healthy and ready to avenge last season’s disastrous playoff game.

Marcus McNeill is becoming a stud. The right side is somewhat lacking but L.J. Shelton could fill in at RT. Nick Hardwick's is foot is insured by newly-signed Jeremy Newberry. In his 2nd full season as the Chargers’ starting QB, Philip Rivers failed to show much improvement. He threw for fewer yards (3,388 to 3,125), less TDs (22 to 21) and more interceptions (9 to 15) in 2007 than he did in 2006. His completion percentage also dipped from 61.7 to 60.2 He was an extremely volatile fantasy QB. He posted three 3-TD games and also broke the 270-yard mark 3 times. However, he threw for under 200 yards ten times. A QB that is that inconsistent is frustrating for fantasy owners and cannot be relied upon to start on a weekly basis. Despite an up-and-down year though, Rivers won the respect of his teammates and NFL fans across the country when he played through the AFC Championship Game with a torn ACL. Chambers played in 6 games with the Dolphins last year before being traded to the Chargers. In his first game with San Diego in week 8, Chambers immediately made his mark by catching a 14-yard TD pass from Philip Rivers in the 2nd quarter. He became acclimated with the new offense rather quickly and averaged 56 yards per game over the final 10 weeks with the Chargers. He also scored 4 TDs over that span. Chambers was really impressive in the playoffs. In 3 games, he compiled 16 catches for 278 yards and 1 TD. He’s a good player.

With eight total touchdowns and 42 sacks last season, the Chargers defense set the bar high for 2008. But from top to bottom, this unit is deep and very capable of tossing some shutouts this season. With standouts like Shawne Merriman, Shaun Phillips, Antonio Cromartie, Quentin Jammer and return man Darren Sproles all wearing powder blue, the Bolts D should roll.

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Denver Broncos: Odds to win AFC West 9-2

Head Coach: Mike Shanahan (14th yr. in Den.)

Off. Coord: Rick Dennison; Def. Coord: Bob Slowik

2007 Record: SUR 7-9, ATS 5-11, O-U 11-5

Old faces and new ones will make for an interesting season. Indeed, Denver looms as one of the AFC’s mystery teams. The result is another 40% roster turnover, about par for Shanahan. But this year’s free agent activity was more subtle, the HC opting for modestly-priced additions and bargains instead of the big-name signings (many of which backfired) of recent years.

The big story in Denver this summer is Cutler’s diabetes, causing him to shed more than 30 pounds during last season and sapping his energy. Denver added versatile halfback/fullback Michael Pittman to the mix when Tampa Bay decided to roll with Earnest Graham. In addition to Young, Pittman, and a mini-van full of RBs on the bench, Denver drafted RB Ryan Torain in the 5th round. And you thought Shanahan liked to play RB mind games! Denver’s schedule presents another serious problem for RBs in 2008. They face San Diego, Tampa, Jacksonville, and New England—all before their week 8 bye! Young is going to contribute to fantasy teams, but when and how much remains to be seen. Brandon Marshall had 102 receptions ranked 5th in the NFL, and 1325 yards were good for 6th in the league. Brandon also scored 7 TDs. Javon Walker’s knees allowed production in only 2 games, so Marshall’s number was called even more frequently as the season progressed. Marshall was named a 2nd-team All-Conference USA pick at UCF in 2005 with 74 receptions for 1,195 yards & 11 TDs. He was the 17th receiver selected in the draft. He also played safety (actually volunteered) in college which gives him a better understanding of how defenses react. At 6’4” and 230 pounds, “Baby T.O.” is a beast for any corner and he’ll win 95% of the tall balls. In fact, Marshall had double-digit catches in 3 of his last 4 games!

The club has shored up its linebacking corps with Boss Bailey (brother of CB Champ Bailey) and Niko Koutouvides and still boasts a solid secondary, but there's still no reason to overvalue this squad, especially since they'll play against the Chargers, Chiefs and Raiders twice a year (that's no longer a plus).

 

Oakland Raiders: Odds to win AFC West 7-1

Head Coach: Lane Kiffin (2nd year)

Off. Coord: Greg Knapp; Def. Coord: Rob Ryan

2007 Record: SUR 4-12, AGAINST THE SPREAD  6-10, O-U 10-6

The Oakland Raiders’ fan should enjoy this 2008 team edition. Al Davis went on a shopping spree this off-season and landed a few good deals, but a few bad ones as well {players that are recovering from injuries}.

Oakland didn't score but were 6th in rushing.  Gallery is right at home at LG. Added ex-49er (& 1st-rd pick) Kwame Harris, talented but unfocused.  He could shine here. We’re in a wait-and-see mode with Russell until we hear Walker’s knee is OK. The Raiders have the 7th hardest QB schedule on paper, but they do have 5 of 8 at home from weeks 9-16. Week 16 is at home vs. Houston. The Raiders took McFadden with the #4 pick as expected. How could they pass on him? There are rumors that not only the Jets but the Patriots (!) made offers to trade up for McFadden, but we'll never know for sure. McFadden has shown a bit of a character problem at Arkansas, after being involved in a couple altercations in bars. McFadden wasn’t arrested in the latest incident last January but he was handcuffed. Hopefully it’s just immature college drinking behavior. On the field he’s a man, through and through. He finished as the Heisman Trophy runner-up in each of the past two seasons – and we felt he deserved the award more than Florida QB Tim Tebow, who had 12 of his 23 rushing TDs come from inside the 7-yard line. McFadden tore up the brutal SEC for 1,647 yards & 14 TDs in 2006, and 1,830 yards & 16 TDs in 2007. He also threw 4 TD passes and added a TD catch last year.

The Raiders defense made some serious splashes this offseason, re-signing DE Tommy Kelly to a lucrative contract, then acquiring DBs DeAngelo Hall and Gibril Wilson, giving them lucrative deals also. The end result is a defense that boasts an outstanding secondary and a front seven that has much to live up to.

 

Kansas City Chiefs: Odds to win AFC West 12-1

Head Coach: Herm Edwards (3rd yr. in K.C.)

Off. Coord: Chan Gailey; Def. Coord: Gunther Cunningham

2007 Record: SUR 4-12, Point Spread Record 7-8-1, O-U 8-8

The Chiefs are in a rebuilding mode and it’s a shame Larry Johnson has to be a part of it. They made massive changes in the off-season as you can imagine.

The Chiefs’ starting QB job is Brodie Croyle’s to lose. If he doesn’t improve significantly this year, though, that is just what he will do. In 9 games last year (6 starts), Croyle completed just 57% of his passes for 1,227. He threw as many interceptions (6) as TDs. He was consistently mediocre last season, eclipsing the 200-yard mark just once. That performance came in week 15 when he threw for 217 yards with 2 TDs and 2 interceptions against the Titans. Despite his struggles, though, he has the confidence of his coaching staff. New offensive coordinator Chan Gailey is on record saying that "there's no question" in his mind that Croyle can be a franchise QB. While he may be a star one day, that day is not today. Other than TE Tony Gonzalez and 2nd-year WR Dwayne Bowe, Croyle doesn’t have many options in the passing game. Simply put, he is a young QB on a rebuilding team. As of July 17th the Chiefs have yet to sign any of their top-7 draft picks; including DT Glenn Dorsey, OG Branden Albert, CB Brandon Flowers, and RB Jamaal Charles. Dorsey and Albert -- the 5th & 15th overall selections -- need to get signed so they don't miss a day of camp. Both of them are expected to start on opening day.

Kansas City's defense will have a new look to it in 2008 after they traded away DE Jared Allen and drafted DT Glenn Dorsey. That leaves Tamba Hali as their premier pass rusher, and he did well only because Allen was on the other side. Otherwise, the unit is mostly a veteran crew, though CB Brandon Flowers is new and the safety tandem of Bernard Pollard and Jarrad Page has some upside.

 

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