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Friday, July 13, 2012

2012 NFL Preview: AFC West

If there was one division that makes you scratch your head, it's definitely the AFC West.  All the pundits are already proclaiming the Denver Broncos the division champs after the acquisition of Peyton Manning, but is this premature?

On paper the Broncos are the front-runners, but if you're looking for value then you might want to take a look elsewhere in the division.

Denver Broncos

2012 NFL Preview Denver Broncos2011 Review: Don't ask me how, but last season this team made the playoffs despite going 0-4 in their tough matchups during the season.  Their offense was largely inefficient and Tim Tebow accounted for one of the worst passing attacks in the league.  They were ineffective in the red zone, couldn't convert third downs, and were near the bottom in turnover differential.

Their two bright spots?  Their ability to pressure the QB and getting off the field on third down.

2012 Offseason: So Peyton Manning suddenly puts them over the top in this division?  That is anybody's guess and we'll learn a lot more when we see him in action during the preseason, but they better pray he stays healthy because things get pretty nasty behind him.  If you thought Tebow was bad, imagine Caleb Hanie?

The good news is Peyton will have no shortage of capable guys to throw to including Tamme, Dreesen, Decker, Thomas, Stokely, and Caldwell.  The problem is one of these guys needs to step-up and become a go-to guy.  Decker or Thomas are primed for a big year if they can get on the same page as Peyton.  Clady and Kuper are staples on the O-line which should give Peyton some piece of mind, but I don't like the idea of having McGahee as your feature back whatsoever.  

It's a given the offense will be better than last year, but there are a lot of questions here at all the skill positions.  Peyton was beginning to show signs of age before last season, so I don't expect him to come in and be the savior that everyone is making him out to be.  

I think they'll be ok on defense, even though DJ Williams is suspended for 6 games and Bailey isn't getting any younger.   Porter was a good pickup and drafting Wolfe in round 2 will help the interior line--especially after Bunkley departed.

Looking ahead: By no means do I think this team is a shoe-in to come away with the division crown.  The season win total opened at 9.5, but money has come in on the under thus far.  On paper I have them as the best team in the West, but there are enough red flags to stay away from them for now.  I think it's still premature to bet the under, but if I had to choose now it's the only way I would go.

San Diego Chargers

2012 NFL Preview San Diego Chargers
2011 Review: What a god-awful team this was last season.  I think the most glaring stat from last year is they were 5-1 against weak teams and a combined 2-7 vs everyone else.  Are you serious?  They finished in the top half of all major offensive/defensive categories, but the true story comes out in the details.  They ranked near the bottom in special teams, turnover differential, red zone/third down defense, and points-to-yards ratio.  Someone needs to explain to me how Turner kept his job.

2012 Offseason: Very interesting offseason for the Chargers.  They lost VJ and Tolbert (although I'm not sure how Tolbert can survive a season given his style and concussion history).  Some are praising the pickups of Meachem and Parrish, but really?  Eddie Royal?  I might be mistaken, but this looks very similar to the WR situation in Denver.  Gates is gimpy, so we might be seeing Ledarius Green sooner than later.  McClain and Brown don't inspire confidence either and they might be forced into a bigger workload if Mathews can't stay healthy.  It might be another year of Rivers forcing turnovers again this season.

On defense there is an intriguing mix of vets and youngsters.  Phillips, Spikes, and Jammer are all over 30, but they have an infusion of quality youth with guys like Liuget, Butler, and now Reyes, Ingram, and Taylor from the draft.  How they all gel is the question, but once again the potential is there.

Looking ahead: With two new coordinators to break in, I do expect some transition time with this group.  The question is whether or not they can fix the areas of the stat-box that wins and loses games?  Their season win total opened at 9 and we haven't seen much movement since.  The funny thing about San Diego is nobody has great expectations for them anymore--which probably means they are primed for a monster season.  At this point I don't have a strong opinion on them one way or the other.

Kansas City Chiefs

2012 NFL Preview Kansas City Chiefs2011 Review: What can be said about last year's version of the KC Chiefs?  We made a hefty profit fading them in the preseason and then Haley forgot how to motivate them when things kicked off in September.  Along the way they lost vital cogs to injury and never recovered.  Forget about their anemic offense, they were horrible in the trenches and abysmal in the red zone on both sides of the ball.  2011 was a complete write-off.

2012 Offseason: You can forget about last year because things have been looking up for KC ever since.  Essentially it's been an offseason of quality compliments.  They brought in Winston at tackle and drafted Allen at guard to boost the line.  Hillis will be a nice change of pace from Charles and Boss will compliment Moeaki.  3rd round pick Devon Wylie could be a sneaky addition in the slot and/or return game and could see opportunities with all the attention on Bowe.

Everything is looking great on offense right?  Well questions remain at center and QB -- which are not the positions you want to be worrying about in September.

On defense, things are looking great--especially if Poe can shake off the draft day criticism.  Having a coach like Crennel should help the transition.  Routt was brought in to replace Carr and should be fine opposite Flowers.  Berry is back and will be giving them a serious game-changer at the back.  He's going to have fun playing behind the likes of Hali and Houston. 

Looking ahead: I don't really care if Matt Cassel was booed at a charity softball game because I'm genuinely excited to see this team play in week 1.  Any team that adds guys like Moeaki, Charles, and Berry to the roster is bound to have a bounce-back year.  Their season win total opened at 8 and hasn't really moved since.  They are also sporting 4.75 odds to win the division over at 5dimes.  Next week when I put out my predictions, KC is one team that could be added to the card.  There might be some value here.

Oakland Raiders

2012 NFL Preview Oakland Raiders2011 Review: I seriously thought about taking a pass on Oakland's writeup this year.  There isn't a whole lot to talk about from last season as they miraculously finished 8-8 despite having one of the worst pass defenses in the league and a losing record at home.  Go figure.  

2012 Offseason: Not only does Carson Palmer hurt them on the football field, but he hurts them off of it as well.  The draft wasn't anything to write home about and they lost Routt, Bush, and Boss.  They picked one worth noting. Oh wait, they got Matt Leinart. Stop the press.

To be fair, they do have promise on the O-line, McFadden is a stud, and keeping Branch was smart. The defensive line has a chance to be very good and Lechler and Janikowski remain their headliners.

Who knows?  If they can be above-average on the O and D lines (which should happen on paper) and Allen can improve the defense just a little bit...then they could have some surprising success.

Looking ahead: There are simply too many "ifs" to expect much from the Silver and Black this year.  If Palmer finished with a healthy turnover ratio Al Davis might turnover in his grave.  The formula in Oakland is pretty simple--take a lot of penalties, win some games you're not supposed to, fire all your coaches and start over next year.  Their win total opened at 7 and some money has come in on the under.  I expect that trend to continue.

Up Next: AFC East
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