This will be the first of a division preview for all 8 of them. I hope to get all of the AFC done by this Sunday. The preseason will not be considered too much, we all know how it lies. Please see the Colt's 1-3 preseason start in 2006, only to go on to win the Superbowl.
This division is perhaps the most exciting for me. Watching the Oakland Raiders try and survive a certain all powerful tyrant known as Al Davis, even rooting for them, despite living on the other side of the lower 48.
All the craziness in that particular division this year, with Cutler leaving the Broncos, Cassel coming in for the Chiefs.
And of course, huge expectations for the top dog in the division, the Chargers, to finally go to the Super Bowl and win it all.
But ultimately, the fun part will be watching the other 3 teams prepare for a playoff run. I can't see any of these teams winning the wild card, and some will have to decide whether they want to play for now or the future.
1. San Diego Chargers - With all of the talent on this team, it is a wonder how they fail to succeed in the playoffs. Norv Turner is the answer. I still remember when they went from Marty Schottenheimer, a man who could not win in the playoffs to save his life, to Norv Turner, a man who I regard as a great offensive coordinator but nothing more. Will this year be their year? We shall see. L.T. could be on the decline, but Philip Rivers still has plenty of targets. This team won the division going 8-8 last year, with their defensive leader, Shawn Merriman, out for the last 15 games. Pretty remarkable.
Close Game: Week 2, playing the Baltimore Ravens at Qualcomm Stadium. I have the Ravens winning right now, but it is a flip of the coin.
2. Oakland Raiders - This is madness! Indeed it is my friend. Al Davis' madness, to be exact, is at work in poor Oakland. Jamarcus Russell is the QB of the future, but will Tom Cable pull him midway through the season?
This is where their hero, Jeff Garcia, comes into play. He has already played hero for two teams (Eagles, Buccaneers) in two different seasons, and here the man is again, ready for the fight. This division hinges on when Garcia will be starting, if ever. This is Russell's third year. Tavaris Jackson has had three seasons in Minnesota to become a great QB, and Al Davis probably isn't as patient. No, Davis will not axe Russell, he will fire Cable first. All Cable has to do is look at his predecessors and their terms as head coach.
Lane Kiffin - One whole season, one partial, 5-15 record.
Art Shell - One whole season, 2-14 record
Norv Turner - Hey, a familiar face! Two whole seasons, 9-23 record.
Tim Callahan - Two whole seasons, one superbowl appearance, regular season record of 15-17.
So, as you can see, Davis is not exactly patient with his head coaches. Cable must know this, and if Russell fails to succeed, I think he will pull him out and stick in Garcia before their week 10 game against KC, in a sad but desperate attempt to save his own job.
Russell could very well surprise most of us and succeed, but he faces a tough first half schedule with the Giants, Eagles, Jets and the Chargers two times in the first eight weeks. Good luck son, you are going to need it.
Oakland in second is quite bold, but everything hinges on when, if ever, Cable puts in Garcia. If he leaves Russell in and his young QB flounders all year, the Raiders are in trouble. I am pulling for the young man though, he finished up last year quite good, but I don't think he will pull it out. Not a hard worker, and that will never work, no matter how talented you are.
Record: First 8 weeks, 2-6
Last 8 weeks, 5-3
Close game: Redskins in week 14. Have the Jeff Garcia led Raiders surprising the Skins.
3. Kansas City Chiefs - There are the shouts now: "But Matt Cassel is a system QB! They don't have a running game! What are you thinking!"
Matt Cassel fell into a great situation last year, with Moss and Welker to pass to. He should be very grateful. Now, is this a team that can go to the playoffs? No. Will they have a pass happy offense? Yes, Cassel will be passing to Dwayne Bowe constantly.
Unless Larry Johnson has another 1200 yard rushing season in those 30 year old legs (this november), the Chiefs will quickly be forgotten. Jamaal Charles and Kolby Smith could prove to be difference makers as young runners in the backfield, but will not be enough for the Chiefs to pass the Raiders.
Their defense will improve with their revamped defensive line, a 3-4 formation with former LSU mates Glenn Dorsey, a disappointment last year with only one sack and 46 tackles, and 2009 first round pick Tyson Jackson, not yet signed.
Interesting correlation, these LSU players; they seem to constantly underperform. Jamarcus Russell, Dorsey...any successful former LSU players turned NFL pros? I don't know. Dorsey can step up big time, and I expect him to reach at least 7 sacks this year as an end.
Back to the KC defense, they also got Mike Vrabel, a good start to a good linebacker corps. A bit old, but a good leader to a rebuilding defense.
Speaking of which, that trade was most certainly a "you patted my back, I'll pat yours" deal. A 2nd round pick for Vrabel and Cassel? At least 2 mid level picks. Not a first rounder, but certainly a 2nd and 3rd.
Record: Man, this division is screwed schedule wise. 4-12
Close Game(s): Denver games. I have them split. Another good game will be against the Bengals in week 16, which I have the Chiefs winning.
4. Denver Broncos - And now, the bottom of the division, where a former Patriots' assistant coach has screwed with this team to no end. Is Cutler a crybaby? Possibly. But now, they have Kyle Orton at QB and not a single great running back, unless you count rookie Knowshon Moreno as great. Right now, they have Moreno, Correll Buckhalter, who is 30, and Lamont Jordan. Those are the big three, with Peyton Hillis at FB.
At wide reciever, Orton is looking at a much better group than he saw in Chicago with the Bears. Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, Jabar Gaffney (the ex-Patriot), and Brandon Stokley. If Marshall returns to form after hip surgery, the Denver offense will be chugging.
The defense will be the problem. Last year, they were 29th in total defense, ahead of the Chiefs, Lions and Seahawks. These are my own thoughts: they added Brian Dawkins, which is essentially the same thing the Chiefs did adding Mike Vrabel. Both guys heading toward the end of their careers, both probably retiring within the next 2-3 years. I feel like the Chiefs have made more strides on the defensive side of the football.
They have a QB who will probably surprise me, but I can't see Orton firing passes to his WRs for 300 yards a game. He doesn't have a strong arm, and the Broncos will try to emphasize the passing game.
Close Game: Week 2 against the Browns. Denver wins.
And that is all he wrote. Next will be the AFC North.