Day four is the day I cover the last division in the AFC and this division is a complete toss up so I am expecting to be wrong! Oh well, let’s get to it!
4th-Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs get a trio of players back from ACL injuries, Eric Berry, Jamaal Charles and Tony Moeaki. Matt Cassel is also back and healthy to start the season but which Cassel is going to show up? The 2010 version who threw 27 td’s to 7 picks or last year’s version who was injured and didn’t do anything that made you go wow. Personally I don’t think Matt Cassel will ever be more than an average quarterback. I like the addition of Peyton Hillis to this offense and if he runs like he did last night against the Pack, they will have a great 1-2 punch with him and the return of a healthy Jamaal Charles. Last year’s first round pick Jonathon Baldwin needs to have a much bigger impact this year for this offense to be more balanced. His emergence will also allow Steve Breaston to be in his more suited spot in the slot.
The Chiefs defense was ranked 6th against the pass last year even without the young phenom Eric Berry. However their run defense was ranked 26th and gave up over a hundred and thirty yards a game. A lot of this has to do with the disappointing play of Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey. The two have only combined for six sacks in their young careers so they also lack the ability to rush the passer. So the Chiefs this year went with huge defensive tackle Dontari Poe in the first round to sure up their run defense. It will be interesting to see how much of an impact he has. Eric Berry returns to improve an all ready good secondary who have Brandon Flowers and Stanford Routt at corner. Also the duo of Tamba Hali and second year man Justin Houston form a threat to get pressure from both sides of the field.
Win meter- 6-9
Biggest Question- How will the returning players from injury impact this team?
It is a new era in Oakland. The Raiders went out and got Reggie McKenzie, who formerly worked for the Packers to be the team’s first GM since Al Davis. McKenzie fired coach Hue Jackson and hired former Broncos Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen. This is a new regime that will not put up with the same shenanigans and problems that have been part of the problem the Raiders have not made the playoffs since their Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in 2002.
There are several keys to this offense becoming the explosive juggernaut it could be. Darrius Heyward-Bey was a shock when the Raiders took him at 7 back in the 2009 draft over receiver Michael Crabtree. Up until last year DHB has been a major disappointment but put together a very respectable 2011 campaign catching 64 passes for 975 yards and four scores. Carson Palmer needs to cut down on his picks. He had 17 interceptions in only 10 games. Also Darren McFadden needs to stay healthy. Unfortunately I don’t think these things happen and the Raiders have another year in the middle of the pack.
On defense the Raiders were awful last year, finishing 27th against the run and the pass. Whenever Rolando McCalin gets back he needs to be a beast in the middle and give this defense the edge it needs. Other veterans such as Richard Seymour need to breathe some life into this defense because 27th against the pass and run won’t amount to a whole lot.
Win meter- 7-9
Biggest Question- Is this team ready to take the next leap?
2nd- Denver Broncos
Gone is Tim Tebow and some guy named Peyton Manning takes hold of the reigns to give the Broncos the best quarterback they have had since John Elway. Peyton looked like his old self in the third preseason game which is a phenomenal sign for this offense. This passing attack should be able to rank in the top ten this year and I look for Eric Decker and Demaryus Thomas to have breakout seasons. Joel Dreesen isn’t a big name but he had six touchdowns with the Texans last year and Manning has a couple familiar targets back with Brandon Stokely and Jacob Tamme. My concern for this offense is can Willis McGahee do what he did last year at 30 years old and stay healthy the whole year. I am wondering if former first round pick Knowshown Moreno or “No shoes” as one of my buddies calls him even makes this team.
This is a very talented defense but if you just looked at last year’s rankings you would not think that. The Broncos finished 22nd against the run and 18th against the pass. To help out the pass defense the Broncos signed the man who sealed the 2009 Superbowl win for the Saints with a pick six, Tracy Porter. Do you remember who the quarterback was he picked off? Oh yea, Peyton Manning. The Broncos also brought in the experienced Drayton Florence. Look for these guys to team with Champ Bailey and improve this pass defense. Elvis Dumervill is a stud along the d-line but they need someone else to help him and outside linebacker Von Miller create more pressure.
I think the Broncos get a wild card spot but I question how far.
Win meter- 9-11
Biggest Question- Will this team be able to make a deep playoff run?
1st- San Diego Chargers
Well, we all know what Ron Burgundy thinks of San Diego and it’s roots but let’s get to what I think about the Chargers going into this season. Gone is Vincent Jackson and steps in Robert Meachem. Meachem who was around a plethora of talent in New Orleans will have the chance to prove himself as the number two receiver with the Chargers. While he is not as big as Vincent Jackson, he does have more speed and Philip Rivers loves to go deep. Which leads me to my next point, Rivers cannot have another season of 20 interceptions. He ended the season strong but another season with twenty picks will be devastating to this offense. Ryan Matthews is out with a broken collarbone and should be back within a few weeks. He needs to stay injury free for the rest of the year to prove he can be a workhorse back. Another scary possibility- Antonio Gates is in shape and healthy. So maybe he will put forty fantasy points against Ruxin again this year.
The Chargers had the 13th ranked pass defense last year which is respectable. Quentin Jammer admitted personal matters affected him last year so this year I expect to see him be back to a legit number 1 corner. I like Antoine Cason and Eric Weddle as well but Atari Bigby is your starting strong safety? Yikes! I love the pick of Melvin Ingram in the first round this past season. He has looked like an absolute beast so far and I like him on one side with Shaun Phillips on the other. The addition of Jarrett Johnson from Baltimore also gives another nice veteran presence. The Chargers also have the getting better with age Takeo Spikes in the middle. And for one more point on the backers, will Larry English please stand up for this team? He needs to make an impact this year.
Win meter- 9-11
Biggest Question- Can this offense avoid costly turnovers?