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- KDawg's AFC West Preview

Kevin Figgers August 20, 2006
Kevin Figgers
NFL Columnist

Tell Kevin your opinion.

What should be a very competitive division, the AFC West:

Oakland Raiders

Key Additions: DE Lance Johnstone (Vikings)
CB Tyrone Poole (Patriots)
HB/KR Rod Smart (Panthers)
CB Duane Starks (Patriots)
QB Aaron Brooks (Saints)

Key Losses: DT Ted Washington (Browns)
DB Renaldo Hill (Dolphins)
DT Ed Jasper (Eagles)
QB Kerry Collins (FA)
CB Charles Woodson (Packers)

The Oakland Raiders are a team in transition. With new/old head coach Art Shell returning to the fold the Raiders expect to return to the glory days of the 1970’s and 80’s. The defense is extremely young (with only two projected starters over the age of 30) and inexperienced and early reports are that the offense is progressing very slowly. The loss of Ted Washington up the middle hurts their run defense (which was bad to begin with, ranked 25th in the league in 2005). Their defense is younger and faster, however they need huge contributions from guys like Antaj Hawthorne and Tommy Kelly up the middle to help shore up their run defense, which has been their Achilles heel for what seems like a decade. Aaron Brooks is nothing more than Kerry Collins with legs and the Raiders did very little to improve themselves offensively in the off-season, particularly on the offensive line.

The Oakland Raiders feel very confident that they will be competitive and turn some heads this season. I just don’t see it folks. Art Shell does return a sort of toughness and discipline that the Raiders have lacked, but at the end of the day, it comes down to execution and playing smart, two things this team has not done in 4 years.

Projected Record: 5-11

Kansas City Chiefs

Key Additions: CB Lenny Walls (Broncos)
CB Ty Law (Jets)
OG Ian Allen (Cardinals)
OT Kyle Turley (Rams- ’04)

Key Losses: LB Shaun Barber (Eagles)
WR Marc Boerigter (Packers)
FB Tony Richardson (Vikings)
CB Eric Warfield (Patriots)
CB Dexter McCleon (Texans)
WR Chris Horn (Saints)

The Kansas City Chiefs enter the 2006 campaign still possessing one of the most potent offensive units in the NFL. Many questions have been raised about how the Chiefs offense will be affected with the loss of both Al Saunders and Dick Vermeil. But when you have an offense with veterans like Trent Green, Tony Gonzalez, and Eddie Kennisson to go along with a rising star in HB Larry Johnson, Kansas City you have nothing to worry about on the offensive side of the ball. It all comes back to what has ailed the Chiefs for years and that’s the defense. New head coach Herman Edwards was brought in to help shore up a defense that was ranked near the bottom of the league in total yards in 2005 (25th in total defense). Like the Raiders, the Chiefs major issue has been stopping the run and they did very little in the off-season to address it. Ryan Sims has been a major disappointment and Lional Dalton is a nice complimentary player, but not an every down player at this point in his career. Jared Allen has been a pleasant surprise as a pass rusher, however teams don’t need to pass the ball if they can move it on the ground.

I really do not expect much of a difference with the Chiefs this season. They’ll continue to light up the scoreboard, however will also give up their share of points as well. If coach Edwards can stress the importance of forcing turnovers to his defense, a lot of the time that hides many of the deficiencies a unit may have, the Chiefs could make a playoff run. However at the end of the day the Chiefs did not do enough to shore up their run defense, and in the AFC West division, that’s just asking for trouble.

Projected Record: 7-9

San Diego Chargers

Key Additions: FS Marlon McCree (Jaguars)
TE Brandon Manumaleuna (Rams)
WR Rashaun Woods (49ers)

Key Losses: C Bob Hallen (Browns)
WR Reche Caldwell (Patriots)
QB Drew Brees (Saints)
LB Ben Leber (Vikings)
DT Dequincy Scott (Vikings)

The San Diego Chargers have flown under the radar the entire off-season. Many people are skeptical of them mainly because of new starting quarterback Phillip Rivers. While Rivers is in his first full season as a starter, many seem to forget that he still has the best running back (Tomlinson) and the best tight end (Gates) in the league, to go along with a very underrated receiving core. The defense was the best in the league against the run, and the additions of veteran Marlon McCree and #1 pick Antonio Cromartie will only help a much-maligned defensive backfield.

The San Diego Chargers had the toughest schedule in football last season and even though they missed the post-season, they were still able to boast a 9-7 record. This year will be a bounce back season for the Chargers and they will make the post-season for the 2nd time in 3 years.

Projected Record: 10-6 (Wild Card Berth)

Denver Broncos

Key Additions: DE Kenard Lang (Browns)
DT Amon Gordon (Browns)
(What a shock huh?)

Key Losses: RB Mike Anderson (Ravens)
DE Trevor Pryce (Ravens)
TE Jeb Putzier (Texans)
DT Monsanto Pope (Jets)

Speaking of under the radar. Like the Patriots, it seems like many people forgot that the Broncos played deep into the post-season in 2005. The argument that they don’t have a viable #1 running back option is no longer valid. It doesn’t matter if the starter is Mike Bell, Tatum Bell or that chiwawa from Taco Bell, you can pencil in 1,000 yards rushing and a solid season. The tandem of a healthy Javon Walker and Rod Smith has the potential to be one the of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL. Jake Plummer had probably his best year in terms of efficiency in 2005 and showed signs of maturity, and with the drafting of Vanderbilt stud QB Jay Cutler, that gives Plummer extra incentive to improve on last season’s performance. D.J. Williams, Al Wilson and Ian Gold are still the cream of the crop when it comes to linebacker cores in the AFC. And the Broncos boast one of the best defensive backfields in football with Champ Bailey leading the way along with veteran safety John Lynch and 2nd year sensation Darrent Williams.

The Denver Broncos are the best team in the AFC West and could possibly be the best team in the AFC as a whole. There is absolutely no reason why this team can’t contend for the Superbowl.

Projected Record: 13-3

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