Tag Archives: AFC West

2016 AFC West Preview

  1. Kansas City Chiefs  – Yeah, something doesn’t look right in a division when a team led by Alex Smith at quarterback and the Kool-Aid-Man as head coach are the favorites to win it.  But the Kool-Aid-Man a.k.a Andy Reid has been a model of consistency in his coaching career and has made quarterbacks play above their potential.  Alex Smith is in a comfortable spot with the Chiefs and he’s a decent enough “dual-threat” quarterback that he keeps defenses honest – although they know the deep ball is a rare occurrence.  Outside of Jeremy Maclin, the only real receiving threat is tight end Travis Kelce, but the Chiefs’ offense will circle around their backfield depth.  When star running-back Jamaal Charles went down last year the Chiefs saw what they had in Charcadrick West and Spencer Ware.  Expect Andy Reid to find ways to get all of three of these backs involved in the offense often.  In the draft, the Chiefs didn’t really do much, but look out for their fourth round pick Eric Murray out of Minnesota to add some punch to a defense that allowed less than 18 points a game last season.  Chiefs have a middle of the road schedule in terms of difficulty, but this is a team that has most of the same pieces that reeled off an 11 game win streak last year and a division that is win-able with eight or nine wins this year.

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Prediction: 10-6

2. Oakland Raiders – Yeah, that’s right.  Eight or nine wins will win this division and Oakland won’t get the division crown.  Do the math.  Folks are high on the Raiders this year.  Maybe because of the young talent; or maybe because folks are tired of this once proud franchise being a laughing stock. Last season they showed promise and showed they have the centerpieces for their offense and defense: Derek Carr and Khalil Mack, respectively.   Mack will have free agent signees Bruce Irvin and (in November) Aldon Smith to help not just with the edge rush but also help to form a very athletic trio up front.  Rookie Karl Joseph has all the tools to be a starter for this franchise for the next ten years.  Joseph will be playing alongside safety Reggie Nelson who had an NFL leading eight interceptions last year.  Amari Cooper is the real deal at wide receiver; and Michael Crabtree looked the best he’s looked in years, but it may be reaching to think he’ll duplicate last year’s performance.  The pieces are there for this team to  make the next step, but because EVERYONE is saying that, it definitely won’t happen.  This is a team that looks better on paper then they will on the field.  They are still one year away, and if they can put it together, this division can be theirs for the next three to four years – easily.

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Prediction: 9-7

3. Denver Broncos – What did we expect?  A team wins a Super Bowl, and all the players who were up for new contracts – left for ridiculous pay days.  That’s the business of the sport.  The Broncos biggest attraction, Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, was set to sit out for the season if he and Broncos didn’t agree on terms – but cooler heads prevailed.  Miller will be set to lead a defense that is still formidable even after the losses of Danny Trevathan and Malik Jackson.  The defense will have to be key because that’s how they won games last year.  The Broncos re-instilled the notion that “defenses win championships” because in this “quarterback league” they basically played without one for most of last year.  Although Peyton Manning was trashy last year, his poise and leadership kept this offense motivated and focused all season long – even when times were tough.  Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas are top notch receivers but expect their numbers to plummet this season.  The Broncos signed Mark Sanchez who once upon a time was the savior to the New York Jets.  Now he’s a journey man, who’s forever haunted by the epic “butt-fumble.” The Broncos also went and drafted Paxton Lynch who has a creepy mustache and a stupid hair cut.  Also the general manager John Elway is pretty smug.  Nobody with teeth like that should be that smug.

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Prediction: 7-9

4. San Diego Chargers – The Chargers are basically, sorta, kinda. . . irrelevant?  Ugh, you hate to hear the word “irrelevant” associated with a team that has the coolest alternate jersey and a team that is led by Philip Rivers, who has been quiet as kept – this generation’s Dan Marino to some degree.  Does he have the records like Marino and is he as good – no.  BUT, Rivers has put together quite the career and done so with little to no help for the most part.  The organization makes the wrong signings, drafts the wrong people and — oh wait – who’d they draft this year?  Ha. . .  as of now (August 17th, 2016) the Chargers first round pick Joey Bosa is holding out, and it seems that both sides are not budging.  Bosa comes in with a lot of hype, too much hype if you ask me – he’s a piece that would be nice in building a defense, but he is not a piece to build around.   Free agent Travis Benjamin signed on to the Chargers from the Browns and he joins a pretty talented receiving group that include Keenan Allen and tight-end Antonio Gates who is still a top five tight end at thirty-six years of age.  The Chargers lost eight games by seven or less points and just couldn’t close the deal when they needed to.  There is just nothing flashy or exciting about the Chargers anymore.  Sick jerseys though. . .

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Prediction: 6-10

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Denver Broncos 2015 Preview

When Johny Elway brought Peyton Manning to the Denver Broncos in 2012, the goal was clear:  win a Super Bowl.   Unfortunately for Elway and the Broncos, it’s been three seasons of success-turned-heartbreak.  In 2012, the Broncos made the playoffs but lost in double over-time to the eventual Super Bowl Champions, the Baltimore Ravens.   In 2013, Peyton Manning and his offense were thoroughly embarrassed in the Super Bowl by the Seattle Seahawks, and last year, Peyton lost to his former team the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs.

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For all of his accolades, Peyton Manning can’t seem to shake his post-season let downs.   Last season was scary for Manning supporters though.  It seemed by mid season, Manning could not get much power behind his throws.  He was uncharacteristically over throwing receivers and short arming out-routes.   Peyton is thirty-nine years old and Father Time has been more than generous to him for the last three years, so seeing him breakdown a bit now should be expected.  It’s doubtful he’ll be a hindrance to this offense in any way – but he shouldn’t be expected to put up astronomic numbers this year either.

A big reason Manning won’t be putting up video-game-like numbers is because the offensive philosophy is expected to change.  With new head coach Gary Kubiak, the Broncos will be focused on the run more than Peyton Manning has been used to.  Running back C.J. Anderson started as number three on the depth chart and ended up making the most of his opportunity when injuries fell on Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball.  Ball looked pretty bad when he had his opportunities and will at most be an emergency back; Hillman though played well when he started and was a big threat in the screen-pass game.   Anderson is expected to be the starter, but in this heavy run based offense, Hillman will definitely get his touches as well, which is a good thing for Denver’s offense.

The offensive line will be leaned on heavily in Denver to establish this running attack and to preserve the health of their captain, Peyton Manning.  The problem here is that, there is a lot of youth.  Tackle Ryan Clady and right guard Louis Vasquez (last year played right tackle) are the steady part of this unit but they will be playing alongside some unexperienced  youth.  The Broncos took Florida center Max Garcia in the fourth-round of this year’s draft and in the second-round they drafted Ty Sambrailo, a tackle out of Colorado State.  Sambrailo is a quick lineman, who plays with a chip on his shoulder.  Peyton Manning is the type that will work with his young offensive linemen to the point of exhaustion, but he is also an impatient man. . . Sambrailo will have to learn quickly.

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Tight end Julius Thomas fled Denver in free agency, making way for veteran Owen Daniels.  Daniels has shown flashes of being a tight end with good hands, but not much in the “big play” department that a healthy Thomas provided for this team.  Demaryius Thomas was given the contract he wanted in the off-season; but will that decision truly be one he’ll want in the long run?   Manning’s time table is limited and with Kubiak in town, the focus will be taken off of the aerial attack, Thomas will see lesser looks this year but he’s a game-changer.  He is the best in the NFL on wide receiver screens and causes headaches for even the best corner backs in the league.  Opposing defenses will want to try to double cover Thomas, but they are handcuffed by the fact that Emmanuel Sanders had his best season last year and at times looked like the better wide out.  Sanders developed a chemistry early with Peyton Manning, who also showed confidence in the wide out.

The Broncos defensive linemen depth is questionable but now in a 3-4 defensive scheme, defensive end Derek Wolfe should feel more at home.  Nose tackle is still a question going into this season and in a 3-4 base, that should be a spot where there are no questions. . .  Luckily, the depth at linebacker should help this line out tremendously.  Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan are tackling machines with good lateral movement.  Demarcus Ware and Von Miller will be blitzing a lot more this year as will rookie Shane Ray.  A lot of folks were high on Shane Ray, coming out of Missouri but there were too many times that Ray showed a lack of strength when he went face to face with tackles, he also lacks patience and tries doing too much, ultimately taking him out of plays.  Ray may be better served strictly as a pass rusher in certain situations because he will need more time to be out there on three straight downs.

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The secondary is solid on Denver.  Safety T.J. Ward is given a lot of flexibility.  His versatility allows him to drop back into zone or play the role of an extra linebacker.  Corner back Aquib Talib is a big physical corner who knocks a lot of passes down.  Talib is also a corner who likes to blitz and is not shy when it comes to putting a big hit on a running back.  Chris Harris Jr. is a steady corner, but might have to watch for second-year player Bradley Roby out of Ohio State on the depth chart.  Roby gained confidence as the season went along last year and has a higher ceiling than Harris.

The Broncos enter the  2015 season knowing that this is more than likely the last chance to win with Peyton Manning.  More importantly Manning knows this is his last chance.  It will be tough though – the Broncos are not that strong in the trenches and the change in offensive philosophy needs to be accepted quickly by all parties involved.  Luckily for them, this division isn’t packed with powerhouse squads, so barely being over .500 should be expected and it should do the trick to win the division.

Predicted Record: 9-7

Predicted Pro Bowlers: T.J. Ward, Von Miller, Emmanuel Sanders, Ronnie Hillman

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

San Diego Chargers 2015 Preview

The Chargers are one of those NFL teams, that need a boost of adrenaline to get things  going.  There seems to be a lack of excitement within the fanbase and optimism appears to be somewhat contrived off of desperate theories.  The truth of the matter is that their quarterback Philip Rivers is thirty-three years old and this is a team that seems to be in flux for the last three seasons.

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The word “optimism” has been mentioned already, but Rivers is a big part of that “optimism.”  Rivers is on the road to becoming a quarterback who has put up great stats in his career but will never win a Super Bowl.  It’s a shame, because for a while it seemed as if this Chargers organization was on the right track. . .  Last year, Rivers had a total of twenty turnovers – not all were his fault though.  Rivers tossed for over four-thousand yards but did not have a single one-thousand yard receiver by season’s end.   Seems like he was doing his part in the passing game. . .

Keenan Allen was expected to put up big numbers in his sophomore season, but totaling 783 yards and four touchdowns, doesn’t exactly scream “big numbers.”  He often seemed to not be on the same page with Rivers and was a different player half-to-half (looking better in the second half of games, usually).   Malcolm Floyd has been on the Chargers for what seems like forever and he’s a big body guy with speed – but is it just time to move passed Floyd?  He’s never really become the guy we all expected him to be and their off-season acquisition of Stevie Johnson – who is obviously better suited for the slot receiver role – can challenge the other two in getting more looks from Rivers.  When motivated and when he has his head on straight, Johnson is actually a fearless well rounded wide out.  Antonio Gates has been suspended for four games which means that the much over-hyped Ladarius Green becomes the number one tight end, at least to start the season.  Green is next in line to Gates, but hasn’t been able to out-play the veteran so he’s been kept on the sidelines for the most part.

The offensive line suffered a huge loss with the retirement of center Nick Hardwick (guard Jeromey Clary retired as well) but the Chargers seemed to have done enough to make this unit a formidable one.  The Chargers signed Orlando Franklin to man one of the guard spots and they kept King Dunlap on at left tackle.  D.J. Fluker has been a focus of the coaching staff’s to  better develop his technique against the pass rush.   Knowing the kind of quarterback Philip Rivers is, he is developing chemistry with his sophomore center Chris Watt as we speak. . .

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The running game had a spark set off by undrafted rookie Brandon Oliver, but that spark was short lived and the 5’7″ running back found himself struggling to get his legs going.   The Chargers decided to go into this year’s draft and address their running back issue, so in the first round they selected Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon.  Gordon broke Barry Sanders’ college record by rushing for 2587 yards last year, that’s enough for anyone to have huge expectations moving forward.  What’s amazing about Gordon is that Wisconsin is a run-first, run-second and run-third type of offense and opposing teams still couldn’t put a lid on him.  He did play behind a good offensive line, but his ability to cut without losing speed is remarkable.  He could be the player that the Chargers have needed for a long time and the Chargers are hoping for a quicker return on their investment then their other Melvin who they used a first round pick on three years ago. . .

Linebacker Melvin Ingram was the Chargers first round pick in the 2012 draft and things haven’t turned out as the Chargers would have liked.   His rookie season was the only time he played a full sixteen games and it was also the season in which he recorded his most tackles (41).   It is unlikely Ingram wakes up from this mediocrity, and mediocrity is what this linebacker core is dressed in.  Manti Te’o gets manhandled and Jerry Attaochu is expected to get with the program quickly this season or will find his playing time to become limited.

The lack of aggressiveness in this line-backing group will force hard hitting strong safety Jahleel Addae to play closer to the line of scrimmage instead of free safety Eric Weddle.  This is because Weddle is bit more versatile and a more natural player than Addae who really just wants to hit people.  Veteran Brandon Flowers and second year man Jason Verrett are the corner backs.  Verrett’s body gave out on him early in his rookie season which is alarming, but if his body can hold up, he can turn out to be a good man-to-man coverage guy.

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The secondary will have to work hard, because most opposing quarterbacks won’t be under much pressure when playing this defense.  Outside of defensive end Corey Liuget, there is not much heat coming from this defensive line.  Liuget will often have two sets of eyes on him because of this, limiting his impact on a game.  Somebody needs to step up on this defensive line and depending where he ultimately gets lined up it may be rookie Darius Philon.  Philon was a defensive tackle in Arkansas, but his lack of strength at that position might be a task for him at the pro level.  He does move extremely well for a man of his size though and can prove to be disruptive if used and protected correctly.

This offense will be fun to watch, especially if Keenan Allen grows into his own as a number one receiver.  For the most part their schedule isn’t packed with juggernaut offenses, but against this defense expect even an average offense to come away with some extra opportunities.

Predicted Record: 7-9

Predicted Pro Bowlers: King Dunlap, Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Kansas City Chiefs 2015 Preview

In a league that has made things easier for quarterbacks and wide receivers, it’s hard to believe the Chiefs went through a whole season with not one of their wide receivers catching a touchdown pass.   It seems as if a team couldn’t accomplish that even if they tried.   Especially a team that has an offensive guru like Andy Reid as it’s head coach.

There are a few reasons why the Chiefs were able to accomplish this and surprisingly, none of the reasons have to do with the quarterback.

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The Chiefs offensive line was bad last year and they lost their one bright spot, center Rodney Hudson to the rival Raiders this off-season.  This leaves the Chiefs looking at former number one overall selection Eric Fisher like “Dude, really?”  The Chiefs were either thinking too hard or not enough when they took Fisher with the first pick of the 2013 draft.  He interviewed well, passed all the physicals with flying colors – but the big red flag was that he played for Central Michigan.  Not Michigan State and not Michigan.  Central Michigan from out of the MAC Conference.  Fisher is manning left tackle but at least he has a two time pro bowl guard next to him in Ben Grubbs from the Saints.

The wide receiver group last season was flat out awful.  The Chiefs have finally parted ways with the over-paid and under-producing Dwayne Bowe.  They also parted ways with the “now you see me, now you don’t” Donnie Avery.  This made way for Andy Reid to reunite with former Philadelphia Eagle, Jeremy Maclin.  Maclin entering his sixth season, had over 1300 yards in Philly and brings a real threat to opposing secondaries.  Maclin is reunited with former teammate Jason Avant, who might be the number two option right now but the Chiefs are hoping that their third round pick out of Georgia, the big Chris Conley will turn out to be a consistent fixture in their offense.  Da’Ron Brown out of Northern Illinois is an intriguing player to keep an eye on as well.

If things don’t go right with their receivers, they might go big with a two tight end set having 6’5″ Travis Kelce and 6’7″ Demetrius Harris.  Kelce was the team’s leading receiver last year with over 800 yards.

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With all that went wrong last year, it’s amazing that Jamaal Charles was able to finish with over one thousand rushing yards when it was all said and done.  That’s more a testament to his talent and will than anything else.  Charles is still the focal point of this offense, but the addition of Maclin should help out Charles in the sense that now defenses have to mind the threat he (Maclin) poses.   De’Anthony Thomas has game breaking speed and abilities – he has to be a part of the every day offensive scheme Reid plans on presenting to offer another dimension to this offense.

For all the negativity Alex Smith gets, he is the prototypical game managing quarterback that head coaches really don’t mind having.  He doesn’t make many mistakes and is a lot more athletic than he gets credit for.

Last year, linebacker Justin Houston was an animal and recorded twenty two sacks for the season.   Houston was in contract disputes with the Chiefs and they agreed on a six-year contract worth $101 million ($52.5 guaranteed).  With Derrick Johnson returning from injury, the pass rush from the linebackers should be viable, which is important because after tackle Dontari Poe and defensive end Allen Bailey – the Chiefs defensive line is packed with middle of the road rotation players.  One shouldn’t buy to high into Bailey’s stock either. . .

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The secondary is in flux, to say the least.  Eric Berry returns to the defense after fighting lymphoma and word from Chiefs camp is that he is out there making plays.  That’s a positive sign for the defense and more importantly Berry moving forward.   The Chiefs best option at corner back is their first round pick Marcus Peters out of Washington State.  Peters showed a lot of natural skill at the position and is tough as nails.  The only fault of Peters is that he’s a bit of a hot head.  He might be exactly what this team needs in the secondary to ignite some kind of fire in them; or he might be a distraction to the team as a whole.

Predicted Record: 5-11

Predicted Pro Bowlers: Dontari Poe, Jamaal Charles, Jeremy Maclin

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

 

Oakland Raiders 2015 Preview

General manager Reggie McKenzie has three years of work under his belt and the best thing he has to show for it was last year’s draft and working this franchise out of cap-hell.   The Raiders have been most people’s punchline in recent years, but last year they added a little punch.  Albeit a very little punch, because the team ultimately ended up winning only three games last season.

McKenzie’s job may be kept in check this season depending on one important thing: The chemistry between the quarterback he drafted last year and the receiver he drafted this year.  Derek Carr had a decent season with twenty-one touchdowns and twelve interceptions last season – while showing off his arm strength from time to time.  He’s a young quarterback who is being asked in his second year to lead a team who’s expectations aren’t very high.  That’s a tall order to ask of any quarterback, let alone one in his sophomore season.  Carr will be unfairly judged more times than not this year but as long as he keeps the turnovers to a minimal, he shouldn’t worry about losing his job.

The receiving core is being led by the Raiders’ first round selection out of Alabama, Amari Cooper.  Cooper was highly touted and came with the title of being the “most pro-ready” receiver in the draft.  He is a great route runner,  and a physical wide out at 6’1″ 200 pounds.  Cooper is the most talented wide receiver on this roster and he hasn’t even played his first game yet.  Michael Crabtree signed with the team that should’ve drafted him instead of Darius Heyward Bey in 2009 (yikes).  When it’s all said and done though, Crabtree has been more a disappointment than not in the NFL.  He is a decent wideout, but injuries and consistent play, have plagued his  career thus far.  Andre Holmes seemed to develop a good chemistry with Carr last season, averaging nearly fifteen yards a catch – so it’ll be interesting to see him having to fight for looks as a number three or even four wide out on this depth chart.

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This offensive line was a struggle last year in the running game, finishing dead last in that category.  The line is still a work in progress, and the Raiders decided to restructure the line by signing center Rodney Hudson, who according to Pro Football Focus, had the third highest center rating in the NFL in 2014.  Behind this offensive line is an interesting back field thought.  Trent Richardson was brought in to. . . be number three on the depth chart behind Latavius Murray and former Redskin Roy Helu.  Murray is still an enigma to some.  Drafted in the sixth round of the 2013 draft, Murray came out of Central Florida and finished his college career rushing at 5.4 yards a carry.  Last season he finished with an average of 5.2 yards per carry – but look deeper into that average before thinking the Raiders struck gold.  He had a four rush, 112 yard game against the Chiefs which averaged at 28 yards per carry and in the four games that followed, he did not average over five yards a carry once.  Roy Helu is an underrated acquisition for the Raiders, who at times was more dependable than Alfred Morris was last year.  Helu has good hands and instincts, and will be a big help to Carr.

Defensively the Raiders went acquired tackle Dan Williams, in the hopes that he’ll collapse the middle and give way to the edge rushers C.J. Wilson and Justin Tuck.  Tuck, looks like a shell of his New York Giants self and could probably end up being a rotational player early in the year giving the Raiders a better look at the youth playing behind him.

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Offenses will keep an eye on second year Khalil Mack, a linebacker with enough speed to get to any spot.  Mack will be challenged more this year in coverages and will need the speed of fellow linebacker Sio Moore, to help patrol middle grounds and bring additional pressure to the line of scrimmage.

The secondary is an absolute disaster.  It’s so bad, the Raiders felt the need to re-sign Charles Woodson for another year to play safety.  Woodson, now in his thirtieth year in the league (really, his nineteenth but might as well be his thirtieth. . .), has his work cut out for him as this secondary will be torched frequently this season.

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This division is at it’s weakest it’s been in recent history but the Raiders are still too much in their rebuilding stages to do much about it.  Slowly but surely seems to be the mantra in Oakland, but it would be nice to see them more in the mix right now.

Predicted Record: 6-10

Predicted Pro Bowlers: none

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio