2009 AFC West Predictions
2009 AFC West preview from MadduxSports.com. After studying the NFL teams get signed up for our Free Pro Picks for the top handicappers on the internet.
2009 AFC West Division Preview
By Adam Barone
The AFC West has some attractive storylines, but only one truly competitive team. The now Philip Rivers-led Chargers should dominate this division barring the ridiculous, while the Raiders are doomed to be… uh… the Raiders. The Chiefs don’t have the talent to make much noise, while you’re certain to get sick of hearing about the Broncos over the course of the season, but not because they’re a particularly good football team.
San Diego Chargers (12-4): Rivers and his trash talking surpassed LaDainian Tomlinson last season as the dominant force for the Lightning Bolts, but that may change this season. Tomlinson battled a toe injury for most of the season, and failed to top 300 carries for the first time in his career. Rivers, on the other hand, led the NFL in both touchdown passes (34) and quarterback rating (105.5). Rivers has an attractive group of targets, including tight end Antonio Gates, and receivers Vincent Jackson, Chris Chambers, Malcom Floyd, and Craig Davis. Jackson broke out in 2008, catching 59 passes for over 1,000 yards, and scoring seven touchdowns.
The defense was a disappointment, after it looked so promising in 2007. Ron Rivera took over as coordinator midway through 2008, and the defense showed improvement. Stud linebacker Shawne Merriman missed 15 games last season with a severe knee injury after posting double-digit sack totals his first three seasons. He’s expected to be ready to play the coming season. The unit isn’t the same without him making plays on the outside. Former Northern Illinois linebacker Larry English was drafted in the first round to add depth to the position.
Denver Broncos (6-10): The Broncos offense was explosive last season, but a terrible defense led to an 8-8 record and former head coach Mike Shanahan’s lack of employment. Former Patriots’ offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has taken over the position, and made his mark by running star quarterback Jay Cutler out of town. He was traded for Kyle Orton and draft picks, leaving the franchise in an entirely new situation. Orton has much better receivers to throw to than he did in Chicago, including Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, Jabar Gaffney, and Brandon Stokley. Orton had a career year in Chicago last season, throwing for 2,972 yards and 18 touchdowns, but is almost certain to surpass those numbers in 2009.
The defense was unbelievably bad against the run in 2008, finishing 27th in the league having allowed 146.1 yards per contest on the ground. The defense finished 29th overall, and defensive coordinator Bob Slowik was replaced by Mike Nolan. Nolan will run a 3-4, but doesn’t have the necessary personnel just yet, so struggles are likely. Linebacker Andra Davis and safety Brian Dawkins were brought in as upgrades, but a quality nose tackle is still a need.
Oakland Raiders (5-11): Tom Cable is officially the head coach of the Raiders, and has a major uphill climb ahead of him. Quarterback JaMarcus Russell is the starting quarterback, but doesn’t appear to have the mental makeup of an NFL quarterback. He’s completed 53.9 percent of his passes in his career, and has a 73.9 quarterback rating. Veteran Jeff Garcia was brought in to push him, and may steal his job. The offense will revolve around the running game, which features Darren McFadden, Justin Fargas, and Michael Bush. McFadden has the pedigree of a star, but missed time last season with toe problems, playing in 13 games, but only carrying 8.7 times per contest. Cable plans to give him a much bigger role in this year’s attack.
The Raiders’ run defense has ranked second-to-last each of the past two seasons, and doesn’t have a great chance of improving with coordinator Rob Ryan gone. Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is one of the best in the league, and Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard are quality linebackers, but things won’t improve unless Cable changes the culture in the locker room.
Kansas City Chiefs (5-11): The Chiefs have been in a “rebuilding mode” that’s seen them get worse and worse over three seasons, so changes were necessary. Former Cardinals’ offensive coordinator Todd Haley is now the head coach, and Matt Cassel is the new quarterback. Tight end Tony Gonzalez was traded to Atlanta, leaving receiver Dwayne Bowe as the focal point of the offense. Bowe has made over 150 receptions for over 2,000 yards in his first two seasons, and that was with Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen playing quarterback. Expect a big year from Bowe, as Larry Johnson and the running game don’t bring much to the table.
Haley brought former Cardinals’ defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast with him to Kansas City, despite his inability to put together a solid unit in Arizona. Pendergast will transition the Chiefs to a 3-4 front, with Mike Vrabel and Zach Thomas coming in to play linebacker. Rookie end Tyson Jackson shows promise, but it’s unknown how well he’ll perform in the 3-4. The Chiefs were second-to-last in the NFL in total defense last season, and ranked sixth-worst in time of possession, so there’s a lot of work to be done.