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Fearless Rick's NFL Preview - AFC West

Rick Gagliano | August 4, 2011

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs

2010 record: 10-6

Predicted finish: 11-5

Head Coach: Todd Haley

Departed: OL Brian Waters, C Rudy Niswanger, TE Brad Cottam, DT Shaun Smith, DT Ron Edwards, CB Maurice Leggett.

Incoming: WR Steve Breaston, OT Jared Gaither, DL Amon Gordon, S Sabby Piscitelli, FB LeRon McClain, LB Brandon Siler, DT Kelly Gregg; Rookies: LB Justin Houston (Georgia), WR Jonathan Baldwin (Pittsburgh), DE Allen Bailey (Miami FL), QB Ricky Stanzi (Iowa), LB Gabe Miller (Oregon State), NT Jerrell Powe (Mississippi), FB Shane Bannon (Yale).

Strengths: Improving defense. The Chiefs allowed 20.4 points per game in 2010, a nice improvement, and they've beefed up through free agency and the draft. The secondary defended 98 passes last year, tops in the league. A more confident offense. They're not elite yet, but they're getting there. The Chiefs led the league with 164.2 rushing yards per outing.

Weaknesses: If any, it's Matt Cassell's maturity and decision-making. He's young, and can improve.

Key Games: Sun, Sept. 25 at San Diego, Sun, Oct. 9 at Indianapolis, Sun, Oct. 23 at Oakland, Mon, Nov 21 at New England, Sun Nov 27 vs Pittsburgh, Sun, Dec 4 at Chicago, Sun, Dec 11 at NY Jets, Sun, Dec 18 vs. Green Bay. That's a pretty tough road schedule, in addition to having to play Green Bay and Pittsburgh at home.

What if?: The Chiefs become road warriors?

That's one heck of a road schedule the NFL came up with for the Chiefs, and they were just 3-5 away from Arrowhead last season. If they split those tough road games or do better and start beating teams like New England and the Jets on their own turf, look out world.

San Diego Chargers

2010 record: 9-7

Predicted finish: 10-6

Head Coach: Norv Turner

Departed: LB Kevin Burnett, WR Legedu Naanee, CB Paul Olier, LB Brandon Siler, LB Antwan Applewhite, RB Darren Sproles, WR Craig "Buster" Davis, LB Brandon Lang, CB Donald Strickland, TE Kris Wilson, LB Jyles Tucker.

Incoming: WR Laurent Robinson, LB Travis LaBoy, LB Takeo Spikes, S Bob Sanders; Rookies: LB Jonas Mouton (Michigan), LB Antwan Barnes (Florida International), CB Shareece Wright (USC), RB Jordan Todman (Connecticut), CB Marcus Gilcrist (Clemson), WR Vincent Brown (San Diego St.), LB Andrew Gachkar (Missouri).

Strengths: Killer offense, led by perennial pro bowler Phillip Rivers, with Malcolm Floyd and Vincent Jackson his main downfield targets. If Antonio Gates gets healthy, they'll be superb. Ryan Matthews is developing into one of the NFL's fiercest runners.

Weaknesses: Slow starts. The Chargers have a nasty habit of getting off to 2-4 or 3-5 starts to their seasons and it's hurt them in home field advantage during the playoffs over the past five years. Statistically, the Chargers are one of the top defenses in the league, allowing just 271.6 ypg, but they gave up 20.1 ppg in 2011. They need more discipline in their linebackers and seem to have addressed the issue by picking up LaBoy and Spikes in free agency and drafting rookie linebackers Antwan Barnes and Jonas Mouton.

Key Games: Sun, Sept. 18 at New England, Sun, Sept. 25 vs. Kansas City, Sun, Oct 23 at NY Jets, Mon, Oct 31 at Kansas City, Sun, Nov 6 vs Green Bay. A tough mid-season stretch will be crucial to the hopes of the Chargers. Red Zone points.

What if?: The Chargers get off to a fast start?

After years of frustration with bad starts to seasons, the Chargers have the benefit of a relatively light schedule in the opening weeks. Their first five game - prior to their bye week - are home vs. Minnesota, at New England, home for KC and Miami, and at Denver. Even if they lose the New England and KC games, they should be 3-2, and in good shape for making the playoffs, which they missed, last season.

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Oakland Raiders

2010 record: 8-8

Predicted finish: 7-9

Head Coach: Hue Jackson

Departed: QB Bruce Gradkowski, CB Nnamdi Asomugha, TE Zach Miller, WR Johnnie Lee Higgins, OG Robert Gallery, LB Thomas Howard.

Incoming: QB Trent Edwards, WR Derek Hagan, TE Kevin Boss, OG Justin Smiley, OT Stephon Heyer; Rookies: TE David Ausberry (USC), CB Chimdi Chekwa (Ohio State), TE Richard Gordon (Miami FL), WR Denarius Moore (Tennessee), CB DeMarcus Van Dyke (Miami FL), C Stefen Wisniewski (Penn State).

Strengths: Oakland can move the ball at will on the ground. They averaged 155.9 yards per game in 2010, second only to Kansas City. The defensive secondary was strong last season, allowing just 189.2 yards per outing, second-best in the league, behind San Diego, but that was largely due to the presence of shutdown cornerback, Nnamdi Asomugha, who bolted to the Eagles via free agency.

Weaknesses: The Raiders had trouble in two areas in 2010, stopping the run, as they allowed 133.6 yards worth of ground game per contest, and throwing the football, as they were 22nd overall at 198.8 yards per game.

Key Games: The first four weeks should be interesting for the youthful Raiders, as they open with road games at Denver and Buffalo, then return home to host the Jets and Patriots. A 2-2 start would be OK; anything worse, cause for concern.

What if?: The Raider offensive line fails to protect Jason Campbell?

That's an outcome the Raiders would dread. In 13 games last season, Campbell was sacked 33 times and threw only 13 TD passes and 8 interceptions. Part of the problem is Campbell holding the ball too long, trying to make plays, but since Campbell is far from an elite quarterback, the O-line needs to step it up on passing downs.

Denver Broncos

2010 record: 4-12

Predicted finish: 6-10

Head Coach: John Fox

Departed: WR Jabar Gaffney, OT Ryan Harris, DT Ronald Fields, RB Correll Buckhalter

Incoming: DE Jeremy Jarmon, DE Ty Warren, TE Dante Rosario, TE Daniel Fells, WR David Anderson, RB Willis McGahee, DE Derrick Harvery; Rookies: FS Quinton Carter (Oklahoma), DE Jeremy Beal (Oklahoma), LB Mike Mohamed (Cal), TE Julius Thomas (Portland St.), TE Virgil Green (Nevada), LB Von Miller (Texas A&M), OT Orlando Franklin (Miami FL).

Strengths: Mobility at QB if Tim Tebow snatches the starting job. A positive outlook after a horrid season and a new coach with solid credentials.

Weaknesses: Defense, overall. The Broncos had trouble stopping anyone in a uniform last season, last in the league in points allowed, at 29.4 and yards per game (390.8). Not only were they routinely awful on defense, their pass rush was non-existent, gathering only 23 sacks over the course of the season.

Key Games: Winning against teams in their own division - Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego - will be a true test for the Broncos. As the division has improved over the past three years, Denver seems to have slipped and fallen behind.

What if?: Tim Tebow gains the starting quartrback job over Kyle Orton?

It won't be an earth-shattering event, as Tebow is highly competitive and many of the fans and coaches believe he could be the future face of the franchise. However, throwing him into the starting gig will not be without issues and moments of sheer dread. Tebow is brash, but relatively untested. He's not the greatest thrower in the world and needs to work on his mechanics.

Copyright 2011, 2012, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.


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