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SNAP CENTRAL | PREVIEWS: NCAA Top 25 | NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West | AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
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Fearless Rick's 2009 NFL Preview - AFC WEST

Rick Gagliano | 8/10/2009

AFC WEST - Predicted order of finish and (predicted record)

Oakland Raiders (10-6): How the Raiders will fare in the 2009 season rests largely upon the shoulders of QB JaMarcus Russell, who will benefit from having a year as the starter under his belt, a superb trio of young, swift backs and a healthy receiving corps. Russell threw for 2423 yards with 13 TDs an 8 INTs in 2008, and can easily improve upon those numbers, though he doesn't necessarily have to carry this team. Much of the hard work on offense will fall to Justin Fargas, Michael Bush and Darren McFadden, who will all get plenty of carries.

Slated to start at wideout are Javon Walker, who missed 8 games due to injury in 2008, and Chaz Schilens, who played in all 16 games but only caught 15 balls. Expected to make an immediate impact are two draft picks: Darrius-Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy, picked in the first and fourth rounds, from Maryland and Florida, respectively. Smallish (5'9") Nick Miller, an unsigned free agent, might make noise as a speedster with lots of desire bbothon special teams and as a wideout weapon.

The Raiders, who put up only 16.4 points per game in 2008, will make serious strides on offense, surprisingly moving up in the stats department via rapid improvement by talented, young playmakers in abundance.

Defensively, the Raiders weren't awful in 2008, but need run-stoppers to step up. Defensive linemen Matt Shaughnessy (Wisconsin) and Stryker Sulak (Missouri) were both drafted to beef up the front. Linebacker Kirk Morrison led the team with 136 tackles last year and Thomas Howard is steady on the weak side with 97 stops in '08. Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha has "star" written all over him.

The schedule may not be as daunting as it first appears in this wide open division. After opening with the Chargers in Oakland, the Raiders catch KC, Denver and Houston, all of which could be wins. A 3-1 or 4-0 start would be just the kind of confidence-building medicine this young team needs. They do face the AFC South and NFC East outside the division, plus dates at Pittsburgh and Cleveland, but a stretch from week 7 to week 12 includes the Jets, at San Diego, a bye, KC and Cincy at home and at Dallas. Should the Raiders win 3 of those 5, they may be the biggest surprise of the league because after Pittsburgh in week 13, they face Washington, Denver, Cleveland and Baltimore to close out the season, another 3 or 4 wins possible.

If the Raiders are determined to dethrone the Chargers, they have the players with which to do it. A strong start to '09 could be the impetus needed to reach the playoffs and it all starts Monday, September 14 in Oakland with the rival Chargers taking the field. A prime time win could propel this bunch to unimaginable heights in 2009.


San Diego Chargers (9-7): Notorious for slow starts (0-2 and 3-5 in 2008; 1-3 in 2007), the challenge for the Chargers is to get through the first four weeks and into their bye no worse than 2-2. The potential for an 0-4 start is present as the Chargers open on the road at Oakland, then host Baltimore and Miami in weeks 2 and 3, before heading to Pittsburgh in week 4. Should the Chargers manage to survive that season-opening bout of contenders, they can meet the Giants and Eagles in successive weeks (9 and 10), but get a break down the stretch with only road games at Dallas and Tennessee as real problems in the final 7 weeks.

Still, the Chargers haven't impressed anyone over the past few seasons, especially since firing Marty Schottenheimer at the end of the successful 2006 campaign, when they were 14-2, but lost in the playoff opener, 24-21 to the Patriots. Since that time, San Diego has underachieved, going a combined 19-13 in 2007 and 2008, and never making it to the Super Bowl.

Now, the team faces pressure from Oakland, a deteriorating Ladainian Tomlinson and a defense which lost their best lineman, Igor Olshansky (to Dallas) and has questions about the return of Shawne Merriman, who missed almost all of '08 with a torn ACL.

The Chargers were 2nd offensively in the league in 2008, but that was because they were playing many high-scoring, come-from-behind games. San Diego scored 30 or more points 7 times in '08, but also allowed receivers to run free in the secondary. San Diego was 31st in pass defense, giving up an average of 247.4 yards per game. The deficiencies in the secondary are glaring, beginning with cornerback Quentin Jammer checking in with 88 tackles, third on the team. Safety Eric Weddle led the Chargers with 127 total in 2008. 215 tackles in the secondary does not bode well for any defense.

Phillip Rivers will have another stellar season at QB if he remains healthy. Unless Tomlinson returns to his 2006 form (unlikely), Darren Sproles will see more action in the backfield. but that is likely to hinder his effectiveness on special teams. Rivers will spread the ball around to very capable hands, especially tight end Antonio Gates and receivers Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers.

This is the make or break season for head coach Norv Turner, in his thrid season with the Chargers. Getting to the conference championship is a tall order in the stacked AFC, and Turner's record of sub-par finishes will have the coaching staff looking over their collective shoulders in 2009. Another slow start could doom the franchise to another mediocre season, in a division in which they should conceivably dominate.

This team is getting slower and older, usually a bad sign for head coaches looking to achieve more. 9-7 may not be good enough to win this division if the Raiders continue their progress.


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Denver Broncos (4-12): With the departure of both head coach Mike Shanahan and QB Jay Cutler, former Patriot offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels faces the daunting task of rebuilding this team virtually from the ground up.

Even with Cutler at the helm in '08, the Broncos were only 16th overall on offense, and ranked 30th on defense.

Kyle Orton takes over at quarterback, and while he doesn't have a huge arm, he is consistent and makes generally good decisions. Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno is expected to start and should have a solid season as the Broncos' featured back.

Free agency brought over linebacker Andra Davis from Cleveland and Brian Dawkins from Philly. Those two will be big plusses, but they really need more help, especially on the defensive line, which is undersized and prone to being pushed around. This issue was not addressed, though the Broncos will shift to a 3-4 look. The absence of a serious pass rush is a major problem.

This is a rebuilding year in Denver and fans accustomed to the winning ways of Mike Shanahan will have a difficult time adjusting to a series of losing seasons. There will be positives, but those will likely be outweighed by the negatives. 6 wins on the outside is the most this team can expect.


Kansas City Chiefs (3-13): Making bold moves in the off-season, with changes at head coach (Todd Haley) and bringing in offensive coordinator Chan Gailey from Arizona, the Chiefs seek to improve on their miserable 2-14 showing in 2008. To do that, they brought in QB Matt Cassell from New England, but Cassell is unlikely to receive the kind of protection he got last year in New England, nor does he have the receivers with which to make plays. Running back Larry Johnson returns and will get the bulk of the carries, but he's a chronic complainer and the Chiefs may need to muzzle him after three or four early losses.

The offense ranked 26th overall in 2008, and the defense was near the bottom as well, at #29. Only the Lions had a worse season than Kansas City, and it's unlikely that bringing in new faces is going to fix that soon.

Adding aging veterans Zach Thomas and Mike Vrabel is a risky move, but they may add some stability to the youth movement underway. The draft was productive, with LSU's Tyson Jackson drafted in the first round and Purdue's Alex Magee coming in the third. Both are linemen who may start.

Even with all the personnel changes, the Chiefs are a year away from being competitive. Finishing higher in the standings than Denver should be their goal.

Copyright 2009, 2010, 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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