NFL 2011 – AFC West Preview

The AFC West features one thing this year, two good teams and two not-so-good teams.
San Diego and Kansas City will once again battle for the division while Oakland and Denver will battle for the cellar.
So, here’s how I have the season playing out:

SAN DIEGO — The Chargers and Philip Rivers didn’t win the West last year, but that won’t be the case this year.
I think they made a few good under-the-radar moves in nabbing Bob Sanders (if he plays in one full game it will be a win) and adding Takeo Spikes.
I think the big signing was keeping Malcom Floyd. Yes, Vincent Jackson is back for a full season but adding Floyd gives Rivers three legit pass-catchers along with Antonio Gates (if he is healthy).
So, the Chargers will air it out and should have a solid ground game with Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews toting the rock. If they can’t put up big numbers against other teams, they can always look forward to getting a couple hundred yards against the Broncos.
The defense might not be the best but the offense is going to take them as far as they go.
Fantasy player I love: Mathews, injuries were a downer in his rookie year but I think this is the year he breaks out. He played behind Tolbert in the preseason opener but maybe that was a “figure it out” move by the coaches to him. I’m saying over 1,000 rush yards and double-digit TDs, unless of course, he gets injured.

KANSAS CITY — Remember that time the Chiefs traded for a quarterback and he didn’t play very good the first year and then blew up (in a good way) the next?
That’s what Matt Cassel did, coming off a 16:16 TD:INT all the way to 27:7 last year.
He was helped by the emergence of Dwayne Bowe in his … fourth year. The always important third-year breakout waited a year for him.
Bowe was a freak last with 15 TD grabs and what did the Chiefs do? They went out and got Steve Breaston (solid underneath guy) and Jonathan Baldwin who is sort of in a Bowe mold.
This is all paired together with the explosive Jamaal Charles in the running game.
Not only will the Chiefs be exciting on offense but the defense is young and Eric Berry is an Ed Reed type in the defensive backfield.
Fantasy player I love: They actually have about four that I like very much but I think Baldwin has the most sleeper potential. Obviously Bowe and Charles are near the top at their positions but I think Baldwin’s size/catching ability sets him apart. I’ll go low since he’s a rookie at 700/7.

DENVER — Kyle Orton or Tim Tebow? Tebow or Orton? Einhorn and Finkel?
Until the starter is named the debate will rage on for Tebow or Orton as the Broncos starting QB.
I don’t think they’ll go wrong either way although the loss of Demaryius Thomas until later in the season is a blow most people don’t see.
Would he have made them contend for the West? No. But he would have been a big target for either QB. Now they will roll with Brandon Lloyd, Eddie Royal and Eric Decker. Not the best.
All offseason I’ve been reading how the coaches didn’t think Knowshon Moreno was an every-down back so what do they do, sign Willis McGahee. I like the move to add another pretty proven back who has something left but that doesn’t make them a contender.
What will make them move up to third in the West is the defense. Most notably the addition of linebacker Von Miller. That dude is a freak and should help shore up a porous run defense. They will definitely top last year’s 4-12 record.
Fantasy player I love: Ehhhh, I know Lloyd was pretty awesome last year but if Tebow is the starter I go with him. The guy should put up decent passing numbers to go with the valuable rushing numbers and TDs.

OAKLAND — What do you do the year after one of your best records in years? Fire your head coach, obviously.
Not just that though, then you lose two key players to that same fired coach to his new team, Seattle.
The Raiders offense might have been decent with keeping Robert Gallery and Zach Miller but I don’t think adding Kevin Boss to replace Miller is going to get it done.
As always, the defense should be solid but unless the Darren McFadden/Michael Bush train is going every game and Darrius Heyward-Bey can catch the occasional pass, the Raiders will struggle to reach last year’s 8-8 mark.
Fantasy player I love: McFadden of course. I drafted him his first year and have held him ever since. Luckily he finally played and paid off last year. As always, injuries make or break his year. I still can’t figure out if Bush back will help/hurt him though.

So, there you have it. That’s how I think the West will go. I do think the Chargers and Chiefs will be as close as it was last year but with it being 11-5, 10-6 and not 10-6, 9-7.