AFC West Previews

AFC West Previews

2008 Kansas City Chiefs Predictions
by Josh Nagel

2007 record: 4-12 (2-6 home, 2-6 away)
2007 against the spread: 8-8 (5-3 home, 3-5 road); o/u: 8-8
2007 rankings: offense, 31st (20th passing, 32nd rushing); defense, 13th (4th passing, 28th rushing)
2008 odds: to win Super Bowl: 100/1, to win AFC: 50/1, to win AFC West: 12/1, o/u wins: 5.5

The good news for the Raiders is that they might not be the worst team in this division ... although it could be a close battle given Oakland's recent history. But the early favorite for that dubious distinction goes to the Kansas City Chiefs.

If you've seen some of his press conferences, or perhaps caught a few episodes of the HBO pre-season special that featured the Chiefs, it's clear there's something about coach Herman Edwards that suggests he's a few cards short of a full deck. Something about the guy just isn't right.

Forget the fact that it's hard to come up with a reason why he deserved another head coaching job in the NFL after his tenure with the Jets. But after toiling around with a few sub-par seasons in Kansas City, there's no doubt it's about to get worse. The Chiefs might have the best fan support in the NFL, and they are going to need it this year.

After plodding to a 4-12 mark, the Chiefs are in full rebuilding mode. They let their best defensive player, Jared Allen, go to the Vikings and replaced him with top draft pick Glenn Dorsey who, while he has considerable potential, already has been injury-prone throughout his career at LSU. Quarterback Brodie Croyle has a strong arm but is rough around the edges, and this is the year that he must prove he is worthy of being an NFL starter, although the signs aren't that promising thus far.

An aging Tony Gonzalez and second-year receiver Dwayne Bowe are about the biggest threats the Chiefs have on offense. They sorely need running back Larry Johnson to stay healthy and return to his All-Pro form, although Lousiville product Kolby Smith had some bright spots filling in as his backup. Tackle Branden Albert, another first-rounder, should help the run game and protect Coyle.

Defense presents an even bigger problem. The Chiefs had the worst run defense in the league, and their draft picks had better get up to speed right away. Donnie Edwards is a fine linebacker but he has lost a step with age, and Derrick Johnson hasn't lived up to the potential he showed coming out of Texas.

Together, the lack of big-name playmakers on both sides of the ball, combined with Herm's special brand of coaching, makes for a dismal formula this year in Kansas City. The Chiefs might get fired up by their fans and put on a good effort or two in front of the home crowd; they will likey be spotted 7.5-points or more when they face San Diego at home in Week 14. They might be worth a look then, but don't count on it.

2008 Kansas City Chiefs Predictions: 3-13, last place.

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Re: AFC West Previews

2008 Oakland Raiders Predictions
by Josh Nagel

2007 record: 4-12 (2-6 home, 2-6 road)
2007 against the spread: 6-10 (2-6 home, 4-4 road): o/u: 10-5-1
2007 rankings: offense, 25th (31st passing, 6th rushing); defense, 21st (8th passing, 31st rushing)
2008 odds: to win Super Bowl: 50/1, to win AFC: 25/1, to win AFC West: 7/1, o/u wins: 6

To use one word, bleak … that is the outlook this season as it has been it Oakland ever since the Jon Gruden-Rich Gannon era left town and the forgettable Bill Callahan era, followed by other disasters, ensued. Give owner Al Davis credit for not going to the well of Art Shell types one more time, but his timing likely was off with the hiring of Lane Kiffin. Even though the young coach showed some signs of coaching aptitude, he came along in the wrong situation.

Given Oakland's perpetual turmoil, a coach with proven NFL success and the demeanor of patience and leadership was needed. With his Bay Area ties and proven record, the name Steve Mariucci comes to mind; however, he never seems to be mentioned as a serious candidate for NFL coaching vacancies.

So the Raiders went with Kiffin, and already last season there were rumblings that some of Oakland's veteran players, many of whom are older than the coach, had a hard time respecting their new leader. No surprise there. Also, there was speculation that Davis demanded Kiffin's resignation during the offseason, but evidently the young coach did not cave in. Needless to say, per their usual mode of operation, the Raiders have problems.

Kiffin's reign started with the disastrous holdout of top pick JaMarcus Russell, who was out of shape and way behind schedule by the time he joined the team mid-season. When the former LSU quarterback finally took the field, his glimpses of athleticism were overshadowed by his clear uncertainty and inexperience on the field. He ended up throwing four interceptions with two touchdowns in limited work.

The good news is that the Raiders finally took the best player available when they snagged Darren McFadden in the draft, making the sound choice over trying to get creative as they did a few years back in drafting safety Michael Huff instead of quarterback Matt Leinart. If McFadden can deliver on his Reggie Bush-esque talent - unlike Bush himself - and Russell comes along in his second year, the Raiders have a chance to be interesting and explosive on offense. However, they must do something about a defense that was second-worst in the league against the run.

Oakland did show some minor value last year as a slight home dog in a few games, memorably beating Denver, 34-20, at home late in the season as a 3-5-point dog. The Raiders might show similar value this year, but it might be best to wait a few weeks and see if they deserve your attention.

2008 Oakland Raiders Predictions: 5-11, third place.

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Re: AFC West Previews

2008 Denver Broncos Predictions
by Josh Nagel

2007 record: 7-9 (5-3 home, 2-6 away)
2007 against the spread: 5-11 (4-4 home, 1-7 road); o/u: 11-4-1
2007 rankings: offense, 11th (13th passing, 9th rushing); defense, 19th (7th passing, 30th rushing)
2008 odds: to win Super Bowl: 50/1, to win AFC: 22/1, to win AFC West: 9/2, o/u wins: 7.5

Give credit to the Broncos ownership for loyalty. His two Super Bowl rings of yesteryear have earned coach Mike Shanahan a lot - make that A LOT - of slack over the past few years, with some decision-making and results that long ago would have earned other coaches their pink slips. Losing at home to the 49ers in the last game of the season with their playoff lives on the line would have been enough to get a majority of coaches their ticket to the unemployment line. However, Shanahan will be the helm once again when the Broncos kick off their season.

Though his past success is unquestioned, you wonder whether the Broncos might be better off with a change in direction if they do not turn things around this year. Shanahan's "genius-in-a-football-coach's-disguise" aura has lost its glow. After all, this is a guy who wasted a third-round pick on Maurice Clarett when he could have had him as a free agent. Not that doing so would have made a difference. Shanahan also has stuck firm in his belief that running backs are interchangeable in his system, and has lost too much good talent to defections over the years. He did not draft for the position in the off-season, and the Broncos head into camp with relatively unproven Selvin Young as their No. 1 back.

Shanahan also decided to part ways with Jake Plummer, which probably had to be done, but his replacement, Jay Cutler, has been erratic. Although he suffered from a then-undiagnosed case of diabetes, Cutler was mistake-prone at critical times and ended up throwing for more than 3,000 yards, but had 14 picks to go with 20 touchdowns. He has a lack of playmakers now as well, with the retirement of Rod Smith and defection of Javon Walker leaving the arrest-prone Brandon Marshall his top target. The Broncos also got little out of Young and Travis Henry in the running game.

Conversely, Denver's young defensive line was among the league's worst and could not get key stops. The Broncos ended the season with the league's 30th-ranked rushing defense, and yet still selected an offensive lineman, Boise State's Ryan Clady, in the first round. With a lack of dynamic talent on offense and an unproven defense, Shanahan will really have to call on his genius instincts if Denver stands any chance of turning things around. Though it's tempting to eye them as a dark horse pick in this division, the Broncos probably aren't a good value at the current odds.

2008 Denver Broncos Predictions: 8-8, no playoffs.

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Re: AFC West Previews

2008 San Diego Chargers Predictions
by Josh Nagel

2007 record: 11-5 (7-1 home, 4-4 road)
2007 against the spread: 11-5 (7-1 home, 4-4 road); o/u: 8-6-2
2007 rankings: offense, 20th (26th passing, 7th rushing); defense, 14th (13th passing, 16th rushing)
2008 odds: to win Super Bowl: 7/1, to win AFC: 4/1, to win AFC West: 1/4, o/u wins: 10.5

The Chargers made the AFC championship game last season - and were within a couple of blown opportunities from upsetting the Patriots - and remain the class of this division despite what could be characterized as two major mistakes by the team's management.

One, of course, was giving up on Drew Brees too soon and anointing unproven Philip Rivers the starter before Rivers had made any kind of mark in the NFL. Brees moved on to New Orleans, where he has emerged as a top-five NFL quarterback and took the Saints to the NFC Championship Game two seasons ago. Rivers, in the meantime, reminds you a lot of Trent Dilfer in his prime, though he is marginally more talented. Though he likes to talk trash with opposing teams and their fans, his performance hasn't been a lot to howl about. Rivers was rightfully given a lot of props for playing injured in last year's AFC title game, but the best thing for the team might have been to go with backup Billy Volek. Rivers' 21 TD passes versus 15 interceptions is not a great ratio, and his 82.4 quarterback rating merely is average. Most teams crowd the box to stop LaDainian Tomlinson and challenge the Chargers to beat them with the passing game; thus far, Rivers hasn't shown the ability to do so consistently.

The other mistake was dumping coach Marty Schottenheimer after one playoff loss and replacing him with two-time head coaching failure Norv Turner. Even though Turner accomplished something his predecessor could not, that does not make him the correct choice. The Chargers seem to be talented enough that they win despite their head coach, not because of him. If that's the case, then Schottenheimer at least had a leadership quality that the team needed. If nothing else, keeping Schottenheimer would have prevented him from accepting broadcasting jobs, which would have been welcome news to NFL fans everywhere.

Turner, though noted as a fine offensive coordinator, has suffered from a lack of respect from his players at each of his previous stops in Washington and Oakland. It remains to be seen if he can command the respect of the Chargers when the team faces adversity.

Even so, this team has enough talent alone to again contend for the AFC title. If key players such as Rivers, Tomlinson, tight end Antonio Gates and linebacker Shawn Merriman can stay healthy, there's no reason the Chargers can't find themselves in another AFC Championship Game.

2008 San Diego Chargers Predictions: 11-5, first place, advance to divisional round of playoffs.

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