The Raiders had one of the highest payrolls in the NFL last season, yet they managed just four victories to show for it! A coaching change was inevitable after that debacle, so the hard-nosed Art Shell was re-hired to instill some discipline after the inmates ran the asylum here the last couple of years.
While the Raiders should be more controlled this year, there is still an issue of talent and lack of youth. Except for running back LaMont Jordan, the rest of the key players on the roster are clearly past their prime, or in the case of quarterback Aaron Brooks were never that good to begin with!
This only magnifies what we feel was a major blunder with the seventh overall pick in the draft, when Oakland passed on Matt Leinart in favor of safety Michael Huff. Now Huff may turn out to be a good one, but we simply cannot see passing on a cannot-miss like Leinart with the inconsistent Brooks currently topping the depth chart. Also wide receiver Randy Moss has never reacted well to discipline, so it will be intriguing to see if he and Shell can co-exist.
The defense ranked 27th in the NFL last season, and yes it was that bad! The Raiders could do nothing on this side of the ball, allowing 128.1 rushing yards and 217.6 passing yards per game. To make matters worse, Oakland lost five defensive starters to free agency, and one of the returnees Warren Sapp is merely a shell of the great player he once was. Now Shell may somehow will this club to a few more wins than it probably deserves, but that will not be enough to keep the Oakland Raiders out of the AFC West cellar.
The Chiefs could potentially have the best offense in football this season, especially if Joseph Addai bombs as the Colts running back. Remember that Larry Johnson began last season as the THIRD-STRING running back, and the fact that he is starting right from the get-go this year should boost the offense. Also expect Donte Hall to see more action at wide receiver this season, in addiditon to his customary return duties. The problem for the Chiefs is that the defense will struggle to stop anyone again, even with some nice draft picks.
If Quarterback Trent Green can pass for over 4000 yards and 17 touchdowns without a speedy receiver like he did last season, imagine what he could do with Hall getting more touches! Coach Herm Edwards has already announced that the offense is designing more ways to get the ball to Hall from scrimmage to take advantage of his big-play capabilities. If this comes to fruition, Green may rewrite the record books this year in terms of passing yardage. As for the running game, all that Johnson did last season was rush for 1750 rushing yards on a fanatatic 5.2 yards per carry with 20 rushing touchdowns. Imagine what he could do this year taking snaps with the starting units from Day One!
Unfortunately for Kansas City, the defense has to take the field for about half the game. The Chiefs were dreadful against the pass last season as opposing quarterbacks were seemingly able to spend half an hour in the pocket! There is a ray of hope however as the Cheifs did make a couple of nice draft picks in defensive end Tamba Hali and safety Bernard Pollard. Hali will be an immediate impact player as he instantly upgrades the pass rush, while Pollard should be a starter in the secondary sooner rather than later. This should translate into a few more stops per game, and while that may not sound like much, it may be all that the Kansas City Chiefs need to claim the second wild card spot in the AFC, given the great offense.
Prediction for 2006: 2nd Place AFC West, Wild Card
The Broncos surprised many people last season by running away with the AFC West title en route to a 13-3 record. While we expect a much tighter race with Kansas City this season, we still expect Denver to prevail and repeat as division champions on the strength of the far superior defense.
Quarterback Jake Plummer was unbelievable last season as he passed for over 3300 yards and threw just seven interceptions against 18 touchdown passes. Sure that may have been a career year, but we do not expect a terrible fall-off this season considering that he will be throwing against some poor defenses inside the division. It also helps his cause that the Broncos were able to sign wide receiver Javon Walker away from the Packers, as he has more of an ability to stretch the field than the other Denver receivers do. As for the Denver running game, is it the players or is it the system? We ask this because the Broncos are always among the NFL leaders in rushing, yet they have a different 1000-yard rusher every year! Undrafted free agent Mike Bell out of Arizona will now try to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis and Terrell Davis. If he is not up to the task, the Broncos still have Tatum Bell and Ron Dayne in reserve. Given that the offensive line is one of the best in football, we expect the running game to flourish again regardless of who gets the carries.
The defense was solid last season finishing 13th in the entire NFL, and it played much better than that as many of the yards this unit allowed came late in games with the outcome already settled. Nobody was able to run on the Broncos as they allowed just 85.2 rushing yards per game. This unit probably had the smallest turnover in the off-season of any other defense in the league, so we look for solid numbers again this year. The Denver Broncos may have overachieved a bit last season by beating up on a weak division, but we feel that they have enough talent to repeat as division champions in 2006.
The Chargers paved the way for Philip Rivers to take over at quarterback by allowing Drew Brees to leave through free agency, but for this year at least this team will only go as far as the legs of LaDainian Tomlinson take it.
The departed Brees followed up on his breakthrough 2004 season with another great year last season, passing for over 3500 yards and 24 touchdowns. Now Rivers may be capable of putting up those numbers in the future, but he should go through the usual growing pains this season. Yes he will have an All-World tight end to throw to in Antonio Gates, but the San Diego wide-outs leave much to be desired. In fact it is unclear who the starting receivers will be from week to week, which would make timing difficult for a veteran quarterback let alone a youngster like Rivers. Now Tomlinson is one of the three best running backs in football, but he is now the obvious focus of the offense, which may force him to face some seven-man fronts this year.
Defensively, San Diego had the best rushing defense in the NFL last year, surrendering just 84.3 rushing yards per contest. However the passing defense was abysmal as this unit allowed a whopping 243.0 yards per game through the air, ranking 30th out of 32 NFL teams. The Chargers thought they were bringing in some help by drafting cornerback Antonio Cromartie of Florida State with their first pick, but he has some medical issues that may slow his immediate development. San Diego did not add any additional help to speak of except for maybe safety Marlon McCree, formerly of the Carolina Panthers. With an unproven quarterback and many holes on both offense and defense, we project the San Diego Chargers to finish third in the division this year with a sub-.500 record.
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