Kansas City (10-6). I have plenty of questions about Kansas City heading into the year and I had a difficult time taking KC over the Chargers for the division. I think Todd Haley’s fired-up personality is both a plus and a negative. Playing his starters well into the final preseason game was an example of the negative side of his temper – just dumb. That said, I do think the Chiefs are loaded with talent and that if they play close to how they should play, they should take the division. They quietly acquired a player this offseason who will do some serious damage this year: Steve Breaston. Haley helped get Breaston’s career off the ground in Arizona and I can see him incorporating Breaston a lot this year. If the Chiefs play their cards right, between the tough running game, Breaston, Bowe and McCluster, defenses should really struggle with figuring out where to load up coverage. Doubling up Bowe was easier last year than it will be this year.
San Diego (9-7). While Peter King and some others are high on the Chargers this year, I can see the Chargers having a frustrating season. Phillip Rivers will be good again no matter who he throws to, and their running game could be OK. But I think their defense could be a weak link. The same Charger defense that was ranked #1 last year? Yes – because D coordinator Ron Rivera is gone (head coach for Carolina now). I think this will hurt the team more than folks realize. While picking up safety Bob Sanders might help a bit, I just don’t think the D will be anywhere close to what it was last year, putting too much pressure on the offense.
Denver Broncos (8-8). They’ll go .500 because John Fox loves going about .500. In his 9 seasons in Carolina, he went 8-8 or 7-9 five times. He enjoys .500…ness. I think Denver, like Buffalo, Jax and Minnesota, will benefit from being under the radar this year. Expectations are very limited – yet they have some really good players. Their pass rush could be scary with Dumervil back and Robert Ayers opposite him. Champ Bailey is still Champ Bailey. And lots of folks are excited about rookie LB Von Miller. On offense, Kyle Orton continues to be underrated in my estimation. Brandon Lloyd was a monster last year and the running game duo of Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee could flourish under a John Fox system likely to feature the running game. Denver should be better than most folks think.
Oakland (4-12). What? The team that was 6-0 in the division last year going 4-12? Yep. While I do think Oak has 2 very good RBs in Michael Bush and Darren McFadden – and I do think that WR Jacoby Ford could have a breakout year, in the end I just think the team will collapse under first year head coach Hue Jackson. The losses of TE Zach Miller and CB Asomugha will prove to be too much. Miller bailed out Oakland’s weak QBs plenty and without that bailout option, I can see Jason Campbell and company being…awful.
— When I watched the Chiefs in their first preseason game against the Buccaneers, my immediate impression was that they were a lot worse than last year, especially on offense. Everything that’s happened since then has reinforced that, especially the final preseason game, where they couldn’t hold a 9-point halftime lead against the Packers 2nd- and 3rd-string guys. I think it’s going to be a long, tough season for the Chiefs, and there will be talk of Haley being on the hot seat by the end of the season.
— The Broncos biggest problem is their quarterbacks, or the lack thereof. Orton is a journeyman QB at best, and from what I saw of Brady Quinn and Tim Tebow in the final preseason game, if and when Orton can’t go, the Broncos are doomed. Maybe, if Orton has a good year, the Broncos get to 8 wins. But I think that’s the best they can look for this year.
— No argument on the Raiders. Hard to believe that team went to the Super Bowl less than 10 years ago.
— So yeah, I think the Chargers will win the AFCW, more or less by default, as they’ll be the only team north of 8 wins.