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2010 NFL Preview – AFC West

Before the season gets underway, I must pretend I know exactly how the 2010 NFL campaign will play out. To assist me, I’ve called my younger brother up from the education world for our 2nd annual, “we used to do this as kids in our bunk beds, but that would be weird now” NFL forecast.

Unlike last year, we’re breaking it down division by division. So read carefully, take notes, and be confident that whatever I predict will probably never happen, ever.

1. San Diego Chargers
I’m not in love with the San Diego Chargers, but in this division, they’re still the prettiest girl at the dance. The offseason departure of franchise hero LaDainian Tomlinson should improve the Chargers’ running game. In 2009 it appeared San Diego ran the ball to appease Tomlinson even though the team’s best option at running back was Darren Sproles. Now that the obligation to get LT his carries is gone, the Chargers will sport a much-improved ground attack. I don’t know anything about rookie RB Ryan Mathews, but word is he will be a force in San Diego’s backfield. Regardless, unless the Chargers can figure out a way to get Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeil back on the field, their Super Bowl hopes will probably end in the Divisional round of the playoffs, if that.

DWC’s Take: Chargers – I think the Chargers will experience addition by subtraction without LT in the backfield. I love the guy, but he might be the whiniest and thin-skinned player ever. LT is no longer leading by (negative) example, so Rivers will have this team angry. Two glaring distractions I see for this team; Vincent Jackson and Shawne Merriman. Jackson is an idiot with the way he behaves and is suspended for the first couple weeks. Malcolm Floyd will need to step out of the shadow and take over the number one role. Merriman still thinks he is the same guy who dominated the league a few seasons back. [Editor’s note: Thank you, steroids] He doesn’t understand that he is overcoming injuries and surgeries most human beings will never see in their lifetime. He is not the same guy he once was (who cares if he is only 26). He needs to stop demanding to be paid for his past. Having said that, I do believe the Chargers defense will once again be one of the NFL’s best. They are nasty. If all goes well, they should run away with this division, but I think the distractions will allow the Raiders to hang around until the last week or two.

2. Kansas City Chiefs
I’m picking the Chiefs here because they hired two of the best coordinators in the NFL over the offseason, and because I don’t think they’re any worse than Denver or Oakland. Last year’s disaster enabled the Chiefs to discover some talent hidden on the bench, most notably Jamaal Charles. Charles will give Kansas City a running game that will in turn make life easier for Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe as they look to resurrect an aerial attack that was M.I.A. in 2009. While the Chiefs don’t have the most talented roster in the league, they’re young and developing. Great coordinators often do amazing things with similar ingredients. If head coach Todd Haley stays out of their way, I think Charlie Weis (Offensive Coordinator) and Romeo Crennel (Defensive Coordinator) can have the Chiefs flirting with a .500 record.

DWC’s Take: Raiders – That’s right. I like the Rrrrraiders to take 2nd. You want bolder? The Raiders will fight for the wildcard spot and be within a game of taking this division. Their defense alone will make every game a close one. They can rush the passer, stop the run, and defend the pass. On offense, they still lack a threatening receiver. I think Jason Campbell got a bad rap in Washington, and he will be motivated to stick it to all his doubters. They have an onslaught of running backs that can catch the ball out of the backfield, which can alleviate the lack of a wide receiver. Zach Miller is also a reliable tight end who Campbell will learn to love quickly (like Chris Cooley during his Redskin days). But the real hope for all Raider fans is that Al Davis finally punches his nursing home ticket and leaves the team alone.

3. Oakland Raiders
Several folks (including my own brother) have reminded me not to sleep on the Raiders. To a certain extent, they’re right. The Raiders beat the Eagles, Bengals, Steelers, and Broncos in 2009. Clearly, they aren’t the doormat of the NFL as most perceive. However, they’re still owned by Al Davis. That’s enough for me to stay away. As usual, their defense will be respectable and their offense will continue to struggle as it has since Rich Gannon and the boys were KO’d in Super Bowl XXXVII. Yes, Jason Campbell is a vast improvement over JaMarcus CoughSyrup but let’s be honest, he’s not Jim Plunkett. Even if he were, Campbell won’t have much of an arsenal until Darrius Heyward-Bey and Darren McFadden live up to expectations.

DWC’s Take: Broncos – The Broncos started off the ‘09 season as the team to beat. They were an unexpected 6-0, but quickly followed that up by going 2-8 the rest of the way. I believe the team we saw in the 2nd half of the season was the real Broncos. Sure, they won’t go 2-8, but they won’t start 6-0 either. Their offense has too many questions. Orton is not Tom Brady (though he is making more money than Tom) and Tebo is not ready to take the reins. At wide receiver they lack a reliable target when they need that big first down. Defensively they can manage for a while, but the lack of an offense will eventually take its toll.

4. Denver Broncos
I have a rule. When a team enters the season without its best offensive and defensive players from the previous year, only bad things can be expected. Pro-bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall got his talents traded to South Beach and NFL sack leader Elvis Dumervil blew up his pectoral muscle in training camp. Marshall’s departure leaves an injury-prone backfield and a lackluster receiver corps to ignite the Denver offense. Furthermore, instead of adding contributors via the draft, Denver wasted a first round pick on a wildcard quarterback who will in all likelihood require extensive time to develop. It gets worse. The Broncos also locked up quarterback Kyle Orton through 2011 by giving him nearly $9 million next year. In other words, Denver won’t be contending for a Super Bowl anytime soon.

DWC’s Take: Chiefs- The New England Patriot wannabes can certainly rush the ball. I believe Jamaal Charles can duplicate what he did at the end of the ‘09 season and be a 1,300 yard/10 td back. That will be enough to win them 4-5 games. Unfortunately, that’s all. Dwayne Bowe could start playing anytime now, but I have two fantasy years worth of production to argue against that. Matt Cassel has no weapons to work with, though I am not sold on him regardless. He was playing with Moss, Welker, a great offensive line, and Belichick’s system that year Tom got sacked. The real problem with the Chiefs is their defense. They can’t stop anybody. Opponents will run all over them or light them up through the air. When you can’t stop either, it’s going to be a very long year.

If you’re wondering, last season’s AFC West predictions were:
Me: SD, KC, DEN, OAK
DWC: SD, OAK, DEN, KC
Actual Results: SD, DEN, OAK, KC.

Thus, DWC 1, Me 0

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