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2011 NFL Preview – AFC West

It’s that time of year. 32 Teams. 8 Divisions. 2 Brothers. Once again, my brother and I break down each division in the 3rd Annual, “we used to do this as kids in our bunk beds, but that would be weird now,” NFL Preview. Read closely, because out of 10,000 words, something’s bound to be right.

Hold on,… what’s that you say?… The Eagles just gave Michael Vick $100 million over six years?

Oh boy. This could get dicey when Vick is in a wheelchair on Halloween after being sacked an NFL record 60 times. Regardless, congratulations to PETA on the Vick contract. I’m sure they’re thrilled.

1. San Diego Chargers
I know, so unimaginative and boring. After all, I’ve only picked the Chargers to finish first since forever ago. I mean really, how can you pick against Philip Rivers, in this division, nonetheless? If San Diego could protect their punter, they’d have won the division in 2010. Plus, unlike every other team in the division, the Chargers didn’t get worse. That’s good enough for me. Rivers and Vincent Jackson for a full season should guarantee the Chargers clinch the AFC West before Christmas. For no other reason than I dropped him from my fantasy team this year, expect Ryan Mathews to have a break-through season. Alas.

DWC’s Take: Chargers – Each year I wait for one of two things to happen to the Chargers; a slow start that finally keeps them from the playoffs, or they put it all together for an entire season and finally live up to their potential. Last season, the former occurred. This will be the year for the latter. Philip Rivers is, in my mind, a top 5 quarterback. I don’t even care if he hasn’t won anything. He’s the next Peyton Manning, in that he does everything for his team except play defense. If Vincent Jackson keeps his head right, he and Antonio Gates should be lethal. While Ryan Mathews can’t be as bad as his rookie campaign, Mike Tolbert is more than capable of carrying the load. It will be interesting, however, to see how the defense plays without Ron Rivera at the helm.

2. Kansas City Chiefs
So maybe I lied about the Chiefs getting worse. Although, in my defense, they didn’t necessarily get better either. Like someone always said, “if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.” So there. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, winning the division in 2010 means playing other AFC division winners in 2011. With that in mind, I can’t see Kansas City winning more than eight games. I also have zero faith in Todd Haley. When you continue to defend splitting carries between one of the most explosive players in the NFL and an aging veteran, you got issues. Everything seemed to come together for the Chiefs last season. Rarely does that happen two years in a row. At some point, good teams earn their fate rather than get lucky. Losses to New England, Pittsburgh, New York (Jets), Green Bay, and Indy will escalate the importance of divisional games. Considering they finished 2-4 in the AFC West last season, it appears the Chiefs’ 2011 playoff hopes are on thin ice.

DWC’s Take: Raiders – Come on, Oakland. Don’t let me down! Before each season, I say a little pray for Raider nation. They’re a good bunch (let’s try to forget the recent shooting), and important to the Raiders’ success. Besides, the NFL needs the Raiders to be successful. Otherwise, when the Rams/Bucs move to Los Angeles in a couple of years, the Raiders may fade away for good. This is the season Oakland gets out from 8-8 and makes a serious push toward the postseason. Here’s hoping Jason Campbell stays healthy, Darren McFadden’s 2010 carries over into 2011, the absence of Nnamdi Asomugha doesn’t destroy Oakland’s underrated pass defense, and Al Davis keeps his sweat suits out of sight.

3. Oakland Raiders
I really wanted to pick Oakland over Kansas City, but I couldn’t. Why? Because Oakland owner, Al Davis, took the always popular, “just when things start moving in the right direction, let’s blow ‘em up and start over,” approach to managing his football team. If Tom Cable were calling the shots in 2011, I’d comfortably pick the Raiders to finish second. Instead, I seriously considered Denver for this spot. Coaches mean more in the NFL than any other sport. Cable had a good grasp on the team and had the franchise progressing. Flipping the script and asking players to commit to a new coach usually doesn’t fly in year one unless the coach you booted was lousy or hated by his team. (Hi, Brad Childress!)

DWC’s Take: Chiefs – Last year was no fluke. However, the Chiefs did take advantage of a crappy schedule. Care to argue? Wins: 49ers, Browns, Jags, Bills, Cards, Broncos, Rams, Titans, Seahawks, Chargers (1st game of the season). Losses: Colts, Texans, Raiders, Broncos, Chargers (late in season), Raiders, Ravens (30-7 spanking in Wildcard game). To their credit, the Chiefs beat the teams they were supposed to beat. In the NFL, that often gets you to the playoffs. So Kudos to Haley’s bunch. On the other hand, Kansas City must now face the reality of their 2010 success. Their opponents in weeks 11-16 (what I like to call gut-check time): New England, Pittsburgh, Chicago, NYJ, Green Bay, and Oakland. If the Chiefs aren’t at least 7-2 by that point, we might start seeing rain dances in Arrowhead.

4. Denver Broncos
Josh McDaniels was clearly in over his head. He needed to go, there’s no doubt about that. But John Fox? Really? John Fox? Fox is a poor, homeless, and bankrupt man’s version of Andy Reid. Even worse, Fox exiled Denver’s most intriguing player/storyline to 3rd string quarterback. While we don’t yet know if Tim Tebow is a star, or even a capable NFL quarterback, we know Kyle Orton isn’t getting Denver past six or seven wins. At least let the fans have a little fun before they turn their attention to the Denver Nuggets Colorado Avalanche in November. Also, a quick word to Bronco fans: Fox employs THE most boring offense in the history of football. His defenses are rarely more exciting. I recommend a fridge of Five Hour Energy to get you through that “not end of a long day tired, but middle-of-the-day, John Fox’s schemes bore me to death, all I want to do is close my eyes, tired.” Have fun, Denver.

DWC’s Take: Broncos – Good news: John Elway is back! Bad news: The Broncos went 4-12 last year, and followed it up by hiring a coach fresh off a 2-14 season. To make matters worse, Denver signed no significant free agents, nearly traded their best QB, and only received media attention when it pertained to their 2nd & 3rd string quarterbacks. I don’t think any of those give Bronco fans much hope. I like John Fox outside of football, but as a coach he holds too tightly to mid-90’s football; run the ball and play defense. That philosophy doesn’t win in today’s NFL. Denver doesn’t have enough weapons to keep up with its division, let alone the rest of the league.

For those keeping score, last season’s AFC West predictions:
Me: SD, KC, OAK, DEN
DWC: SD, OAK, DEN, KC
Actual Results: KC, SD, OAK, DEN

Score: DWC 0, Me 1

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