2009 NFL Power Rankings: Pre Season
2009 NFL Preview: AFC West
San Diego Chargers
Offseason: Losing capable 3-4 defensive end Igor Olshansky is an aggravation and first round draft selection Larry English will add vital depth to the San Diego outside linebacker group, especially if Merriman’s recovery is behind schedule.
Offense: All three of Philip Rivers’ top targets Vincent Jackson, Chris Chambers and Malcolm Floyd see their contracts run out next offseason which is bad news for 2010 but great news for 2009, since receivers in a contract year have a history of overachieving. Rivers’ himself has emerged as a top 5 QB in the NFL and the San Diego line surrendered 25 sacks last year good for 9th in the NFL, so piling on the points through the air shouldn’t be of concern.
However, for the first time in 7 years running the ball is a big question mark in San Diego. I’m not giving up on LT this year; I just don’t buy the idea that the best player of the last decade loses it overnight, especially when he was coming off a torn MCL and his ‘losing it’ effort saw him amass 1500 all purpose yards. Now he’s reportedly 100% and able to cut again, I expect we’ll see his rushing total rise from a ‘paltry’ 1100 to around the 1300 mark and he’ll continue to see more targets than any other running back in the NFL. As for his backup, putting aside Darren Sproles’ punt returns and playoff performances his resume is distinctly lacking for what Chargers’ fans believe is the future of their run game. He managed one more rushing touchdown than I did last year, his carry average of 5.4 is comparable to Jamaal Charles and his yardage total is on par with David Garrard. This guy is not running between the tackles, he is not threatening at the goal line and I think it’s naive to believe he’ll ever be more than a competent third down or situational type back. Unless his 5-6 sub-190lb frame has something to offer that we don’t know about, I can’t see the Chargers feeding him more than 10 touches a game in 2009.
Defense: I think it was Archimedes that said ‘a bad secondary can be made to look good with a powerful pass rush, but an outstanding secondary can never be successful with a bad one’, and unfortunately for San Diego they had problems with both in 2008. In 2007 they had one of the best defenses in the NFL boasting Antonio Cromartie who led the league in interceptions a testament to their dominant front seven, the same front seven that regressed terribly in 2008. Conjuring a miserable 28 sacks and giving up more yards through the air than all but one franchise are faults that need to be rectified if San Diego want to keep themselves out of taxing 38-35 shootouts, and the re-addition of Shawne Merriman is a good place to start. Managing double digit sacks in every year of his career, Merriman, if healthy, will take the heat off that secondary and keep things more respectable. One guy can’t make a defense (though I’d love to see what Dallas would look like sans DeMarcus Ware) so don’t expect this side to compete with the Ravens and Steelers, but all San Diego need this unit to do is keep things manageable for that high powered offense.
Key Games: A cakewalk division means an easy 6 wins, whilst hosting the Ravens and going to Pittsburgh will really test their playoff resolve.
Predicted Record: 12-4
Offseason: A total, cataclysmic, shambolic, titanic, biblical mess. I cannot think of another sporting figure that has done a worse job of ingratiating himself to his new fans quite like Josh McDaniels: Cutler gone, a nightmare draft, very little effort to improve one of the worst defenses in the league and Brandon Marshall isn’t exactly thrilled to be there. You could write a dissertation on Denver’s ‘09 offseason but to keep it brief: bad.
Offense: I’m not giving up on Denver entirely. Just because they aren’t going to tear it up like last year that doesn’t make them terrible; Knowshon Moreno is a versatile threat out of the backfield, the offensive line is still fairly strong, whilst Kyle Orton may prove proficient in an offense that Matt Cassel struggled to 10 wins in last season – Orton is fundamentally a better QB than the Calasselly overrated one (does that work?). The receiving options are still there (just about in Brandon Marshall’s case), and Eddie Royal is expected to transition to the slot where he has the skills to be Denver’s Welker. But can McDaniels afford to shift his best deep threat inside?
Defense: Whilst I’m upbeat on their offense I’m deeply depressed by this defense. If the most positive point I can make is that when you ranked 26th against the pass and 27th against the run it’s highly unlikely you can get worse, you know you’re in for a long year. They can’t rush the passer, and when teams are bored passing all over them then they can just run straight through them. Robert Ayers, Andra Davis and Brian Dawkins were added, but the former is seasons away from having an impact whilst the latter two are closing out their careers. Without an offense to bail them out of the 30 point holes they dig themselves, this Denver defense is going to get embarrassed all year long.
Key Games: Luckily for the Broncos, division rivals Oakland and Kansas aren’t too hot either so they have four very winnable games to keep their dignity intact in an otherwise brutal schedule.
Predicted Record: 5-11
Offseason: I’d love to see what would happen if Oakland were ever released from the suffocating grip of Al Davis and you gave a quality management hierarchy the best corner in the league, a canon armed quarterback and a game changing running back. Reaching a round early for an unproductive track star ahead of the consensus number one receiver would be an example of what would no longer happen. Success is an example of something that may well happen. Oakland cycled through 6 receivers this offseason but in all honesty none are inspiring additions or fatal losses.
Offense: Adding Lorenzo Neal is fantastic news for Darren McFadden who should – health permitting – prove why he was the top back in a draft boasting Matt Forte, Chris Johnson and Steve Slaton, but if JaMarcus Russell doesn’t want to play football (showing up to camp 30lbs heavier than where he should be points towards no) and Oakland do in fact possess the most inept receiving corps in the NFL, McFadden is going to have an uphill battle. If I’m focusing on the run game in this write-up I sure as hell hope Oakland focus their offense on it, especially since they have the depth to survive a McFadden injury with Justin Fargas and Michael Bush rounding out one of the deeper RB contingents in the league – at least on paper.
Defense: Nnamdi Asomugha is secretly the best player in the NFL and Chris Johnson impresses opposite him, but cutting Gibril Wilson and Michael Huff officially being confirmed as a bust (it’s hardly on the Oakland website but we all know it) means their supporting cast is distinctly lacking. You never know, maybe Scott Mitchell an unranked prospect that nobody even knew about let alone considered second round material will be the answer… yeah probably not. Thomas Howard is carving out a very respectable reputation for himself at weakside linebacker, but with little help from anyone else in the Oakland front seven I don’t see how the Raiders will be able to improve on their miserable average of 159.7 yards per game against the run.
Key Games: Al Davis will get another chance to screw up a top 10 draft pick in 2010 unless Oakland can surprise the Texans or Jets, and sweep 4 wins against Denver and Kansas City; this isn’t likely.
Predicted Record: 5-11
Kansas City Chiefs
Offseason: A lot of noise, but was there really a lot of substance to the Chiefs’ offseason? Fans are salivating over a Todd Haley run Arizona-style aerial circus but with Cassel-Bowe-Bradley in lieu of Warner-Fitzgerald-Boldin… not exactly like for like. Selecting Tyson Jackson over Aaron Curry was the shock of the draft, but by switching to the 3-4 Kansas City had backed themselves into a corner and had a desperate need for system suitable players. I can’t criticise them shipping Tony Gonzalez; they owed him a chance to finish his career in the playoffs, something he wouldn’t get in KC.
Offense: This offense is no better than 2008 – with the loss of Gonzalez they’re probably a little worse – but at least it has some purpose now. Jamaal Charles is a good bet to finish the year as the starting tailback should Larry Johnson prove terminally broken, whilst Cassel needs to find a legitimate option opposite Bowe quickly otherwise he’ll be throwing into double coverage all year long.
Defense: Dallas has the best weakside linebacker in the league, Baltimore have pedigree and Pittsburgh have a brilliant front three with depth behind them. Hence, these teams have the right to run a 3-4. Kansas have a prototypical defensive tackle who is too small to play at the nose, Tamba Hali who cuts an awkward figure at WILL, a rookie end and a 33 year old Mike Vrabel at SAM. Kansas City do not have the right to run a 3-4. If Green Bay expects growing pains shifting to this scheme, then Kansas City will have crippling arthritis so I’m not feeling the .500 talk emanating from KC.
Key Games: Reiterating what I said for Denver, the AFC West is REALLY poor so inter-division games are key. Considering the AFC North and NFC East also heavily feature in their schedule, they desperately need victories when Cleveland and Buffalo visit.
Predicted Record: 4-12