Last time, Jon E. Bagg looked at the NFL AFC South line-up. Now it’s the turn of the West.
Figuring out this division is no toughie. The Broncos have lost two of their defensive best to free agency. Yet Peyton Manning is as good as gold. With the Chiefs, as per usual, it’s all promises, promises leading to next year. The Chargers are also somewhat so-so. Philip Rivers can be miraculous on a good night, but his defensive line has to step up consistently week in/week out. Beyond bringing back Charles Woodson, the Raiders have made no improvements whatsoever. Oakland is choke-land!
Denver Broncos: Payton Manning is back to his best. There are no more questions about his arm, his wonky back or, least of all, his heart. All of the Broncos running backs are superb and in WR Wes Walker they now have a nuclear alternative to Payton’s arm. The defense has suffered a bit now that Elvis Dumervil split for free agency with the Ravens and Vonny Miller is suspended for the first six games, but the defensive line, although inconsistent, is still not stuttering in decrepitude. The first two games are against Baltimore and the Giants, but I figure a couple of tight, early losses are just the slap in the face they need. Bagg says 11-5.
Kansas City Chiefs: I like Alex Smith. He’s what I call a junker. Nobody is better at the short throw and he is capable of moving his team in that doyt! doyt! short-pass-you-to-death way that can lull opponents to sleep in the way that Arsenal and Barcelona do in soccer. Above all, he owns a winning mentality. Dumping Jonathan Baldwin and making a swap for the diva-like JR Jenkins could prove to be a masterstroke also. As for their defense, Nose-Tackle Dontel Poe is awesome. Now, if only the brittle Jamaal Charles can manage to remain unhurt for the season. Predicted finish: 9-7.
San Diego Chargers: Last year’s first round pick, Ryan Matthews, brought in with a view toward protecting their floating magician of a QB, Philip Rivers, has thus far been a bust. They simply can’t win if they expect Rivers to go to Antonio Gates play in/play out. With OLB Shaun Phillips gone as a free agent and Melvin Ingram out for at least a year with knee issues, the pressure is on Larry English to be the Chargers Lord Protector. The team’s brightest light is that their defensive line is consistently brilliant against the run. Groove says 7-9.
Oakland Raiders: Broke and berserk, Raiders fans are bound to suffer some more! Years of bad drafts and overloaded contracts mean that the salary-cap has forced the team to let go at least a third of their best players. Charles Woodsen is back to provide the ra-ra, but the hallelujah chorus the Raiders throw out there may be a collectively deaf bunch. Having leadership is good, but coach Denis Allen and his staff will need glue and wire to hold this rag-tag bunch of rookies and second-chance vets together for the whole season. Prediction 1-15.