AFCW status report.
Bluedog is one of our correspondents from SoCal (San Bernardino way) and he’s giving us a looksee at the AFC West this morning.
Welcome to the AFC West. Last year, this division saw three playoff teams (including the eventual AFC Champions), two quarterbacks who some had previously written off coming back to have strong seasons, another eventful year (and disappointing playoff loss) for a guy who still has a claim to being the greatest quarterback of his age, a team that opened the season with nine straight wins after having gone 2-14 the year before, and, um, the Oakland Raiders.
None of these are why the AFC West is a great division to watch. The reason is much simpler: The teams in this division have been beating the crap out of each other for over 50 years now, and the accumulated history:
- the Holy Roller,
the (vastly underrated) Monday Night Meltdown,
- the Rob Lytle (RIP) fumble,
- that thing that happened in the last week of last season that nobody has given a name to yet that kept the Steelers out of the playoffs,
to name a few, gives each divisional matchup a great backstory.
On to the teams. Additions and subtractions are from ESPN, schedule information from VegasInsider.
Re-signed: S Charles Woodson, T Khalif Barnes, T Matt McCants, RB Darren McFadden, DT Pat Sims, S Usama Young.
Veteran additions: C Kevin Boothe, CB Tarell Brown, OT Austin Howard, WR James Jones, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, CB Carlos Rogers, DE Antonio Smith, DE Justin Tuck, DE C.J. Wilson, LB LaMarr Woodley, OT Donald Penn, QB Matt Schaub.
Veteran subtractions: CB Phillip Adams, WR Jacoby Ford, G Andre Gurode, DE Lamarr Houston, DE Jason Hunter, CB Mike Jenkins, RB Rashad Jennings, TE Jeron Mastrud, DT Daniel Muir, OT Tony Pashos, CB Tracy Porter, OT Jared Veldheer, DE Vance Walker, G Mike Brisiel, QB Terrelle Pryor.
Draft picks: 1-Khalil Mack (OLB), 2-Derek Carr (QB), 3-Gabe Jackson (G), 4a-Justin Ellis (DT), 4b-Keith McGill (CB), 7a-T.J. Carrie (CB), 7b-Shelby Harris (DE), 7c-Jonathan Dowling (CB).
Opponents’ win percentage in 2013: .578.
Games v. 2013 Playoff Teams: 9 (four home, five away).
The Raiders have the worst strength of schedule in the NFL, but this is pretty normal for bad teams; after all, six of your games are going to be against teams that got to play, well, you twice the previous year.
I was surprised to see some analysts praise the Raiders’ offseason; I thought it was terrible. They lost two good young players (Veldheer and Houston), signed and then rejected for “medical reasons” a left tackle (Rodger Saffold), and added more age in free agency than a team still years away from contending should be looking to add — Jones-Drew (29), Smith (32), Tuck (31). The best free agency addition was probably James Jones (59 rec, 817 yds in 14 games), but going from the Packers to the Raiders means that you’re not going to have the same quality quarterback throwing to you, too.
I’m not a fan of the Raiders’ draft, either. Khalil Mack has his share of fans, but I see a small school prospect with incredible tools who was erratic in big games, the very definition of a high risk draft pick. Derek Carr has been sufficiently dissected in the comments thread here by CleveTA that I have nothing to add to it. Seriously, go there, scroll down and read it. Now.
Schaub’s 2013 season was bad enough (219/358, 2310 yards, 10 tds, 14 interceptions, including four pick sixes in four consecutive games) that a duplicate performance will put the Raiders be in the running for the first pick in the draft. But even if Schaub returns to the level of a serviceable NFL quarterback, what’s the upside of this team? In addition to Jones, the wide receivers are Denarius Moore (46 receptions, 695 yds) and Rod Streeter (60 receptions, 888 yards). It’s a serviceable, but not strong, group. Darren McFadden (114 rushing attempts, 379 yards, 3.3 ypc) is still listed as the #1 running back, for crying out loud. And that’s the offense, which is probably the stronger side of the ball for the Raiders. On defense, the Raiders seem to be relying on Antonio Smith and Justin Tuck (combined last year: 93 tackles, 7 sacks, 63 years of age) to replace Lamarr Houston (69 tackles, 6 sacks, 26 years of age). Maybe. But I’m not a fan of replacing one player with two lesser players and hoping it works out.
Offseason grade: C-. And that’s assuming that Mack was worth the risk. I like the Raiders too much not to be disappointed by them.
What it would take to make the playoffs: An epidemic striking the rest of the AFC West, or me not being a good NFL analyst. The latter is more likely.
Re-signed: S Husain Abdullah, LB Frank Zombo, WR Kyle Williams.
Veteran additions: G Jeffrey Linkenbach, LB Joe Mays, CB Chris Owens, DE Vance Walker, T J’Marcus Webb.
Veteran subtractions: OT Branden Albert, G Jon Asamoah, FS Quintin Demps, DE Tyson Jackson, LB Robert James, FB Dominique Jones, LB Akeem Jordan, FS Kendrick Lewis, WR Dexter McCluster, DT Jerrell Powe, CB Dunta Robinson, G Geoff Schwartz.
Draft picks: 1-Dee Ford (OLB), 3-Phillip Gaines (CB), 4-De’Anthony Thomas (RB), 5-Aaron Murray (QB), 6a-Zach Fulton (G), 6b-Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (OT).
2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013: .559.
Games v. 2013 Playoff Teams: 7 (4 home, 3 away).
I count 13 teams in the Super Bowl era that saw their win total increase by eight or more games in one season: 1975 Baltimore Colts (8 games better); 1976 New England Patriots (8 games better); 1988 Cincinnati Bengals (8 games better); 1992 Indianapolis Colts (8 games better); 1997 New York Jets (8 games better); 2001 Chicago Bears (8 games better); 2004 San Diego Chargers (8 games better); 2012 Indianapolis Colts (9 games better); 1999 St. Louis Rams (9 games better); 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers (9 games better); 2013 Kansas City Chiefs (9 games better); 1999 Indianapolis Colts (10 games better); 2008 Miami Dolphins (10 games better). Of these teams, only two — the 1976 Colts (+1) and the 1998 New York Jets (+3) — improved again the following season, while a third team, the 2013 Indianapolis Colts, matched their record from the previous season. So we have to ask: can the 2014 Chiefs avoid a regression towards the mean? Also, what did Colts fans do to deserve four of the best single-season turnarounds in history?
I can’t answer the second question, but for the first question, the answer is “probably not.” This is still a good team, but a lot of things other than getting a good coach and a good quarterback had to go right for the Chiefs last year, including a last-place schedule and relatively good health. This offseason, they lost two starters on the offensive line (Albert and Asamoah) and a part-time starter (Schwartz). Last year’s #1 overall, Eric Fisher, failed to sparkle. This makes the offensive line a problem that wasn’t solved in free agency or the draft.
On the plus side, Jamaal Charles had 259 carriers and 70 receptions last year for a ridiculous 5.3 yards per carry and 10.1 yards per catch (fifth among running backs with more than 35 receptions) — you have to wonder what else a guy has to do to get into the conversation for best running back in the league. As long as he’s healthy (and despite having torn his ACL in 2011, he’s been healthy for most of his career) the Chiefs are a dangerous team. But after a hot start last season the Chiefs faded down the stretch (five losses in the last 7 regular season games, an embarrassing meltdown in the first round of the playoffs), and as a believer that late season trends carry through to the next season, I’m predicting a third place finish for this team.
Offseason Grade: C+. I have no opinion on the Dee Ford debate, but I would have liked to see more attention paid to the O-line, by hanging on to Albert.
What it will take to make the playoffs: No bad luck. But I’m expecting bad luck.
Re-signed: CB Richard Marshall, G Chad Rinehart, OL Rich Ohrnberger, LB Reggie Walker, WR Seyi Ajirotutu, S Darrell Stuckey.
Veteran additions: RB Donald Brown, QB Kellen Clemens, LB Kavell Conner, DB Brandon Ghee, TE David Johnson.
Veteran subtractions: WR Danario Alexander, LB Bront Bird, RB Ronnie Brown, CB Derek Cox, WR Lavelle Hawkins, FB Le’Ron McClain, CB Johnny Patrick, NT Cam Thomas, QB Charlie Whitehurst, LB Terrell Manning, OT Stephen Schilling.
Draft picks: 1-Jason Verrett (CB), 2-Jeremiah Attaochu (OLB), 3-Chris Watt (G), 5-Ryan Carrethers (DT), 6-Marion Grice (RB), 7-Tevin Reese (WR).
The Chargers finished last season hot and the Chiefs finished it cold, and that’s the only reason why I’m picking San Diego to finish ahead of Kansas City this year.
The departure of Norv Turner and arrival of Mike McCoy had an instant effect on Phillip Rivers. His QBR for the past six seasons: 105.5, 104.4, 101.8, 88.7, 88.6, 105.5. Interceptions went down, touchdowns went up, lifting him to the third highest Total QBR in the league last year, below only Josh McCown and Peyton Manning. (Admittedly, this probably says more about either McCown or Total QBR than it does Rivers.) True, OC Ken Whisenhunt left for the Titans, so there’s a bit of a question about how much of Rivers’ improvement is attributable to Whisenhunt and how much to McCoy, but not much of a question in my mind.
The Chargers had a quiet offseason. First round draft choice Jason Verrett has an injury issue and a size issue, but some analysts had him among the best corners in the draft. When you hear otherwise sane people saying that the “most significant loss” in free agency might be Charlie Whitehurst, you’re doing a good job of re-signing your key players. I don’t know that Ronnie Brown is the answer, but finding a backup to Ryan Matthews — who made it through 16 games for the first time last season — was a necessity. Maybe sixth-round pick Marion Grice is an answer; running backs have come from stranger places. Keenan Allen (71 rec, 1046 yds) was a great third round find last year, and Vincent Brown (41 rec, 801 yds) shows good hands and a positive future.
Offseason Grade: B. Quiet, and another receiver would have been nice, but they locked up their own guys.
What it will take to make the playoffs: I’m going to go with “Winning a shootout against Denver at home on December 15.” The Chargers have a tough end to their schedule (v. NE, v. Den, @ SF, @ KC) and will probably be needing a win, and they don’t have the defense to beat the Broncos any other way.
Speaking of …
Re-signed: head coach John Fox, GM John Elway.
Veteran additions: WR Emmanuel Sanders, CB Aqib Talib, SS T.J. Ward, OLB DeMarcus Ware, C Will Montgomery, DT Marvin Austin.
Veteran subtractions: FS Mike Adams, DE Robert Ayers, CB Champ Bailey, G Zane Beadles, LB Stewart Bradley, DB Marquice Cole, WR Eric Decker, WR Trindon Holliday, CB Michael Huff, CB Quentin Jammer, C Dan Koppen, LB Paris Lenon, DE Jeremy Mincey, RB Knowshon Moreno, LB Shaun Phillips, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, C Steve Vallos, LB Wesley Woodyard.
Draft picks: 1-Bradley Roby (CB), 2-Cody Latimer (WR), 3-Michael Schofield (OT), 5-Lamin Barrow (OLB), 6-Matt Paradis (C), 7-Corey Nelson (OLB)
The Broncos are in win-now mode, and they should be. This is a good team with any decent quarterback under center, but as a Super Bowl contender they’re going to last only as long as Payton Manning’s arm will. The addition of Ware, Ward and Talib should help with a defense that got manhandled by the Seahawks — also, Von Miller is back — but the real problem I saw in XLIII was an offensive line that couldn’t handle the Seahawks four man rush. But don’t take my word for it.
There’s two ways to read the Super Bowl results: (1) that it was a bad game, the Broncos never got rolling, and everything that could go wrong went wrong, but it was just one game, or (2) the Broncos — and the rest of the AFC — just aren’t good enough to stand up to the beasts in the NFC West.1 I remember the fabled days when the Super Bowl was “that game every year where the NFC team slaughtered the AFC team” and don’t want to see them come back again. But it might be that we’re returning to the good old days.
Anyway: the Broncos are a good team. What do you expect me to say?
Offseason Grade: A-. Whatever quibbles I might have about individual players, Elway is going all out, as he should.
What it will take to make the playoffs: I don’t see a lot of “below average” on the Broncos starting roster. I have no idea what Brock Osweiler would do if Peyton Manning were injured, but if he’s even okay, this team can make it.
- Actually the third way to read it was is that the fix was in and the first play safety signaled same just like Eddie Cicotte’s first pitch plunking of Morrie Rath in 1919. [back]