shopping raven
shopping raven

2009 AFC West Preview and Projections

SAN DIEGO: The Lightning Bolts woke up one fine morning and found themselves with a straight up record of 4-8 and 4-7-1 ATS after playing their first 12 games of the 2008 regular season, after wiping the sleep from their collective eyes they went on a four game win streak to finish the regular season with a mark of 8-8 straight up and 7-8-1 ATS and in the process somehow made the playoffs which made them the first NFL team in modern history to start 4-8 and play in the post season.

Because I happen to be an inquisitive kinda guy I wondered how previous teams in history that had finished with 8-8 records and made the playoffs had then fared the following season, so I proceeded to do a little research for comparative purposes. I found that San Diego became the seventh team since the 1990 season to finish with marks of 8-8 and make the playoffs, of the seven teams only three won a first round game and all three lost straight up in the following round and posted a combined mark of 0-3 ATS in that next round.

The six other teams to finish with marks of 8-8 and make the playoffs since the 1990 season were the 1990 Saints, 1991 Jets, 1999 Lions, 1999 Cowboys, 2004 Vikings, and the 2004 Rams, of these six teams only three finished with winning records the following season (Saints 11-5 , Lions 9-7, and Vikings 9-7). In an attempt to whittle things down a tad I then checked on which of the six teams had winning records the season BEFORE making the playoffs with that 8-8 record, I found that four of the six teams had winning records the previous season (Saints 9-7, Cowboys 10-6, Vikings 9-7, and Rams 12-4) but only two of these teams (Saints and Vikings) had winning seasons BEFORE and AFTER their 8-8 trip to the post season.

Trying to whittle things down a little more I found that of these two remaining teams (Saints and Vikings), only the Saints were left standing when applying the “must have had a winning season rule” when looking back TWO seasons prior to making the playoffs with the 8-8 record and also applying the “must have had a winning season rule” to the season following that 8-8 trip to the post season.

As the old saying goes “past results are not always indicative of future events”, however, as outlined above there have only been six other teams in the past 19 seasons that finished with a mark of 8-8 and made the playoffs, of those six teams ONLY ONE…the 1990 Saints…is similar to these Chargers with regard to having had at least three winning seasons prior to making the playoffs with that infamous 8-8 record. The 1991 New Orleans Saints went on to win their division with a mark of 11-5 and secure another playoff berth, look for these Chargers to do the same.

The Chargers finished up the 2008 regular season ranked 7th in passing yards per game and finished 27th in rushing yards per game and I really don’t see that changing much for the 2009 season. Sure the Bolts still have RB LaDainian Tomlinson in the backfield but this will be his 9th NFL season and he has started to show the signs of wear and tear with regard to his penchant for injury as of late. The driving force of the Bolt offense has been and will continue to be QB Philip Rivers who has been tossing an almost unbelievable touchdown in 1 out of every 7 completions.

The Bolts should be much better on defense this season with the return of pass rushing Shawne Merriman along with healthy defensive backs Antonio Cromartie and Clinton Hart, heck it’s almost impossible for the Charger defense not to improve on their 31st ranking in passing yards allowed, 25th ranking in total yards per game allowed and 27th ranking in penalties accessed in the rather weak AFC West but we shall see soon enough. Projected record 11-5.

***Look to play ON San Diego in their week two September 20th home game against the visiting Ravens, the Bolts will in all likelihood win and cover at Oakland in week one, however, the Ravens open up at home against the Chiefs and should score a very impressive win in their opening season game, meaning that “Joe Public” will base his/her opinion of these teams on last years’ results as well as how “good” Baltimore looked in beating up on a hapless Chief team thereby giving the edge to the Ravens over the Bolts in their head to head meeting.

The odds maker will probably install the Chargers as a 3 point home favorite to entice Raven backers but don’t be fooled my friends as I fully expect both teams to more closely resemble their 2007 versions which coincidentally was the last time these teams faced one another, in that 2007 meeting the Ravens visited San Diego as a 9 point doggie and got shell-lacked by a 32-14 margin.

OAKLAND: The “Chuckie Curse” has been alive and well with regard to the outlaw Silver and Black being reduced to nothing more than a laughing stock over the past six straight seasons since their fabled Super Bowl appearance as evidenced by posting a combined record of 24-72 straight up and 33-62-1 ATS over this time period. As hard as it is to believe for the Oakland faithful, this once proud franchise has been so atrocious that they haven’t won more than five games in any season over the past six years.

Under HC Callahan’s guidance, da’Rayduhs fell apart the season following that 48-21 Super Bowl arse whipping at the hands of Tampa as evidenced by winning a mere 4 games. Owner Al Davis fired Callahan and over the next five years hired and fired three more head coaches (Norv Turner, Art Shell, and Lane Kiffin). Interestingly enough, after week four of the 2008 season da’Rayduhs pulled the plug on young Lane Kiffin who was in over his head with regard to having little to none in the way of NFL coaching experience and replaced him with interim coach Tom Cable.

I say interesting because in an odd twist of fate the Tampa Bucs have elected to go down the same road that Oakland traveled previously with regard to turning the reins of their organization over to a youngster (Raheem Morris) who will turn 33 years young on September 3, 2009 that has virtually no NFL coaching experience.

Meanwhile, Oakland elected to install interim head coach Tom Cable as the skipper for the 2009 season, the jury is out as to whether he will be successful or not as only time will tell. Cable was Idaho’s head coach for four seasons from 2000 to 2003 but he has little in the way of NFL coaching experience as his resume shows that his only NFL experience to date has been as the Falcons 2006 offensive line coach prior to moving on to the Raiders in 2007 as their offensive line coach, Cable opened the 2008 season in the same position for the Raiders but was elevated to interim coach following Lane Kiffin’s firing after week four.

As mentioned above, Cable took over da’Rayduhs starting with week five of the 2008 season, meaning that he has 12 games of NFL head coaching experience, unbelievable as it may seem this means that Cable is actually the second most experienced NFL head coach in the AFC West behind Charger HC Norv Turner as both the Chiefs and Broncos have rookie HC’s that have yet to coach a single NFL regular season game as a head coach.

Cable played in college as an offensive guard and in the NFL had a cup of coffee as a lineman with the Colts before moving on to a coaching career at his alma mater (Idaho). The point of talking about Cable in depth is to show that he is a no nonsense tough guy that won’t take any guff from players or coaches under him, to illustrate this point it was reported that Cable and an assistant coach had words that ended with Cable breaking the guys jaw during a coaches meeting on August 5th 2009. I am by no means advocating this kind of behavior but in the big picture you can bet that incident won’t escape the Raider players who in turn will now listen closely to what he has to say in addition to adopting some of his toughness on the field of play.

The Raiders had a great draft that netted them a big receiver with their first overall pick in WR Darrius Heyward-Bey out of Maryland, this kid figures to be the real deal as he stands 6’2, weighs in at 210 lbs and runs a phenomenal 4.25 in the 40 yard dash. They also snagged safety Michael Mitchell out of Ohio in the second round, they call this kid “Boom Boom” and for good reason because of how hard he hits, those that don’t know who this kid is should visit You-tube and watch the video of some of his biggest hits.

Via free agency Oakland signed QB Jeff Garcia, bruising FB Lorenzo Neal, and RB Gary Russell to help jump start an offense that ranked 29th in the league in the following categories of total yards per game, points scored per game, yards per pass, points per 100 yards, average time of possession, and penalty yards per game. From outward appearance, Oakland figures to use the same style of power running game as last season which netted them a #10 ranking in the league with an average of 119.7 yards per game with a 4.23 yds per pop average.

Here’s a few “if’s” for you…if Cable’s toughness transfers over to the Oakland Raiders, and if newly acquired QB Jeff Garcia pushes JaMarcus Russell, and if the Raider offense plays better overall which in turn will take some pressure off the defense, then this team might just post a non losing 8-8 season and surprise some teams along the way, however, due to the Raider’s past track record you won’t catch me betting on it. Projected record 6-10.

***Look to play ON Oakland in week two when they travel to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, da’Rayduhs will be coming off a nationally televised MNF affair at San Diego in which they will probably get their doors blown off, meanwhile, the Chiefs will be playing at the Ravens in week one and will probably also get beaten badly, the difference is that more eyes will see the Raiders get beaten on MNF and base their opinion accordingly.

Give me the road doggie points with the Oakland team that should be a little more stable at this point of the season over a Chief team that is influx with an entirely new coaching staff, has a new QB under center, and is in the process of learning a new defensive scheme. As a side note it’s nice to know that the visitor in this divisional series is a perfect 6-0 ATS.

KANSAS CITY: This once proud Kansas City Chief organization finished last season with a mark of 2-14 straight up and 8-8 ATS and over the course of the last two seasons have a combined record of 6-26 straight up and 15-16-1 ATS, needless to say this proved to be the end of HC Herm Edwards as well as the majority of the front office personnel and coaching staff as the Chiefs scored a huge coup in luring away Scott Pioli to be their new GM from New England. Pioli in turn hired Todd Haley away from Arizona to be his HC, Haley in turn brought along former Arizona defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast to fill the same position with the Chiefs. Well respected offensive coordinator Chan Gailey was retained which should help with the transition.

Pioli was then able to engineer a move that brought former New England QB Matt Cassel and former Patriot LB Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs, both are valuable additions as they will help teach the other Indians on the team the offense that HC Haley will install which is basically the same that they ran in New England. In the big picture the upgrade at QB along with the infusion of new talent from this years’ excellent draft as well as the maturing talent from last years’ draft, along with the key free agent acquisitions added to the roster should make this Chiefs offense which ranked 24th overall in the league last year a much better unit.

The area needing the most improvement is on defense as the Chiefs finished last year ranked 30th in the league in the following categories: passing yards allowed per game, rushing yards allowed per game, points allowed per game, and penalty yards assessed per game and that is in addition to ranking 31st in the NFL in the categories of: total yards per game allowed, yards per rush allowed, and first downs allowed per game.

To address the glaring deficiencies on defense the Chiefs brought in five defensive free agents including LB’s Mike Vrabel and Zack Thomas and drafted defensive players with their first three picks in this years’ draft including huge DE Tyson Jackson out of LSU with the NFL’s third overall pick. Keep an eye on this kid as he has the size (6’4 296) and quickness to be a big asset down the line for the Chiefs in their newly installed 3-4 defense that will at times switch back and forth to a 4-3 front, the free agent signings of veteran LB’s Mike Vrabel and Zack Thomas will prove invaluable in schooling this youngster and thus hastening his addition to the starting lineup.

The Chiefs will definitely be an improved team this season, hell, almost anything would be an improvement over last years’ 2-14 record, with that being said this team has the necessary components assembled in the front office, on the coaching staff, and on their roster to build a program that will scare some teams this year, however, that’s a lot of change in one year. Look for this Chief team to contend for a divisional title in a couple of seasons. Projected record 5-11.

***Look to play AGAINST Kansas City in week two when Oakland comes to town, da’Rayduhs will be coming off a nationally televised MNF affair at San Diego in which they will probably get their doors blown off, meanwhile, the Chiefs will have played at Baltimore in week one and will in all likelihood lose as well, the difference is that more eyes will see the Raiders get beaten on MNF and base their opinion accordingly.

Give me the road doggie points with the Oakland team that should be a little more stable at this point of the season over a Chief team that is influx with an entirely new coaching staff, has a new QB under center, and is in the process of learning a new defensive scheme. As a side note it’s nice to know that the visitor in this divisional series is a perfect 6-0 ATS.

DENVER: The Bronco faithful won’t like the product that takes the field this season and they certainly won’t like the results when the smoke clears. After coaching the Bronco’s for 14 years and winning back to back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998, HC Mike Shanahan was fired after not making the playoffs for the third straight season and refusing to fire his defensive coordinator. In his place owner Pat Bowlen hired young Josh McDaniels who just turned 33 years old this past April 22nd off the Patriots staff.

McDaniels was New England’s offensive coordinator for the past two seasons and was their QB coach prior to that, young Josh started his head coaching stint with Denver mired in controversy as he attempted to engineer a trade with New England and Tampa Bay that in the end would bring Patriot QB Matt Cassel to the Mile High City. Unfortunately for McDaniels he completely screwed things up as the press got hold of the story and proceeded to ask Denver’s Pro Bowl QB Jay Cutler what he knew of the trade. Needless to say Cutler was really peeved when he found out that his new coach was shopping him around.

In the end McDaniels ended up with egg on his face as the trade fell through and Matt Cassel signed with the Chiefs, meanwhile, Cutler proclaimed that he didn’t want anything to do with the new back stabbing coach and demanded a trade. Chicago won the lottery and proceeded to grin like a Cheshire cat with a canary in its mouth with regard to getting something they had long desired..a franchaise QB..Cutler was traded to da’Bears in exchange for Bear QB Kyle Orton and first round picks in 2009 and 2010 along with a third round pick in 2009.

McDaniels is reported to have a lot of peeved players in the locker room over the Jay Cutler issue and a situation with star WR Brandon Marshall has been brewing with regard to Marshall wanting to be traded if not given a restructured contract that is reflective of his accomplishments to date, obviously Marshall knows that he won’t match the 100 plus balls he caught for over 1250 yards in each of the past two seasons with Cutler gone and wants to dicker now before it’s too late.

There is simply way too much drama surrounding this Bronco team, in addition to all of the off season stuff they also have to deal with a completely new coaching staff, new offensive and defensive schemes, and new players. Who knows, maybe young Josh McDaniels will turn out to be a pretty good coach down the line, however, it certainly won’t show this season as Denver figures to take a step backwards in the win/loss column. Projected record 4-12.

***Look to play AGAINST Denver on November 15th when they travel to Washington to take on the Skins, the Broncos will be caught up in a bad scheduling situation as they will have to fly to Baltimore for a November 1st game followed by a home MNF game against Pittsburgh and then have to fly to Washington on a short week…that’s two trips east bound in a three week span with a Monday nighter sandwiched in between.

Add to the mix the fact that Denver will have a home affair against the hated Chargers on deck and it’s a rather easy assumption to make that they will be a little emotionally drained against the Skins. Speaking of the Chargers…a peek into the ole history book reveals that Denver has failed to cover an amazing 15 of their last 18 games ATS that take place prior to playing the Chargers.

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