NFL Queries: AFC West

by Colin Donohue

The NFL season is just a couple of months away, which means training camps are approaching quickly. Most teams begin in less than a week. And because everything centered on the NFL is a huge event, it’s no surprise that the league’s lead-up to meaningless preseason games–training camp–gets oodles of attention from the media. Well, I’m going to add to the already saturated NFL predictions market, mostly to sate myself. But maybe you’ll get something out of it, too.

I’ll be posing three questions (or queries, as the title of this post suggests) facing every NFL team and three-sentence answers to each question. I’ll post one conference a day for the next eight days, which should lead us right into training camp. I’ll also assign one band/music act to every conference and pick a song from their repertoire that best describes the NFL team’s current situation just to give this feature a different twist. At the end of this list, you’ll find a poll, asking you to vote for your division winner. Be sure to give us your feedback by placing a vote.

Today, its’ the AFC West. The band is The Beatles.

AFC West

Can this man lead the Broncos to more than six wins? Seems unlikely.

Can this man lead the Broncos to more than six wins? Seems unlikely.

Denver Broncos

The Beatles Song: “Help”
Help me if you can, I’m feeling down …/Help me, get my feet back on the ground/Won’t you please, please help me

  1. Do the Broncos have a legitimate starting quarterback? When new head coach Josh McDaniel alienated former QB Jay Cutler, the Broncos were forced to ship Culter out of Denver. They sent him to the Chicago Bears in exchange for QB Kyle Orton and other players, and Orton was named the starter for the Broncos, which is a scary concept. Orton is a no-arm kind of guy, who, while accurate, simply won’t be the same kind of player as Cutler, thus leaving a gaping hole at the most important position of the Broncos roster.
  2. What will happen to Denver if Brandon Marshall is traded? With former coach Mike Shanahan and Cutler gone, Marshall now wants out of town, and who could blame him–the Broncos are a mess. But he’s the last remaining proven talent on the roster, and with Orton having enough trouble simply throwing the ball, losing a capable receiver would be yet another blow to this team’s chances. No Cutler and no Marshall means this could be one of the most ineffective offenses in the league next season.
  3. Will the defense provide any resistance to opposing offenses? The defense gave up 448 points last year, and you’d be foolish to think the defense they enter the new season with is any better. Of course, some improvement may be seen, but really, how difficult is it to go from giving up 448 points to a mere 400? While Champ Bailey is still a nice cornerback, the Broncos really don’t have much else to tout on that side of the ball.
Quarterbacks wear red jerseys in practice so the players know not to hit them. Matt Cassel will wish he could wear one during games this year in Kansas City.

Quarterbacks wear red jerseys in practice so the players know not to hit them. Matt Cassel will wish he could wear one during games this year in Kansas City.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Beatles Song: “Run for Your Life”
You better run for your life if you can …/Hide your head in the sand …

  1. Is Matt Cassel the real deal and the right guy to lead the Chiefs? The answer to this question is an emphatic maybe, only because there are so many other questions surrounding the Chiefs offense. If Kansas City is relying on Cassel alone to take the team from two wins a year ago to the playoffs this year, than he will fail miserably. Cassel had a nice run in New England last year, but let’s not forget that playing for the Patriots is quite different from playing for the miserable Chiefs.
  2. What impact will Larry Johnson have on the offense? Johnson has been sulking, complaining and whining at every turn the last couple of seasons, which has coincided with the team going from mediocre to bad. And when he’s gotten on the field recently, he hasn’t shown any of the explosion and big-play potential he once had. It’s time for the Chiefs to look elsewhere for productivity from the running back position.
  3. Is this a break-even team as currently constructed? No, it’s not. They were a two-win team a year ago, and winning six games this season would be a giant improvement. Right now, the team has an unreliable running back, a QB who’s only proven he can win with the Patriots, a bad mix of WRs, no Tony Gonzalez and a suspect (to say the least) defense.
JaMarcus Russell will have to say on his feet and use his arm to help lead this team into contention.

JaMarcus Russell will have to say on his feet and use his arm to help lead this team into contention.

Oakland Raiders

The Beatles Song: “Fool on the Hill”
Day after day/Alone on a hill/The man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still/But nobody wants to know him/They can see that he’s just a fool/And he never gives an answer

  1. Will the Raiders continue to be an NFL laughing stock? The Raiders aren’t the worst team in their division (hello, Chiefs), and they may even finish second behind only the Chargers. So no, the Raiders may be elevating above the level of laughing stock and entering the kind-of-funny-but-potentially-dangerous territory. There are some young guys on this team who can play and a defense that may show decent improvement this season.
  2. Are JaMarcus Russell and Darren McFadden a formidable tandem? And, of course, the fortunes of this team rest on the young, inexperience shoulders of both Russell and McFadden. Russell is a big, mobile QB who can air the ball out, but he hasn’t proven he can be an accurate or smart passer yet, which is why Jeff Garcia will challenge for the starting job. McFadden has some explosiveness in his game, but he didn’t show last year that he could find the right holes and be an effective every-down runner; still, the two could combine this year to make the Raiders at least semi-relevant.
  3. What kind of impact will first-round choice Darrius Heyward-Bey have? The Raiders again bungled their draft this year by taking wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey with the seventh selection, when he clearly wasn’t the best receiver left on the board. I like Heyward-Bey (he’s a Maryland guy), but he’s a second-round pick guy, not a seventh selection overall guy, and so he has expectations that he can’t live up to now. If this guy becomes to the deep threat the Raiders think he is, then he could make the Raiders a good offensive team, but it doesn’t seem like Heyward-Bey will have that kind of impact this season.
I might be 30, but I still have some moves. Just not sure if those moves still work on defenders.

I might be 30, but I still have some moves. Just not sure if those moves still work on defenders.

San Diego Chargers

The Beatles Song: “Yesterday”
Suddenly, I’m not half the man I used to be/There’s a shadow hanging over me/Oh, yesterday came suddenly

  1. Has LaDainian Tomlinson lost his edge? Tomlinson is entering his 30s and has already played nine seasons in the NFL, so he’s entering that stage in his career when running backs start to lose their effectiveness. Last year he only 1,110 yards on 292 carries. Those are the lowest totals of his career, and while he may see a slight uptick this season, I think the days of him running 320 times for 1,500 yards and 15-20 TDs are past him.
  2. Will Shawne Merriman be healthy enough to give the defense the swagger it needs? Merriman is the key to the Chargers defense because he makes everyone around him (particularly a guy like Jamal Williams) better. Without him last year, the Chargers didn’t play as well up front as they have in the past. But with him in the lineup (and he should be ready to go this year), the secondary is tighter, the line is more forceful and linebackers are everywhere.
  3. Will eight wins be enough again this year for the Chargers to win the division? Quite simply, yes. I envision the Chargers winning more than eight because six of their games are against the rest of this sorry division. But considering the rest of the teams in this division, eight wins (maybe even seven) would be enough to take the AFC West, which the Chargers will win.

So who will win the AFC West?


(Stay tuned later in the summer for my and Justin’s one-sentence NFL season previews, our season locks, predictions and pick’em tournament.)

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