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“After Week 1; What Are Each Team’s Chances in the AFC West; The Best Division in the NFL “

AFC_West

philip rivers
Philip Rivers calling an audible

San Diego Chargers:

WEAKNESSES: 

The Chargers should be improved and fun to watch, but I’m pretty shocked that so many in the media are so high on the Chargers this year.  They are definitely improved but for years they have had issues closing games.

4th Quarter Fails:

ESPN gave a shocking stat that said that the Chargers haven’t scored in a two minute drill in 22 games.  22 GAMES!  River’s is a good but not great QB and that is a very ugly stat.  Last year it was painful watching him and the Chargers struggle late in games.  In last years opener they were beating the Chiefs in Arrowhead 27-10 with 13 minutes to go in the game; and lost!  Closing games has haunted Rivers and the Chargers for a long time.

Run Defense: The Chargers were 23rd in rushing defense last year and they struggled again opening night giving up 140 yards on the ground.  They will need to control first and second down runs to allow for their pass rush to attack the QB on third down.

Lack of Depth: Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen HAVE to stay healthy.  Branden Oliver is a nice player but he’s no where near as good as Gordon, who is the answer to the Chargers running game.  Gordon can make plays catching or running with the ball and I really like him.  Wide Receiver Keenan Allen is one of the most underrated players in the game.  He brings an attitude and a confidence that is infectious and he is the backbone of the Chargers offense.  If either goes down, then the Chargers are in big trouble.

STRENGTHS:

Pass Rush: With Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, the Chargers have a legitimate pass rush duo that can stand up to any team in the NFL.  If the Chargers can stop the run on the early downs, they will have success on defense.  Ingram is fun to watch.

Playmakers: Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen are the real deal.  Gordon can do anything on the football field and he is as tough as nails.  Keenan Allen is the confidence and swagger that they need on offense.  With them in the game, the Chargers are a different team.  Mike Williams is still hurt, but Travis Benjamin is a speedster that spreads the field out.

Linebackers: I like their young linebackers too.  Jatavis Brown is a comer and at only 23, he is still learning the game.  Hayes Pullard III is 25 and he also has a lot of potential to be good.  Korey Toomer is 28 and plays with heart.  If the DL can keep guys off of them, these LB’s make plays.

PREDICTIONS:  8-8

If the Chargers were in the AFC South they would win the division. I think they have improved but they are in the toughest division in football.  They struggle finishing games and I see them near a .500 team this year.  It’s hard to see them winning on the road in the division but they will make most games pretty close.

alex smith
Alex Smith finding the open man against New England

Kansas City Chiefs:

WEAKNESSES:  Now before you get Super Bowl tickets Chiefs fans, let’s let the euphoria and overreaction to the opening day win in New England subside.  I do like them though and you always have that home field advantage.  New England has 3 Super Bowl wins after losing their opening game.

Alex Smith:  I said it when Alex Smith was doing great with the 49ers; he is an average to good QB but he will never win anything in the NFL.  So far I’m right.  Alex is the perfect QB for an Andy Reid team.  They are the Ichabod Crane’s of the NFL; play not to lose.  Smith’s 1-3 yard passes may work some in the regular season, but if you don’t take risks in the NFL, you don’t go far in the post season.

Age/Health:  Pass rushing stud Tamba Hali will be 34 this year and is already on the PUP list and will miss the first six games.  He has failed to even practice.  He’s admitted he pretty much has little to no cartilage in his knees which greatly limited him to only 2 games last year.  Chiefs fans will remember his torrid and long twitter rant on how upset he was that the Chiefs wouldn’t let him play last year.  Hali can’t have much left.  Safety Eric Berry is lost for the season and this really hurts this defense. Justin Houston’s health is always a concern.  After losing starter Spencer Ware, Kareem Hunt had a great opening day at RB and the hopes are that he is the answer.

STRENGTHS:

Justin Houston:  He finally seems healthy.  He played a great opening day game and if he stays healthy, watch out.  He’s great against the run and as a pass rusher and he’s a game changer.

Pass Rush:  Dee Ford was a pleasant surprise last year ending the season with 10 sacks with Houston and Tamba Hali physically limited.  The hopes are that they can get all three on the field at once in some passing downs.

Run Game: The Chiefs offensive line just keeps chugging along. Doesn’t matter who the running back is, they seem to get the job done on the ground and short passing game.

Playmakers: With WR Tyreek Hill, underrated Albert Wilson and TE Travis Kelce, Kansas City has a lot of weapons to throw to.

PREDICTION:  11-5

I’m not a fan of Alex Smith or Andy Reid but I do like this team. I know it’s crazy trusting a rookie QB, but if somehow Patrick Mahomes II takes over and plays well, then all bets are off.  He really throws a great long ball and accounted for 41 passing TD’s and 12 rushing TD’s his last year at Texas Tech.  Health on the DL will play a big role on where the Chiefs go.  I see them getting into the playoffs again and being a dangerous team that no one will want to play.

von miller
Von Miller celebrates another Bronco win

Denver Broncos

WEAKNESSES:

QB:  I don’t like ANY QB on the Denver roster.  Trevor Siemian is average and always is good for 1-2 bad mistakes a game.  I think they will struggle late in games holding leads and coming from behind.  Denver last year got conservative when they would be ahead when they should have went for the throat.  They have the worst QB’s in the AFC West in my humble opinion.

RB/injuries: This group has to stay healthy.  Jamaal Charles isn’t what he once was with the burst that was seen for years now gone.  CJ Anderson is solid but not great.  The hope is that injured RB Devontae Booker will be back in week 3 or 4.

Offense:  Denver was 21st in passing offense and 27th in rushing offense in 2016.  This defense isn’t what it once was and they won’t be able to carry a team with a struggling offense like they have in the past.

Defense/Health:

Derek Wolfe and Shane Ray have to stay healthy for Denver’s defense to be good.  Shane Ray is on IR and will play in week 8.  Denver was ranked 28th against the run last year and that doesn’t bode well against the likes of the Raiders and the Chiefs.

PREDICTION:  10-6

The Broncos defense is not the same one that won the Super Bowl.  They can still make plays and get after the QB but the dominant run defense is gone.  Offensively they are limited.  They could get away with it in the past with a great defense but those days are gone.  The Broncos should have a good year though. They have talent but they have key holes that will keep them from being an elite team and expose them at times offensively, and when they try to stop the run.

derek carr
Derek Carr looking for receivers

Oakland Raiders:

WEAKNESSES:

Defense, defense, defense: 

First off can the media finally be called out on crazy predictions?  Some were again very high on the Titans.  Not getting that.  Some have the Chargers in the Super Bowl and several have the Raiders going 10-6 or 9-7.

The Raiders defense played pretty well on opening day against a Titans team that isn’t going to wow anyone on offense.  In 2016 the Raiders were last in sacks and 26th in overall defense. The Raiders still have key holes at LB and DB and Karl Joseph still is struggling covering TE’s.  The Titans are so vanilla on offense that the announcers at times were telling the audience what the plays were going to be before the Titans hiked the ball.

Mario Edwards Jr. and Ed Vanderdoes had some good moments in week 1 but for the most part the Raiders pass rush wasn’t a big factor in the game.  Jihad Ward had a terrible first year and he must prove he belongs. The key to the season will be how well this group plays, especially the DL.

Bad Drafts & Signings Adding Up:

In the salary cap era all teams have weaknesses.  That’s why it’s so important to hit it big in the draft and in free agency.

NO ONE defended Reggie McKenzie more than I did when Raider fans were asking for his resignation.  After the 2014 draft all was forgiven and Raider fans said “In Reggie We trust”.  The Raiders failed picks and signings though are piling up.  There is DJ Hayden, Jihad Ward, Shalique Calhoun, Clive Walford, Connor Cook, Sio Moore and Tyler Wilson as fails. And if Edwards can’t stay healthy or excel, you have another swing and a miss.  In fact, take out the 2014 draft and the Raiders have had many more misses than hits.

Sean Smith and David Amerson signed big contracts and could not be cut because they would have combined for a $17.5 million cap hit if they were let go.  Remember Curtis Lofton, Nate Allen, Matt Schaub and LaMarr Woodley?  Reggie has done some good things but he’s had some big misses too.  The Raiders need to clean up these bad draft picks and signings and improve the defense and add depth.

STRENGTHS:

Offense, offense, offense.   The Raiders could beat teams like the Titans in their sleep.  It’s the teams that can score that they worry about.  They have a top 3 OL, the best depth at RB in the NFL, and one of the best group of WR’s in the NFL.  Add an excellent QB who usually get’s all day to throw and that spells success in the regular season.  In the post season though your defense is a huge reason for success.  Right now the Raiders do NOT have a championship defense but this offense will always keep the Raiders in every game.

PREDICTION: 12-4

Save the homer/hater stuff.  If I say good things about the Raiders, then non Raider fans lose their minds saying I’m a homer.  If I tell the truth about a Raider weakness then some Raider fans attack me.  When you use facts and tell the truth, it’s not as popular as being a homer or a hater.  My record speaks for itself.  If I was wrong all the time I would be embarrassed for 43,000 people to follow me on twitter.

The Raiders should go 7-2 or 8-1 in their first 9 games (obviously nothing is for sure).  The final 7 games though is a brutal stretch.  With their ability to score, that alone will win games.

If the Patriots don’t completely shut down Atlanta for most of the second half of the Super Bowl, then Brady doesn’t lead a comeback. Offense puts butts in the seats but defense wins championships.  Again, the Raiders don’t have a championship defense.

The Raiders will go as far as their DL and defense takes them.  I think they lose in the Championship game to either Pittsburgh or New England, but the hopes are that their defense will rise above and take them to the Super Bowl; but that is a big hope.

In a game where injuries, ego’s and even sheer luck can change outcomes, teams fortunes can change in an instant.  It’s nice though that the AFC West is back on top.  Now if only the teams would stop moving.

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“Will The Raiders Win the AFC West? A 2nd Half Breakdown of All 4 Teams”

 

michael-crabtree

 

Who will win the AFC West?  Let’s look ahead to the rest of the season and see what may be in store for all of the teams.

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Oakland Raiders:

In the history of social media, there has NEVER been a tweet or Facebook post about the Raiders being in a playoff game. Let that sink in. In their glory days, for 25 years the Raiders were the winningest team of any Pro Sports team in the U.S. For the last couple of decades, they’ve been the worst. In their glory years, the Cowboys and the Raiders for almost 3 decades were the two most popular teams on tv ratings. Love them or hate them, it’s good that they are back.

The Cowboys Dak Prescott and Oakland’s Derek Carr are having great years.   They also are behind the 2 best offensive lines in the NFL. NOT a coincidence. Carr is the best protected QB in the NFL this year and that is important to his success.

The Raiders are now #4 in the NFL in rushing yards and #3 in passing yards.   Even though their skilled position players get most of the credit, their OL has been as dominating as any in the game this year and it’s the heart and soul of this team.

On defense it’s another matter. They struggle against good teams and occasionally look good against bad ones. The Raiders are 28th in sacks, 30th against the pass and 27th against the run.   And that is after a good performance against a bad Denver offense.

The Raiders have only played 3 teams with winning records; all at home; and are 1-2. They have not played a team who presently has a winning record on the road.

The Raiders schedule is interesting. They struggle against teams that can score points and they really don’t play a lot of good offenses the rest of the way. They still have a game in Denver, in KC and @ San Diego.   Outside of that they have Houston, Carolina and Buffalo. These are all good match-ups for them because those teams don’t have great offenses.   Even with their bad OL, the Colts will be a tough game because they can score.

Right now the Raiders have the upper hand in the AFC West and barring injuries to their OL; and even with a limited defense; they still should be considered favorites to win the division. This is not a Super Bowl defense in any way and offense may make headlines and put butts in the seats but defense wins championships.  Remember this is the salary cap era so every team has some sort of issue or weakness, but for now, the West comes through Oakland.

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Denver Broncos:

The Broncos are fading fast due to injuries and a poor offensive scheme.

On offense I really like their 2 young running backs. Rookie Devontae Booker hasn’t had much of a chance to run the ball but he has a lot of potential. Kapri Bibbs showed his playmaking ability on a 68 yard pass and catch late against the Raiders. On defense they still have an excellent pass rush but now they can’t stop the run. The  other problem on offense is head coach and play caller Gary Kubiak.

The Denver media; which is fairly soft; has been griping about him for 2 weeks.   They have brought up great points.  In the first 15 plays against the Raiders, Denver threw 13 times. In the last 5 games Denver has thrown almost 70% of the time in their first 15 plays.   Denver is 2-3 in those games.   With Siemian as a starter, Denver throws 72% of the time. That’s not Denver football.

Siemian is limited; he throws a nice deep ball but he needs protection; and lot’s of it. The offensive line at Denver has been inconsistent protecting the QB. He does not feel a rush at all and struggles under pressure as was seen with a loss at San Diego and again in Oakland.

Denver needs to go back to the ground and pound with young RB’s that are hungry. Both have mildly complained about their lack of touches in the running game. Kubiak is a borderline arrogant guy though when it comes to coaching and he can be stubborn. Analyst Cris Collinsworth brought up what I said last year. Why don’t they double team Kahlil Mack more? Last year in Mack’s epic game in Denver, they would not help out their tackles and Mack went off. Their tackles are not that great and it took until late in the game last Sunday for them to finally start helping out on him.

When asked about Siemian after the Raiders game, Kubiak said he was still making plays so there is no problem with the QB position. Now Paxton Lynch might not be the answer but if Denver throws 70% of the time for the rest of the year, they are toast.   Kubiak acted this way in Houston when Matt Schaub started to tank. Instead of using Arian Foster & Ben Tate with his run game to help him, he threw even more.

The Denver defense is now 30th against the run and can’t stop anybody.  The offensive line has also struggled. There may be changes there soon. Even so the Broncos have to go back to being a running team and take their chances. Their LB’s are no longer a strength of the team with changes there this year. Injuries have just killed the Broncos. Aqib Talib and Kayvon Webster are still hurting and Brandon Marshall is hobbling badly.   DL Derek Wolfe’s injury is not as bad as first thought but he is another one on the mend. And those are just the bigger names on the list.

The rest of their schedule is rough. Their last 3 games are at home against New England, on the road to KC and back home to play the Raiders.  Before that they also have to play the Chiefs in Denver. Denver has a great home field advantage so they will need to use that to keep in the playoff hunt. Get healthy and run the ball should be their mantra.

NFL: San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City Chiefs:

The Chiefs are a classic Andy Reid team. They are tough, disciplined and they find ways to win. If you watch their games and look at the stat sheet, you wonder how they can be 6-2. They are 22nd in rushing and 25th in passing offense. Their offense doesn’t scare anyone. On defense they are ranked 13th against the pass and 25th against the run. Their once feared pass rush with Justin Houston and Tamba Hali is now 21st in sacks. Houston is set to return this week or next and 33 year old Hali’s days are numbered as he has no cartilage in one knee and tries to play in a specialist pass rushing position. Pass rushing project Dee Ford has shown glimpses of great play and has come on of late, as has DB Steven Nelson who made the game winning defensive play against Jacksonville last week.

KC has had so many injuries; Charles, Maclin, Ware, Houston, Hali; a who’s who if you are a Chiefs fan.

The AFC West has pretty easy schedules this year and KC has played only 2 teams with winning records and are 1-1, and that obviously has helped them.

ESPN seemed to fall in love with the Chiefs last week but slow your roll.   The Chiefs have a brutal second half schedule that includes 2 games with Denver, a rematch with Oakland, and road games with San Diego, Carolina and Atlanta. They STILL might make the playoffs though because most of the AFC outside of the West is awful. Their second half schedule will greatly test them and may expose them.

I’ve never been an Alex Smith guy. He’s the Ichabod Crane of the NFL. He and Andy Reid play not to lose with their extremely conservative passing game and you can’t win big with 1-3 yard check down passes. They may make the playoffs but they are not going far.   What they will be though is hard playing and competitive. They have owned the Raiders this decade, and play Denver well so you can’t sleep on KC.   Their home field on a cold winter day is not the place to be if you are an opposing team.

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San Diego Chargers:

You have to give it up for the Chargers. With all of the turmoil surrounding their possible move, the terrible season ending injury to star WR Keenan Allen, and the drama with first round draft choice Joey Bosa, the worst was expected in San Diego. A funny thing happened. Bosa has been a breath of fresh air and has greatly helped the defensive line and pass rush and RB Melvin Gordon has had a great year behind an improved offensive line. If they don’t implode late against KC and go into a coma in the 4th in Oakland, their season could be much different. Their win in Atlanta was impressive and was not a fluke. They earned it.

Their schedule has been the hardest in the AFC West by far. They are 2-3 against teams with winning records. They split with Denver so they just have the Raiders and KC at home along with Houston on the road as their toughest remaining games. The AFC only has 5 teams with winning records and 3 are in the AFC West.   Watch out for the Chargers.   Stranger things have happened and a playoff push may not seem eminent but they could make some noise.  Their slow start really hurt them.

Philip Rivers is a good QB but just like Alex Smith I just don’t think either will win anything significant in their NFL careers. In Rivers San Diego career, the Chargers so often fall short in the second half of games, especially in the fourth quarter. They always seem to do just enough to lose.   Sometimes it’s not all Rivers fault but he’s the captain of the ship. A very good QB with great stats who never will win anything who I personally think gets a little too much love. Gordon and Bosa though could be great building blocks for the near future.  Add a healthy Keenan Allen and next year looks much brighter in San Diego.

If you sleep on these guys, they can beat you. I don’t think they make the playoffs but they could hurt someone else’s chances if they are taken lightly. They are intriguing.

Jims Jamz:

The NFL has what they want.  No more great teams; lots of average to good teams who all have a weakness.  Odds now show Seattle to be the #2 choice to win the Super Bowl and they have a bad offensive line that struggles in protection and at times running the ball.  Parity and average teams to keep all fans interested is what they want and they got it.  Everyone has issues, and what that means is that it is a toss up on who will get to the post season and who will win it all.  Most everyone has a shot if they get hot.

Can the Raiders offensive line stay healthy and will their defense hold up?   Can the Broncos stop supplying bodies for their medical staff? Will Head Coach Gary Kubiak forget about Siemian’s stats in the Cincinnati game and actually start running the ball again? Can the Chargers play 4 quarters of good football and come through in the second half of games? Can the KC Chiefs get healthy and their pass rush be restored with the return of Justin Houston? And will Alex Smith ever get over his deepballaphobia and throw the ball downfield in big games?

These are all questions that will be answered in the second half of the season. Right now the Raiders look like the odds on favorite but this is the NFL and things could change quickly.  Its’ not the good ol’ days when the AFC West dominated in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, but for now it will definitely do.