Denver Broncos (8-8)
Key Additions: RB Knowshon Moreno, DE Robert Ayers, CB Alphonso Smith, QB Kyle Orton, WR Brandon Lloyd, S Renaldo Hill, LB Andra Davis
Key Subtractions: QB Jay Cutler, LB Jamie Winborn, S Marquand Manuel, CB Dre' Bly, WR Brandon Marshall???
The defensive overhaul that the Broncos went through this offseason doesn't look like it will yield a much different result. They changed several players, but don't seem to have a distinct upgrade anywhere. I do like Renaldo Hill, though, and Andra Davis is at least a revolutionary name-speller.
Rookie Knowshon Moreno has got top-tier ability, and the turnover on the defensive side of the ball shouldn't create much of an overall difference in performance. Jay Cutler's tantrum was quelled with a trade to Chicago that netted multiple first round picks as well as Cutler's replacement, Kyle Orton. Orton isn't the same caliber quarterback as Cutler, and it wouldn't be terribly shocking if Chris Simms got a look under center at some point this season. Either way, the passing game won't be as potent as it was last year.
But perhaps the biggest issue for the Broncos going into the 2009 season is the drama surrounding superstar wideout Brandon Marshall. Marshall has 206 receptions over the past two seasons, and has established himself as one of the elite receivers today. But he's unhappy about his current deal ($2.2 million this year) and has demanded either a contract extension or a trade. Denver hasn't offered either, and it's degraded into a situation where nobody knows what will happen. If he plays for Denver this year, everyone benefits. If not, the whole team suffers.
I love Eddie Royal.
Projected 2009 record: 5-11
Kansas City Chiefs (2-14)
Key Additions: QB Matt Cassel, DE Tyson Jackson, LB Mike Vrabel, LB Zach Thomas
Key Subtractions: TE Tony Gonzalez
Four of the Chiefs' top five tacklers last season were the starting secondary, which means the front seven wasn't getting the job done. To attempt to resolve that problem, the Chiefs drafted a gigantic defensive end in Jackson, and acquired two veteran linebackers. These changes don't put Kansas City on the fast-track to the Super Bowl, or even the playoffs, but I do believe Vrabel and Thomas will help Jackson, Glenn Dorsey, and Tamba Hali develop into a pretty fearsome young front.
Is Matt Cassel the answer to all of Kansas City's offensive questions? Probably not, but I can't help but pull for Cassel, for both parties. Cassel is the guy everyone (including me) thinks was just a beneficiary of a good system last year in New England, and the Chiefs got branded as suckers (again, by me) for paying full price. Prove me wrong, kids! Prove me wrong! I don't think the Chiefs will do much this year, but if Larry Johnson can recapture some of his old fire, there's no reason that Kansas City can't be a dangerous stop for any visiting team.
Projected 2009 record: 6-10
Oakland Raiders (5-11)
Key Additions: QB Jeff Garcia, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
Key Subtractions: S Gibril Wilson, DE Derrick Burgess
Oh my, the Raiders. Every year I expect them to be the worst team in the NFL, and while they usually find a way to back into a few wins, they're always at least among the worst teams. They haven't won more than five games in any season since going to the Super Bowl after the 2002 season. It's really a shame, because Oakland has got good fans and some interesting players. The pick of Heyward-Bey in this year's draft was shocking to most, but he may have the most talent of any receiver in that draft. JaMarcus Russell was everybody's #1 overall pick in 2007, and Darren McFadden was the logical pick in 2008. The Raiders make some interesting decisions, but they seem to know talent when they see it.
This year could be trouble, though. Wilson and Burgess were important parts of the defense last year, and it's a defense that's been getting worse since they surprisingly had the #3 yardage defense in 2006. Michael Huff hasn't impressed since being taken in the first round that season, and he's been pushed to third on the safety depth chart behind two even younger players, Tyvon Branch and Hiram Eugene. I do expect the offense to finally take a little pressure off of the defense, and maybe that'll be enough to help the Raiders win some games.
Projected 2009 record: 3-13
San Diego Chargers (8-8)
Key Additions: DE/LB Larry English
Key Subtractions: none
Talk about a team that is staying the course. The Chargers return virtually every relevant player from last season, including an offense that was second in the NFL in points scored. In fact, the Chargers have been in the top five in points scored every year since 2004. With LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson, and Philip Rivers all returning for another go-around, there's no reason they can't plant themselves back near the top.
What they need to take the next step is for their defense to recapture their dominance from 2006 and 2007. They gave up under 300 total yards only three times last season, and gave up over 400 yards on four different occasions. Two of those occasions, however, were against the Jay Cutler-led Broncos, which should be considerably less potent this season without him. The reality is that there's no reason the Chargers can't finish in the top 5 along with their offense, which would make San Diego easily the team to beat in the AFC West. My guess is they wrap up the division by Thanksgiving and lose one or two meaningless games down the stretch (hopefully including their game against Washington to end the season).
Projected 2009 record: 11-5
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