Welcome back to football and another year of AFC West competition.To kick off this season I want to introduce something new. I picked up this idea from playing fantasy soccer. In that sport the long season and the rules of the fantasy game make it vital to understand what the upcoming runs of games looks like. So, using Football Outsiders' Preseason DVOA statistic, plus some of my corrections for home field advantage I've brought a color coded chart to present the AFC West season. The colors range from easy (dark blue) to average (white) to hard (dark red). I plan to bring this to you in smaller chunks during the season, but to start it off I wanted to show it all. Let me know what you think. All the normal caveats apply for using preseason DVOA, It's a better storyteller than prognosticator, but it worked well for weighting games so I went with it. Okay, back to the normal business.
When we last left the division the Kansas City Chiefs were riding an easy schedule and a number of young developing players to their first AFC West title in years. They then proceeded to take that crown and get lost in it's sparkly distractiveness as they got bounced from the playoffs in the first round despite home field advantage. This year they return most of that young core, while losing their Offensive Coordinator to the college ranks. They also added a couple of veterans to fill the holes that got masked with that easy 2010 schedule that did not return in 2011.
The Raiders made their first run at the division since they went to their AFC Championship run in 2002-2003, but not even an undefeated divisional record could get them through. By advanced metrics they appeared to be a pretty bad team, but they still managed to pull of a number of upsets and make some believe that they are a team with promise. Now, they must deal with the loss of their best player in Nmandi Asomugha, their head coach, who they chose not retain, as well as their Pro Bowl TE Zach Miller. Because of cap issues the team is forced to replace those guys on the cheap and will have to rely on their many drafted speed merchants and some consistency from the QB position to sustain whatever progress they achieved in 2010.
Being that this is a Chargers blog I think many know what happened to the Chargers. Special Teams woes cost them in multiple key divisional games including an opening day loss to the eventual division usurpers. They also had hold outs, a Hall of Fame bound tight end that couldn't shake his injury issues and a number of players who got butterfingers at key moments. Even with all that the team had a winning record which raised their streak on consecutive non-losing seasons to 7 years. That ties the longest such streak in franchise history (1963-1969). However, it ended its 4 year division title streak, which is the longest streak of its type in franchise history. The team must regroup after a troublesome year like that. They have the players to do it, but do they have the health and the intestinal fortitude?
The Broncos were every bid as bad they seemed. They struggled on the field, especially on defense and the running game. They struggled with leadership, which led to the eventual firing of their head coach.They replaced their young supposed-prodigy of a head coach with a well respected head coaching veteran, however he inherits the quarterback mess that the little whipper-snapper left behind. How that gets managed will probably define the major storyline of the season, but in reality John Fox's key concerns should be that aforementioned defense and running game.