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Posts Tagged ‘Kansas City Chiefs’

AFC West Preview

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 8, 2009

Once again teams listed in predicted order of finish.

9781. San Diego Chargers – Last year’s Chargers season would be a huge disappointment by the standards of most teams.  This sounds like a very strange statement considering they won the division, won a playoff game against Peyton Manning and the Colts, and gave the Super Bowl champion Steelers a very good game in the second round of the playoffs.  However, the Chargers had gone to the AFC title game the year before, came in with a roster virtually unchanged, and were expected to take a monster leap in the standings.  However, the Chargers really stumbled out of the gate, sitting at 4-8 through 12 games.  They did manage to win their last four games to finish 8-8, and were able to back into the division title thanks to an epic collapse by Denver.  The fact that the Chargers hosted the Colts in the playoffs despite finishing 8-8 says more about the current NFL playoff system than anything else.  This year, the Chargers are clear runaway favorites in what perhaps is the worst division in football.  The question is do they have enough to beat the NFL’s elite in the playoffs?

There is no question that there is plenty of offensive talent in San Diego.  How quarterback Philip Rivers didn’t make the Pro Bowl is beyond me.  His 34 touchdown passes were a franchise record and he led the league with a 105.5 quarterback rating.  The main knock on Rivers is that two of his 2004 draft classmates, Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, have already won Super Bowls.  It is clear however that Rivers deserves to be mentioned among the elite of the league.  As long as he is around, the Chargers will have a good chance to be successful.  He does have a very good and very underrated group of receivers to throw to, including Vincent Jackson, who produced his first 1,000 yard season a year ago.  He lines up alongside Chris Chambers, who has thrived in the Chargers’ offense since coming over from Miami a few years ago.  The Chargers also have surprising depth in Malcolm Floyd and Legadu Naanee.  Oh, not to mention, Rivers can throw to the best tight end in football in Antonio Gates.  Gates was slowed at the beginning of last year due to a toe injury, but he did rebound toward the end of the season.  Now that he’s fully healthy this year, he should be in for a big season.  The running game is also arguably the most talented in the NFL.  LaDainian Tomlinson had a down year by his standards last year, finishing with 1,100 yards and missing the playoffs to a toe injury.  Tomlinson had his contract restructured during the offseason, so he will enter the season with a chip on his shoulder.  Tomlinson wants to prove that he is still the best back in football.  The Chargers also have Darren Sproles, who is definitely among the fastest backs in all of football.  The pairing of a healthy Tomlinson and Sproles will make the Chargers offense extremely dangerous, couples with the ability of Rivers under center.  The offensive line did have its struggles last season, but the Chargers elected not to make any changes.  This is a veteran group that knows it just needs to play to its ability.

Defensively the Chargers defense will be significantly improved from a year ago for a simple reason: the return of Shawne Merriman.  Merriman sat out most the season last year due to reconstructive knee injury, and his absence in the middle of the defense was definitely noticed in more ways than one.  Merriman is certainly one of the best linebackers in all of football, mainly because his his ability to get to the quarterback.  It does remain to be seen whether he still possesses the speed from before the knee surgery, but his leadership alone will be a tremendous boost in the locker room and on the field.  Shaun Phillips will play in the other outside linebacker spot, and he had 7.5 sacks last year.  The Chargers also used their first round pick on limnebacker Larry English of Northern Illinois.  The defensive line is anchored by veteran tackle Jamal Williams and end Luis Castillo.  Overall it is not a terrific group but it is capable of getting the job done.  The secondary has talent with cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer, and both will need to play a lot better than they did a year ago.  The Chargers’ pass defense ranked 31st a year ago, and that definitely needs to get better.

The Chargers’ special teams definitely has the talent to be the best in football.  Kicker Nate Keading is believe it or not second all-time in kicking accuracy in NFL history with an 86 percent success rate.  Punter Mike Scifers has one of the strongest legs in the NFL and he also has the accuracy to be able to pin teams inside the 20.  The return game is in amazing hands with Sproles, who is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.

There is no question that San Diego is an overwhelming favorite to win this division.  Talent wise I think they are very capable of making a deep playoff run.  This team returns largely intact from a year ago, and more importantly they are healthy The schedule is tough (they play the AFC North and NFC East) but the Chargers have the talent to play with those teams.  The question is will they play to their talent level?  We will find out.

2. Denver Broncos – I put the Broncos at number two in this division with a couple of asterisks.  One, this is weak division and someone has to finish second, even if their record is going to end up 6-10 or 7-9.  Second, I like new coach Josh McDaniels and I think he has a good system.  I also think the Broncos could surprise some people and win more games than everyone expects.  The Broncos surprised the entire league when they fired Mike Shanahan, and they shocked the NFL even more when they traded quarterback Jay Cutler.  (I have reviewed and analyzed that deal in several previous posts – basically I think it might not end up as bad long term for Denver as everyone thinks.)  They have also had to deal with the Brandon Marshall fiasco.  All this after they blew a three game lead with three games to play last season, and missed the playoffs altogether for the third straight year.

The offense has almost been completely revamped from a year ago.  This despite the fact they finished second in the NFL in yards.  What Coach McDaniels didn’t like is that the Broncos finished 16th in points.  When McDaniels acquired quarterback Kyle Orton in the Cutler trade, he did so because he legitimately feels that Orton is better decision maker than Cutler.  While Cutler put up flashy numbers a year ago, he did throw a number of red zone interceptions.  Orton has a reputation of being a good decision maker and not turning it over.  Broncos fans are nervous after his four preseason picks, but it is preseason.  The biggest question with Orton is the finger he injured in the third preseason game against Chicago, but he says he will be ready for the opener.  The receiving game could well hinge on whether Marshall gets his act together and decides to play.  Marshall has been suspended during the preseason because of his behavior.  Marshall is unhappy because he wants to be traded.  I am convinced however that Marshall will not be traded, so it will be up to him to play or not.  I think if he gets his head on straight and plays, he will be very productive in this offense, maybe enough to get a third straight 100 catch season.  The rest of the receivers are actually very good, led by second year wideout Eddie Royal, who should be productive with or without Marshall.  There is also good veteran depth with Brandon Stokley and new addition Jabar Gaffney, who came over from the Patriots.  Tight end Tony Scheffler is also a good receiving threat.  The other tight ends, Daniel Graham and second round pick Richard Quinn, are good red zone threats and excellent blockers.  The running game should have more stability this season, after the Broncos went through nine backs last year due to injuries.  Hence why the Broncos spent their first round pick on Knowshan Moreno of Georgia.  Moreno has speed to elude tacklers, plus enough bulk to run through them.  He can also catch out the backfield and is a good blocker.  In the Broncos’ run scheme, he might win offensive rookie of the year honors.  The Broncos also added Correll Buckhalter from the Eagles in free agency for depth, and are expecting a big second season from Peyton Hillis, who emerged in the second half of last season.  The offensive line is also excellent, and returns intact from a year ago.  Young tackles Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris should be around for a long time.

The defense was atrocious to put it mildly last season.  One of the emphases of new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is about forcing turnovers, an area in which the Broncos were among the league’s worst last year.  The Broncos did spend a first round pick obtained in the Cutler deal on defensive end Robert Ayers, who will be expected to bolster the pass rush.  He will likely start week one considering the lack of pass rush from the Broncos’ ends last year.  The nose tackle is still a question mark, and it’s a big one considering Denver will play a 3-4 under Nolan.  The linebackers have talent and speed, led by veteran D.J. Williams and pass rushing specialist Elvis Dumervil, who will be transitioning from defensive end.  The secondary has been completely retooled with the exception of shutdown corner Champ Bailey, who had a down year last year by his standards.  The Broncos will need him to return to his 2005 level of 10 picks.  The rest of the secondary will be led by hard hitting safety Brian Dawkins, who came over from the Eagles.  The Broncos also signed cornerback Andre Goodman and safety Renaldo Hill from the Dolphins.

Special teams is a bit of a question mark for the Broncos.  Kicker Matt Prater tailed off toward the end of the season last year, and Broncos fans are longing for the Jason Elam days.  He does have a very strong leg, hence why the new coaches are giving him a second chance.  Punter Brett Kern must also show more consistency from a year ago.  The return game is also really up for grabs.  Eddie Royal is the Broncos’ best returner, but Denver doesn’t want to risk injury to him in the return game.  Draft choice Alphonso Smith is also a distinct possibility.

Denver is a team that could just as easily finish 4-12 as 10-6.  If Moreno is the real deal, if Marshall plays and if the defense is better, this could be a surprise playoff team.  If Orton is a big time bust, Marshall is an attitude problem all year, and the defense continues to struggle, it could be a long first year for Josh McDaniels.  Time will definitely tell on this team.

3. Kansas City Chiefs – It is a major understatement to say that Kansas City needed a complete overhaul after last season’s disastrous 2-14 campaign.  The Chiefs defense was awful, surrendering 30 or more points seven times, including a whopping 54 to an average Bills attack at home.  The offense put up its share of numbers at times, but lacked any real playmakers in the passing game outside of Gonalez.  The Chiefs will have a very different look in 2009.  Gone are head coach Herm Edwards, General Manager Carl Peterson, and a host of veteran players including Gonzalez, whose trade request was accommodated by new management.  In are new coach Todd Haley, new GM Scott Pioli (architect of the New England dynasty), and new direction.  This team is clearly rebuilding, and the question is how competitive will they be?

The new direction starts at quarterback, where the Chiefs acquired what they hope is their signal caller for a long time to come in Matt Cassel.  Cassel was outstanding filling in for the injured Tom Brady in New England last year, and the Chiefs hope that Cassel will be able to translate that same success in a new environment and a new system.  Cassel is 6-4, and does have an above average arm, and the Chiefs are confident he will be good fit.  They are so confident that they rewarded him with a lucrative raise and contract extension before he’s even taken a snap for them.  If nothing else, it is reasonable for the Chiefs to expect more stability than the trio of Tyler Thigpen, Damon Huard and Brodie Croyle gave them a year ago.  One thing Cassel won’t have however is Gonzalez, and that means he won’t have the league’s best tight end to throw to like those three had.  Dwayne Bowe is the most talented of the receivers, and he is coming off an 86-catch season.  Bowe has the talent to be star, and he will be paired with Mark Bradley, who started to emerge toward the end of last year.  The Chiefs also signed veteran Bobby Engram as a free agent for depth.  There will be a noticeable dropoff at tight end with Brad Cottam the primary candidate to fill Gonzalez’ shoes.  The running game will once again be anchored by Larry Johnson, but he hasn’t been the same running the past two years since he suffered a foot injury in 2007.  Johnson was also not really a part of the offense last year, as the Chiefs went to a spread attack.  The spread is now gone, and Johnson is part of the offensive plan again, that is if his attitude doesn’t get in the way.  Jamaal Charles is ready to step in if Johnson continues to be ineffective.  The Chiefs do have a solid guard in Brian Waters, but the rest of the line is very young and very inexperienced, save for new addition Mike Goff from San Diego.

The defense has been revamped, highlighted by a new linebacking core.  Derrick Johnson is lone retainee at the position, but the former first round pick has yet to live up to expectations.  He will be joined by savvy veteran Mike Vrabel, obtained in the Cassel deal, and Monty Beisel from Arizona.  The Chiefs signed veteran Zach Thomas in the offseason, but released him in their last round of preseason cuts.  It seems clear that Thomas will retire, but the Chiefs were hoping to be able to count on his veteran leadership.  The defensive line is clearly a work in process.  The new regime is clearly not enamored with last year’s first round pick, Glenn Dorsey.  Dorsey played nose tackle last year, but the new regime feels like he’s too small for the position, so they’re trying him at right end this year.  The Chiefs also used this year’s first round pick on defensive end Tyson Jackson, a teammate of Dorsey’s at LSU.  Tamba Hali will be also be counted on to be able to rush the passer.  The secondary is also very young after the release of veteran cornerback Patrick Surtain.  Kansas City thinks Brandon Flowers is a shutdown corner, but the numbers from last year don’t back that up.

The Chiefs’ kicking game could be the most unreliable in the NFL.  Seventh round pick Ryan Succop appears to be the guy, but he missed a short field goal in the final preseason game.  Punter Dustin Colquitt is above average, and the return game could be highlighted by sixth round pick Quentin Lawrence of McNeesse State.  It seems like a long time ago that this return unit was feared with Dante Hall back there.

Kansas City is definitely in line for a rebuilding year, but they are starting to put the pieces in place.  This is another team that we don’t really know what to expect from, but I don’t see a playoff run in the cards.  .500 could be a possibility if they get a few breaks.

9514. Oakland Raiders – This organization is the biggest joke in the NFL.  I’m just saying that because I am a Denver guy, but it is very clearly a joke.  The ironic thing is this team actually showed more life after last year’s coaching change from Lane Kiffin to Tom Cable, even winning their final two games against Houston and Tampa Bay.  However, this offseason has been another illustration that this team just doesn’t know what it’s doing.  I think it starts with owner Al Davis, who still has his fingers in everything and for whom the game has long passed him by.  During training camp Cable seems to have actually punched one of his assistants.  Cue the Days of Our Lives music in Oakland.

The Raiders offense will once again be in the hands of JaMarcus Russell at quarterback, who has still yet to show the ability that made him the top pick of the draft in 2007.  Russell has good size and ability, but he has yet to put it together consistently.  His work ethic has really been questioned.  Perhaps that’s one reason why longtime veteran Jeff Garcia was brought in to challenge him.  Then again, Garcia didn’t make the team, so Russell will be on his own when the Raiders open the season against San Diego.  He’ll have a shall we say interesting set of receivers to throw to.  Javon Walker is the top receiver on the depth chart, even though he has battled numerous injuries in the past five years and is another guy whose attitude has not been stellar.  He will be paired with no names such as Johnnie Lee Higgins and Chaz Schilens.  The Raiders also inexplicably spent their first round pick on Darrius Heyward-Bey of Maryland, even though guys like Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin and Percy Harvin were available.  Heyward-Bey does have speed, always an Al Davis favorite, but was never dominant in Maryland.  In fact, he was barely above average in college.  I think the best receiving threat on the team is actually tight end Zach Miller, who has good hands.  He may be in line for a 75 catch season by default.  The running game actually has talent with last year’s first round pick, Darren McFadden, and the capable Justin Fargas.  So far McFadden has fit right in line with the Raider tradition of flash but no substance.  McFadden must have a better second year for the Raiders to justify their investment in him, and Fargas is actually expected to be the clear starter at the beginnning of the year.  The biggest addition the Raiders made is actually fullback Lorenzo Neal, who is one of the best in the business and for some reason can’t stick with a team.  The offensive line however is a disaster area waiting to happen, with a mix of washed up veterans and busts.

The Raiders defensive line can be symbolized by their expensive pairing of tackles.  Tommie Kelly signed one of the richest deals in NFL history for the position a year ago (even though he was coming off a torn ACL), and did not even come close to justifying the contract in 2008.  His counterpart, Gerard Warren, fits right in line with the Raider ideal of high draft picks who turn out to be busts.  Warren has talent, and has played well at times in Cleveland and Denver, but has largely been ineffective.  End Derrick Burgess is a good pass rusher, but he missed 8 games last year due to injury.  The linebackers are talented, led by Thomas Howard, who is very athletic and can make plays.  He will be the leader of an otherwise young group.  The secondary does feature Nnamdi Asomugha, who in my opinion is the best cornerback in all of football.  His counterpart, Chris Johnson, will be tested early and often, and must play well to avoid rendering Asomugha ineffective.

The special teams is actually an area of strength for the Raiders.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowksi and punter Shane Lechler both have very strong legs and are very accurate.  Justin Miller and Johnnie Lee Higgins, and perhaps even Heyward-Bey, do have the speed to make an impact in the return game.

In the end these will be the same old Raiders.  They do have talent at a number of positions with a lot of potential, but discipline and organization is a huge problem here as long as Al Davis is in charge.  Expect the Raiders to once again be among the league leaders in penalties and turnovers, and that will once again be their undoing.

Coming Next: the final division preview, the NFC West

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The Shanahan to KC (Just Kidding!) Saga

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 27, 2009

Last week was crazy for me for so many reasons, but I do have to recap some of my work week last week though.  It was hilariously entertaining (thanks to some REALLY boneheaded reporting by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen in particular). 

It started Wednesday night, when the NBC affiliate in Kansas City reported that the Chiefs were negoitating with Mike Shanahan and that he could be named Chiefs coach “within 48 hours”.  I was immediately skeptical about this when I was researching it that night and Thursday night because no other media outlet anywhere was reporting it.  Not ESPN, SI, or any of the other KC media outlets or Denver media.  Being that the Kansas City Star and Denver Post both completely ignored the story in their Thursday morning editions, I was 100 percent not worried. 

I get to work on Thursday morning, and I receive the following google chat message from one of my best friends who is a die hard Chiefs fan: “One Bronco fan on the Chief board said he bumped into Shanahan’s son at a mall in Denver, and his son said he would be coaching in KC.”  My immediate reaction to this is that if the source is a fan message board, it’s automatically garbage.  Mind you also, at this point Herm Edwards wasn’t fired yet, so the whole thing seemed very sketchy at best.  Nevertheless I figure it can’t hurt to check it out, and I quickly find that there is no truth to that rumor.  It seems as though Mike’s son Kyle, who is offensive coordinator of the Texans, is not even in Denver these days, so there is no chance anyone could run into him in a Denver mall.  Further, the NFL Network’s Adam Schefter informs me in an e-mail that there has been no contact whatsoever between Shanahan and the Chiefs.  Later that afternoon we put him on our show (he is a regular contributor for us during the season) and he makes it clear that there has been no contact and that Shanahan will not coach the Chiefs in 2009.  At this point I’m very convinced that this story is done and doesn’t have any legs, even though the NBC affiliate in KC stands by its report that night that Shanahan will be the coach. 

Last Friday is when things started to get really interesting.  Right before we go on the air for our show, we see that the Chiefs fire Edwards.  We thought nothing of it because it seemed to be a matter of time.  Roughly half an hour later, my email starts to blow up with notes from Kansas City:

“The ESPN ticker is saying that Shanahan is the new KC head coach!”

“KC radio stations are reporting it too!”

“Shanahan to KC likely.  It’s showing up on the ticker!  They got the KC media guy on saying that he knows this has been in the works!”

“It’s being reported by Chris Mortensen, wow!  He really knows his stuff this is freaking happening!”

Now, I don’t get ESPN news at work, so I’m puzzled by these reports I’m getting, being that there is no mention whatsoever on actual ESPN.  Sure enough though, the phones start to ring on the call in line: “Is there any truth to the report? Is Shanahan going to the Chiefs?”  It starts get crazy, so I email our trustworthy insider Schefter.  He emails me back one word, “FALSE!!!!”.  He offers to come on the air and explain.  He starts his comments with “ESPN is wrong”.  He clarifies for us that he had just talked to Shanahan’s agent, and that even at this point there has been zero contact between the two parties.  He once again makes it very clear that Shanahan will not coach the Chiefs in 2009.  At this point we have a full blown NFL Network vs. ESPN battle, because ESPN is now blowing up Mortensen’s report, saying that Shanahan and the Chiefs are “close to a deal.” 

We were very pleased to see very quickly that Schefter owned Mortensen on this story from the word go, because it wasn’t long before Mort had to embarrassingly backtrack on air.  The language in the ESPN story changed from “close to a deal” to “the Chiefs are targeting Shanahan.”  That is a HUGE difference.  To say the Chiefs are “targeting” Shanahan only means they are interested, and that doesn’t necessarily mean the interest is working both ways.  The story even backtracked more later on from “targeting” to “eyeing”.  Mortensen even later admitted on air that his original source eventually told him there had been no contact.  So how could the sides had even been close to a deal? 

Needless to say it was very entertaining to see Mortensen stumble over himself while trying to recover from the embarrassment of being so blatantly wrong on the story.  It was very comical to see big bad ESPN be so wrong, and to see them try to cover up their mistake with creative language for the rest of the night.  On the flip side, I really have to give kudos to Schefter, who was spot on in his reporting the entire time and has been tremendous in that regard his entire career.  Schefter told us from the beginning that the Chiefs and Shanahan were never in contact, in spite of rumors to that effect for at least a week, and he was absolutely correct.  Needless we are extremely pleased to have Schefter as a regular contributor on our radio program, and I would like to take his opportunity to thank him for his wonderful and accurate reporting.  I also don’t mean to completely bag on Mortensen, who has given years of good reporting to ESPN, but he really messed this story up.  Schefter did not.  I’m still extremely perplexed at who may have given Mortensen his information that was so clearly wrong. 

For me personally, the idea of Shanahan coaching the Chiefs would been gut wrenching.  While I am optimistic about Josh McDaniels, I’m frankly still not sure if the Broncos made the right move in getting rid of Shanahan.  The idea of Shanahan enjoying great success in Kansas City would be very difficult to process, so I am glad that Arrowhead is not where he is going.  I want to root for Shanahan at his next coaching stop, for I will always appreciate the two Super Bowl wins  he helped lead the Broncos to, but that would not have been possible for me if he went to the rival Chiefs. 

My Super Bowl pick is coming later this week.  I’m honestly not sure who is going to win yet, and I need to think about it a little bit more.

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One Step Closer

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 8, 2008

The Broncos are going to the playoffs!  Well, more than likely they are.  It would take a complete collapse in every way for them not to.  The Broncos merely need to win one of their final three games to clinch the AFC West title.  Or they can get it if the Chargers lose any of their remaining three contests, two of which are on the road.  Either way, the Broncos FINALLY were able to take care of business at home, although it wasn’t easy against the rival Chiefs.  Denver fell behind 10-0, then 17-7, yet rallied in the end.  These days in the NFL, I don’t care how pretty it is, or many style points are involved in a win.  Anytime you get a victory in the NFL, especially against a division rival, it is a positive.

I’ll admit there was a fair amount of screaming after Maurice Leggett picked off Jay Cutler and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown to give the Chiefs an early 10-0 lead.  After all, it was turnovers that doomed the Broncos in the first meeting.  In fact, it is rare to admit that the Broncos won despite losing the turnover battle, which is surprising but also shows that the Broncos didn’t let the early error rattle them.  I really thought the Broncos showed a lot of poise by not panicking early, even after it was later 17-7.  Jay Cutler made good decisions, and the receivers all stepped up to make big catches, especially Brandon Marshall.  Marshall had his first big game in awhile, catching 11 passes, including two scores.  Overall Cutler ended up completing 32 of 40 passes, and all told eight different players caught a pass in this game for the Broncos.   

Unfortunately, Peyton Hillis suffered a hamstring pull while leaping to make a spectacular catch in the second quarter and didn’t return.  Even after this happened, the Broncos still found a running game with Tatum Bell, a phenomenal achievement considering he is their sixth option now at running back this season.  This could have been a huge blow considering Hillis had rushed for 58 yards on just 8 carries at that point in the game, including two runs where he absolutely bowled over Chiefs defenders.  Bell stepped up and added 52 yards on 11 carries, preventing the Denver attack from becoming completely one dimensional.  The defense has also really continued to pick up the pieces without Champ Bailey, D.J. Williams and Nate Webster, coming up with a critical goal line stand with the game on the line in the fourth quarter.  

I also think Kansas City deserves a lot of credit for playing hard in this game.  I have really knocked Herm Edwards this season, but I’m starting to think maybe he should have a chance to see the rebuilding project through next season.  The Chiefs have good young talent at a variety of positions, including receiver Dwayne Bowe and rookie cornerback Brandon Flowers, who had a spectacular game.  They sure didn’t look like a 2-10 team to me, and it’s not out of the question that they might win another one before the year is over.  I think in the end the Broncos ended up matching Kansas City’s intensity, but the Chiefs are not an easy out for teams these days despite their poor record.

A few more quick hit thoughts from the game:

– The Denver special teams does need serious work.  Too many times they allowed good returns by the Chiefs, while not getting good starting field position themselves.  Also, Matt Prater missed a makeable 33-yard field goal.  This cannot happen in the playoffs against a tough opponent.

– On the other hand, the Broncos made the best of their field position disadvantage.  The Broncos had three touchdown drives of 80 yards or longer, including a 95 yard march that gave them the lead for good on Marshall’s 6-yard TD grab from Cutler.  The four Denver scoring drives were all 11 plays or longer.  This reflects good decision making and good clock management. 

– It was great to see that our fans actually remember how to make some noise.  Granted, I have not been able to attend any games at Invesco Field at Mile High this season owing to my duties running the radio broadcast at the station, but all of the players said it was by far the loudest crowd of the season, and that they got a tremendous lift from that.  I really think our fans are quickly realizing that Mike Shanahan and his staff really deserve to be commended for coaxing eight wins out of this group considering all the injuries.

– Tyler Thigpen might actually have a future in this league.  He has a good arm, and if he’s surrounded by good talent, the Chiefs could certainly do a lot worse.  

– The Broncos run defense is much improved from before the bye week in October.  Today Larry Johnson rushed for just 36 yards on 11 carries for just a 3.3 average, after he torched the Broncos for 198 in the first meeting.  

– I swear Tony Gonzalez complains about a no-call every time a defensive back breathes on him.  Nonetheless, he is one of the great tight ends in NFL history, and deserves to be on a contending team next season if that’s what he wants.  It will be interesting to see what Kansas City does with him in the offseason.

– I think the Broncos could really use Bailey and Williams next week at Carolina.  Yes, the young kids are playing extremely well, but the Broncos will simply not have a chance of slowing down Steve Smith and Mushin Muhammad without Bailey in there.

– Any win is a good win, but a division win is especially key.

The race down the stretch will be interesting to watch.  The Broncos could end up as the 3 or 4 seed in the AFC, as they are now tied with AFC East co-leaders Miami, New England and the Jets.  If the Jets win the division, Denver owns a head-to-head tiebreaker (as the Dolphins and Patriots do on the Broncos).  The Broncos hold out slim hope for a bye, although that is a real longshot with a two game deficit and three to play.  Denver looks to be hosting a playoff game in the first round as a division champ, so there is a chance that could springboard them for a run.  If they are to do that though, they’d better hope Hillis isn’t done for the year, and they will eventually need their injured players back on defense.  Anything is possible in this wild and wacky NFL, after all both New York teams suffered stunning losses today and we came thisclose to seeing Detroit and Seattle pull out surprise wins.

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Clearly I Was Drinking the Kool-Aid……

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 29, 2008

Now on to the picks, where in the theme of unpredictability I start with a real shocker: a winless team will break out this week and beat an undefeated team.

Okay, so maybe I was half right.  I did predict that a winless team would beat an undefeated team today in the NFL.  Problem is, I picked the wrong one.  I really thought the Rams would be the winless team to break out, and that the Bills were the team in danger of falling into a trap.  Instead, it was my Denver Broncos of all teams that were at the wrong end of the biggest shocker of the day: a 33-19 loss to league doormat Kansas City. This came as such a shock to me that I am now out of my eliminator pool.  Maybe I was looking at the game through orange colored glasses, but I could not come up with a scenario where this Chiefs team would be able to beat the Broncos, even at Arrowhead.  This was the Chiefs’ first win in nearly a year, dating back to October 21 of last year.  How was I supposed to expect Kansas City to score more points today than they had in their first three games combined?  The answer to that question is maybe the Broncos defense really is that bad, in which case they have a problem.  Larry Johnson nearly had 200 yards on the ground, including a 65 yard jaunt on the second play of the game.  Johnson is of course a Pro Bowl back, one of the best, but he is running behind an offensive line that is a mess.  If there was ever a game for Denver’s defense to get back on track, it should have been this one.  Then again, it may seem strange to say this after they surrendered 33 points and 6.5 yards per carry to the Chiefs, but it was really the defense that managed to keep the Broncos in the game.  Consider:

– The Broncos held the Chiefs to a field goal after the aforementioned scamper by Johnson on the first possession of the game.  The Broncos proceeded to hold the Chiefs to another field goal after a quick fumble gave KC the ball at the Denver 26.

– The Chiefs’ average starting field position was the 46 yard line, which does not speak well for the special teams (more on that in a moment).  Even a mediocre offense (like the Chiefs) doesn’t need to do much to get a minimum three points with that kind of starting field position.

– One of Kansas City’s touchdowns came after a fumble recovery allowed them to start at the 2-yard line for a gimmie touchdown.  That is not on the defense.  

– The Broncos held the Chiefs’ to a 5-of-13 conversion rate on third down, and Kansas City only converted 1 of 4 in the second half.  

– Despite four Denver turnovers on the road, they were an onside kick recovery away from being in position to drive for the tying score from midfield with plenty of time on the clock.

Are you sensing a theme here yet?  The Broncos’ defense, while giving up gaudy numbers, actually dug in and kept the score closer than maybe it should have been.  The Broncos offense was guilty of four turnovers, including two that came right after the team actually started to build momentum.  Any team that commits four turnovers on the road will never win, period, even against a so-called bad team.  The Broncos’ turnovers gave Kansas City progressively more and more confidence, and the Chiefs’ were able to feed off their crowd.  Even if the fans aren’t buying tickets they way they used to there, the ones that show up still cause noise and havoc for visitors.  The Chiefs were able to feed off that with each turnover the Broncos’ offense committed.  

The Broncos were also guilty of red-zone inefficiency.  Denver ended up with no points on a 28-yard missed field goal near the end of the first half (to be fair, Matt Prater drilled two 50-yarders later in the game, so this is not on him).  The Broncos also couldn’t covert from the four yard line in the fourth quarter when they had a chance to cut the game to three.  To be a good offense in the NFL, you need to convert in the red zone.  Coach Mike Shanahan said in the postgame the Broncos were only one of four in the red zone today.  That will never get it done, especially on the road.

The special teams was atrocious once again.  The Broncos allowed countless Kansas City kick returns that set the Chiefs up in excellent field position.  This was a major issue last year and has continued to be a problem the Broncos have been able to get around until today.  It didn’t help that the turnovers also gave the Chiefs’ continued excellent field position, but those two things combined are never a good recipe for success.

This is not to say the defense was faultless at all.  Obviously they need to do a better job stopping the run.  Despite their efforts to keep the team in the game, the 65-yard run by Johnson really set the tone and gave the Chiefs’ confidence they didn’t have coming in.  The front four still has yet to put any pressure on any quarterback they’ve faced in the early going this season, and that’s a problem too.  The secondary has had issues, the chief one being that Champ Bailey does not have a chance to make plays when opponents keep throwing at the other cornerbacks, all of whom happen to be struggling at the moment.

This game proved that every game is unpredictable and you can never truly know how any game is going to unfold, no matter how clear it seems on paper.  The Dallas Cowboys joined the Broncos as surprise losers today, in a home game where they were a double digit favorite.  Three of the top four college teams lost this weekend (USC, Georgia, and Florida).  The important thing for the Broncos to remember is they are 3-1 at the quarter mark of the season.  Last year they were 2-2 at this point, so already there is overall improvement.  One game does not make a season for sure.  The Broncos still have the look of a good team, but perhaps today’s game was a much needed lesson for a young team about life in the NFL.

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Week Two Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 12, 2008

This NFL season is certainly shaping up to be very intriguing on a number of fronts.  Could we possibly have a playoffs that doesn’t include New England OR Indianapolis?  It could be possible if Matt Cassel proves to be no Tom Brady and the Colts take too long to get it together after their disastrous week one effort.  Are the Jets the new favorite in the AFC East, or is Buffalo for real?  Are the Steelers ever going to get their due for being consistently good?  Is the Bears defense back to the level of two years ago?  Who is going to win the awful NFC West?  It’s only one week into the season, and a number of my season picks are threatening to blow up in my face already.  I keep telling myself it’s still early, but it is possible that my AFC Super Bowl pick may not be all its cracked up to be. I still think Jacksonville’s defense will not allow them to be a disappointment.  Was I nuts to pick the 49ers to win the NFC West?  I still maintain they’ll be a surprise by the end of the year.  Was I drinking the Kool-Aid on the Minnesota hype?  I still think they have a team that is scary talented.  Am I underestimating Aaron Rodgers? I have to admit he looked very good in week one.  We’ll see if he can maintain it over the long haul.  Are the Chargers in trouble without Shawne Merriman?  Or is that wishful thinking on my part?.  It did seem like someone forgot to tell them the season started for three quarters against Carolina.  Speaking of the Panthers, are they once again a contender in the NFC? That offense could really come alive when Steve Smith returns from suspension in week three.  How praytell did the Falcons win a game, let alone dominate? I reserve judgement until I see them against someone other than Detroit.  

At least I got a few things right in week one.  The Cowboys dominated on the road.  The Browns looked lost and confused.  The Giants looked dominant like you would expect a defending champ to be.  The Bengals REALLY stink, or did you see Joe Flacco score on a 38-yard touchdown run while jogging through the Bengals defense? The Seahawks looked horrible on the road.  Brett Favre can still play a little.  Donovan McNabb looks poised for a big season.  The Raiders are a mess akin to Days of Our Lives as usual.  The Broncos offense could be scary good.  Or maybe that’s wishful thinking.  Perhaps that was more the Raiders are awful.  

One thing I know, this could be a season unlike any other.  Or maybe it will be just like any other.  For 11 consecutive seasons, there have been at least five teams in the playoffs who did not qualify the previous year.  With the exception of the 2006 Seahawks, the Super Bowl loser has missed the playoffs every year since 2000.  Even at that the Seahawks only made it past the first round the next year thanks to Tony Romo’s butterfingers.  Here are the numbers:

2000 New York Giants – Lost Super Bowl XXXV
2001 New York Giants – 7-9 record, no playoffs

2001 St. Louis Rams – Lost Super Bowl XXXVI
2002 St. Louis Rams – 7-9 record, no playoffs

2002 Oakland Raiders – Lost Super Bowl XXXVII
2003 Oakland Raiders – 4-12 record, no playoffs

2003 Carolina Panthers – Lost Super Bowl XXXVIII
2004 Carolina Panthers – 7-9 record, no playoffs

2004 Philadelphia Eagles – Lost Super Bowl XXXIX
2005 Philadelphia Eagles – 6-10 record, no playoffs

2005 Seattle Seahawks – Lost Super Bowl XL
2006 Seattle Seahawks – 9-7 record (made playoffs, 2nd round exit)

2006 Chicago Bears – Lost Super Bowl XLI
2007 Chicago Bears – 7-9 record, no playoffs

2007 New England Patriots – Lost Super Bowl XLII
2008 New England Patriots – ??????

This does not bode well for the Patriots in light of Tom Brady’s injury.  I know, I picked the Patriots to return to the AFC title game, but I also said they were done if Brady went down.  It will be interesting to see if the Patriots continue the trend of Super Bowl losers struggling the next year.  On one hand, it is hard a fathom a team threatening history one year and missing the playoffs the next year.  On the other hand, the Patriots missing the playoffs this year would be right in line with what the NFL is about much of the time. I still shudder when I think of the Broncos going 6-10 in 1999 after winning back to back Super Bowls and being favored to compete for a third.  After all there is the old cliche “On any given Sunday……”   Now on to the picks.

Last Week: 9-7

– Jaguars over Bills: I have to admit I really struggled with this one.  The Bills dominated Seattle last week, and the Jaguars look like they could be in trouble.  Still, I can’t picture the Jaguars 0-2, especially with Jack Del Rio having a week to drill discipline into his team before the home opener.

– Cardinals over Dolphins: Surprise stat of the week: the Cardinals actually went 6-2 at University of Phoenix Stadium last season.  The Cardinals at 2-0 would rank among the season’s early surprises, but it would be an even bigger surprise if Chad Pennington had a big day against what is becoming one of the league’s most underrated secondaries.

– Jets over Patriots: Brett Favre’s home debut in New York puts an extra charge into this one, plus the Jets would just love to stick it to the Patriots in the wake of Spygate last year.  I have a feeling Matt Cassel will find the road to be much more daunting than Gillette Stadium.  Oh, and he doesn’t have the luxury of facing the Chiefs.

– Titans over Bengals: No Vince Young for Tennessee, but it won’t matter.  There are high school teams that tackle better than Cincinnati’s defense.  The Bengals offense looked a little confused too last week.  Carson Palmer under 100 yards passing?  The Marvin Lewis watch begins in Cincinnati.  I say 75 percent he’s axed before the year is over.

– Steelers over Browns: Pittsburgh will run away with the AFC North.  The Browns proved last week that they are a ways from the elite against Dallas.  This one will be competitive due to the rivalry factor, plus an emotional under the lights home crowd in Cleveland, but the Steelers are the class of the division and they will prove it.

– Vikings over Colts: Chalk this one up as the most intriguing game of the week for me.  Is this an elimination game of sorts already?  The Colts cannot be confident heading into the loud Metrodome after getting shelled at home in their opener.  Minnesota needs Tarvaris Jackson to show that potential we keep hearing about, but the Vikings defense will follow the Bears blueprint and harass Peyton Manning.  Peyton, meet Jared Allen.  Good luck.  The Colts at 0-2? It seems beyond crazy, but it might just happen.

– Broncos over Chargers: Denver’s confidence is sky high after destroying the Raiders on the road, plus Brandon Marshall is back.  If D’Angelo Hall couldn’t cover Eddie Royal one on one, how are the San Diego corners going to handle him and Marshall?  The Chargers pass rush will really miss Merriman, plus Antonio Gates is hobbled.  The Broncos might allow a high rushing day for LT, but their offense will be enough to win a shootout and enjoy a large lead in the AFC West.  San Diego at 0-2? Seems really crazy, but it just might happen.

– Chiefs over Raiders: Dud game of the week.  The rivalry is nasty enough that the game could actually be fun to watch, but these are two of the worst teams in the league.  The Chiefs are reportedly having trouble selling out Arrowhead for this game, which tells all you need to know about the state of football these days in Kansas City.  Still, the Raiders are a mess in every way, and Larry Johnson will run for enough to get KC a rare W.  

– Giants over Rams: The G-men’s biggest challenge will be overcoming a 10-day layoff after opening the season with their Thursday night win over Washington.  St. Louis was maybe the worst team in week one, so there is nowhere to go but up.  This seems like it could be a trap game for New York if the Rams’ offense wakes up (Torry Holt 1 catch for 9 yards last week – are you kidding me?).  Still, the Giants should be able to rely on their championship experience and pull out a win.

– Saints over Redskins: New Orleans will really miss Marques Colston, who is out 4-6 weeks.  Still, Drew Brees has enough targets for the team to score offensively.  The Redskins looked like they didn’t know which end was up offensively last week.  If that continues, New Orleans will win a low scoring affair.

– Bears over Panthers: This should be a great game.  Both teams pulled shockers in week one, so it’s hard to say which of these teams is better right now.  The Panthers are without Steve Smith for another week, so that gives an edge to the Bears defense.  Chicago won on the road during their Super Bowl run two years ago, and the hunch is they’ll find a way to pull out this one.  This one really could go either way though.

– Packers over Lions: Aaron Rodgers played well last week in the spotlight, and the Packers look like they have a statement to make.  Detroit? The Lions should be embarrassed losing to Atlanta.  Home field advantage won’t help the Lions if they keep playing like that.  This won’t exactly be a difficult road environment for Green Bay’s young signal caller.

– Buccaneers over Falcons: Brian Griese gets the start for Tampa so that gives slight pause.  Still, the Falcons aren’t playing Detroit anymore.  Matt Ryan could be in for a rude awakening this week against Monte Kiffin’s defense.  Tampa Bay almost stole one last week and could be just good enough to make things interesting in the NFC South.  On a side note, I am kicking myself that I didn’t rank Michael Turner higher in fantasy this year.  He could have some big games this year even though he’s playing for the Falcons.

– Seahawks over 49ers: Seattle is still really banged up, and I really want to pick the upset.  Thing is, Seattle has a tremendous home field advantage, and there is no reason to back San Francisco on the road right now after the way they played last week.  Besides, Matt Hasselbeck has got to play better this week doesn’t he? This could be a really sloppy game.

– Texans over Ravens: This game has been moved to Monday night due to Hurricane Ike, which makes it the first Monday night game in Texans history.  Even though it won’t be nationally televised,that’s enough for me in this toss-up matchup.  Baltimore’s defense is still good, but I still want to see Joe Flacco on the road.  Houston is a much better team than what they showed last week.

– Cowboys over Eagles: This too will be a fantastic game.  In a way it’s a shame one of these teams will have to start the year 1-1.  I like the Cowboys in what should be a raucous atmosphere for their home opener, on a Monday night no less.  Still, the Eagles pose a big challenge.  The sway factor will be a monster game from Terrell Owens, eager as always to show Andy Reid and company they did him wrong.

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The Glass is Half Full

Posted by mizzou1028 on May 2, 2008

I guess it’s not really a surprise that things came to such an abrupt end for the Nuggets and Avalanche this week.  The Nuggets at least gave something resembling effort in their final game on Monday night, and even though they didn’t win at least they seemed to have a desire to not go down quietly.  I still stand by what I said that changes need to be made in the offseason, although I am somewhat encouraged by George Karl saying he’s going to change his approach next season and be more demanding.  It will be interesting to see what direction the Nuggets take as they try to take that next step.  As much I want them to start by unloading Kenyon Martin, it is also realistic to say that no other team will want to absorb his ridiculous contract.  While the team’s quick exit is disappointing, it is better than the 11-71 days.  Hopefully with Karl’s new approach they can figure out what it takes to win a playoff series. 

On the surface it may seem like the Avalanche gave up last night as they got swept by Detroit.  To think I had (only very very briefly) contemplated shelling out $100 a seat last week to see the renewal of the Avs-Wings rivalry.  The Avs do get a pass in many respects for their quick exit against Detroit because they were after all missing half their team in game four.  Heck, just the Avs scratches on Thursday night would be a pretty darn good team.  I don’t think it’s at all a stretch to say that the series could have easily turned out differently if the Avs had a healthy Forsberg, Stastny, Smyth, Wolski and Svatos.  None of them were anywhere near the ice last night because of injuries.  It is also fair to say that Jose Theodore trying to play game one while battling the flu did nothing for his confidence the rest of the series.  That being said, the Avs were clearly not in the same league as Detroit.  The Red Wings were clearly the best team in the Western Conference all season and that has not changed in the playoffs.  It will be interesting to see what roster moves the Avs make this offseason, starting with Theodore, who does have a big contract.  It is hard to say whether or not he is the answer in goal because he did such a fabulous job in the first round against Minnesota and then did a complete 180 against Detroit.  I also hope that Joe Sakic elects not to retire and comes back for another season because he still is a terrific player and has a lot of hockey left in him.  The Avs took a step forward this season after missing the playoffs last year, and hopefully next year with a healthier roster they can take another step. 

I had promised some thoughts on the NFL Draft.  The pessimistic side of me is slightly annoyed that the rival Chiefs and Raiders seemed to clean up.  The Raiders scored a terrific running back in Darren McFadden, but it will be interesting to see if he actually helps them win more games.  The Raiders have certainly made a big splash with a number of their offseason moves, but it remains to be seen whether they have the leadership to make things work.  I still say the game has passed Al Davis by and that somehow all of their flashy new pieces will not fit together to make a puzzle.  As for the Chiefs, I am still trying to figure out how Glenn Dorsey fell into their lap at number five.  Dorsey seemed to be the unanimous choice for best player available, a defensive tackle who dominated the line of scrimmage at LSU and is expected to make an immediate impact in the NFL.  That steal highlighted what many seem to think is a great draft for the Chiefs.  As for the Broncos, most of the so called experts don’t seem to think they did as well.  While it may not have been a flashy draft, I think they did a good job drafting for need and filling holes.  Mike Shanahan seemed genuinely excited about this draft class, and while of course every coach is going to say they got the guys they wanted all along, Shanahan’s statements somehow seemed more believable this time.  For him to declare Ryan Clady the starter at left tackle from day one is unusual.  Shanahan is typically of the “let them come in and compete” mode.  That right there tells you how much Shanahan is sky high on Clady.  The pick made tremendous sense in the first round because the Broncos need to replace the retired Matt Lepsis at left tackle.  Not to mention Lepsis had a down year last year, so the Broncos want to be sure their franchise QB is protected.  Their second pick also made a lot of sense in Virginia Tech wideout Eddie Royal.  While the Broncos signed Keary Colbert and Darrell Jackson in the offseason and seem crowded at the position, Royal is a great pick because has the speed to make an impact as a kick returner.  The Broncos’ dead last ranking in starting field position had as much as anything to do with their 7-9 record last year.  Now, I’m not saying Royal is going to be Devin Hester, but if he can help the Broncos improve in that area, it will go a long way toward making them a better team.  I also love the selection of Arizona State running back Ryan Torian in the fifth round.  Torian slipped because of health issues, but if he can get healthy, he is the perfect fit the Broncos’ running scheme.  He’s a no nonsense runner and isn’t afraid to get tough yards late in a game.  With Mike Shanahan’s track record at finding running backs, there is no reason to suspect that Torian couldn’t be a huge steal in this draft.  

Truth be told though, the bottom line when trying to evaluate a draft is you can’t.  It will be minimum three years before we can go back and really evaluate how good or bad the Broncos or any other team did in this draft.  I remember hearing great things about Marcus Nash when the Broncos took him in 98, or hearing how George Foster was supposed to be the anchor at left tackle, or how Willie Middlebrooks was supposed to be the cornerback the Broncos were missing.   The draft is a small part in the overall picture of building a championship team, although it is becoming and more important to be able to find guys that will fit into your plans for many years so you don’t have to fill all those holes through free agency.  Call me crazy, but I am starting to get optimistic about the Broncos’ prospects in 2008, even if they still do need to find a kicker. 

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