Watching film is a big part of a professional coach’s life, but if I were Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels, I’d burn the tape of the preseason opener against San Francisco and bump Twister, Backdraft or The Day After Tomorrow to the top of the Netflix queue.
Through two preseason games, Denver’s pass offense has looked about as shaky as the original Tacoma Narrows bridge. When that run offense lines up against that run defense in practice, every play probably looks like the Hindenburg crashing into the Titanic.
If the people of Denver had got their collective post-game wish, the flight home from San Francisco would have included a South Pacific stopover—some nice place where Kyle Orton could enjoy a sun-bleached banishment and a lifetime of talking to volleyballs.
Then again, if the people of Denver had got their wish, McDaniels might at this moment be breathing through holes in the top of a FedEx crate addressed to that weirdo island from Lost.
But, as Woody Paige wrote in the Denver Post, “at least Josh, by gosh, didn’t lose at home in the exhibition opener to the Seahawks or the Texans, as the Chargers’ and Chiefs’ coaches did.”
Paige’s view is that even if the AFC West is the worst division in the NFL right now, these teams will almost have to be better than they were last year. Hopefully. Maybe.
“Not one of the four teams finished above .500. The AFC Worst’s combined record was 23-41. Surely the Raiders, the Chiefs and the Chargers will win more games, and McDaniels says those who pick the Broncos to win fewer are wrong,” Paige wrote. “It’s quite possible the four old AFL rivals will split their division games (3-3), and the AFC West champion will have to win nine.”
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Of the people I know who follow the AFC West closely, most believe San Diego is the likeliest playoff team in the division. It seems like a safe pick for at least three reasons on top of the 5-1 division record they posted last year:
One, the Chargers had the best defense in the West, both in terms of yards allowed and points allowed.
Two, San Diego scored by far the most points per game in the AFC last year, and only Denver’s (presently broken) offense rattled off more yardage among division teams.
Three, San Diego has the only quaterback with a history of vindicating himself against divisional opponents.
Head-to-head against Kansas City newcomer Matt Cassel last October, Philip Rivers threw for three touchdowns. Cassel threw no scores and one interception, and San Diego positively crushed New England, 30-10.
Cassel got some revenge against the Broncos at home the next week and played well against the Raiders late in the year, but his ability to perform in rivalry games in the hostile environments he’ll face this fall is unknown. His passing numbers with the Chiefs will not be in the same stratosphere as his numbers with the Patriots. But regardless of the strength of the systems and players around him, Cassel will bring credibility to the quarterback position—and a quarterback with credibility impacts the effectiveness of the ground offense, too.
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It’s not like Rivers or the Chargers have a stranglehold on the division—they finished 8-8. They were just the last ones standing after a season-long disaster movie.
Having the highest draft pick—and having made the most it with Tyson Jackson (*cough* Heyward-Whaaaat? *cough*)—the Chiefs look like the most improved team in the AFC West.
If San Diego stumbles—and it wouldn’t be the first time if they do—the Chiefs can make the leap from worst to first in this division. I’m just glad I don’t have to watch every game.