For the next few weeks, this column’s sole purpose will be to break down the upcoming NFL season, in-depth, division by division, team by team. You’ll receive insights, analysis and fantasy advice from an eight-year NFL Sunday Ticket subscriber/nerd who spends each and every Lord’s day glued to his tv screen from 1-11 p.m. Starting with the AFC and NFC West, I’ll be focusing on two divisions each issue. Break out your tailgating gear, some ice cold brews, and get ready to feverishly follow your fantasy leagues, because it’s football season, folks!
Last year, the Denver Broncos won the AFC West because of some guy named Tim Tebow. To put it nicely, the division was awful, as the 8-8 Broncos finished just one game ahead of the last-place Chiefs. The Oakland Raiders dished off some picks in order to land Carson Palmer and the San Diego Chargers were once again middling. Tebow’s now gone, Peyton Manning is in, and the division will once again go down to the wire.
As the Kansas City Chiefs dealt with injuries to star running back Jamaal Charles, quarterback Matt Cassel, and tight end Tony Moeaki, the team struggled to find wins. All three are expected to be healthy this year and they’ve brought in guys like Peyton Hillis and Kevin Boss. So long as Cassel stays healthy, I like what they’ll be able to bring on offense. Dwayne Bowe is one of the best receivers in the game and with that physical running duo they could have, it seems like they have a chance to be an offensive threat. They also possess talented defensive players like Derrick Johnson, Eric Berry, Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey. 10 wins could happen.
For some reason I’ll never quite understand, everyone praises the ground that Philip Rivers walks on. Sure, he generally posts fantasy-friendly stats, but the dude doesn’t strike me as a top-10 QB. He’s won three playoff games in six years and is coming off a poor 2011 season. Turning 32 in December, I wonder how long he’ll be praised for if he has another bad year. They don’t seem threatening in 2012.
Another QB who I feel is overhyped, Carson Palmer is going to try and bring the Oakland Raiders to the Promised Land. Quite frankly, the team doesn’t have many targets for him and his star RB Darren McFadden keeps getting injured. They’ll undoubtedly be led by their stout defense but I wouldn’t get my hopes up if I were a Raiders fan. Over/under seven wins?
Ah, yes, there’s that dude Peyton Manning to talk about. Now with the Broncos, Peyton is the biggest wildcard going into the 2012 season. He’s coming off more neck surgeries than Frankenstein and Denver paid a big price in order to land the future Hall Of Famer. There’s no doubt, in my opinion, that he can still throw the ball quickly and accurately. However, he’s reportedly still not delivering deep throws and doesn’t feel like he’s near 100 percent. I wouldn’t rule him out posting solid numbers since he’s Peyton F’ing Manning, but I really wonder what’s going to happen when a 325-pound lineman comes barreling down and plants him on his keister. Just like his time with the Colts, the Broncos are going to live and die by number 18.
Now, I would’ve given myself more room to talk about the NFC West, but this division is going to be a runaway just like last year. The San Francisco 49ers had an extraordinary 2011 season led by a superb defense. Quarterback Alex Smith really turned the corner, and while he didn’t throw for many touchdowns, he took care of the football and managed games well. Now with much more talent, including the likes of an apparently resurgent Randy Moss and ex-Giant Mario Manningham, Smith might be able to air it out and rack up the points. San Fran also brought in Brandon Jacobs to complement Frank Gore and he should be able to ease the load off of him. I think the 49ers are a shoe-in for at least 12 victories in 2012.
If the Arizona Cardinals had a good QB like, say, Kurt Warner, they might be able to get double-digit wins. They have a guy in Larry Fitzgerald that has the best hands in the game and can catch anything within a four-mile radius, but there’s just nobody in Arizona that can throw a ball like that. Kevin Kolb and John Skelton combined to throw 20 TDs against 22 INTs in 2011 and I wouldn’t bank on them significantly improving.
Speaking of QB issues, who’s going to start for Seattle? Is it going to be the newly signed Matt Flynn or the reckless Tarvaris Jackson? While they’re not going to the playoffs, I hope Flynn finally gets the chance to see consistent reps. Elsewhere, the Rams need Sam Bradford to come back strong and prove healthy. He was the Rookie Of The Year in 2011 before looking atrocious and getting injured last year. In any case, Seattle and St. Louis won’t be contenders.
Some fantasy players I think will surprise in the AFC West include WR Eric Decker, RB Peyton Hillis, and WR Darrius Heyward-Bey. Some NFC West players I like are QB Alex Smith, WR Randy Moss (so long as he goes very late in drafts), RB Brandon Jacobs, and TE Lance Kendricks. Potential busts include QB Philip Rivers, RB Ryan Mathews, and RB Marshawn Lynch. How do you think the West(s) will be won? firstname.lastname@example.org
(Photo credit: Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE)