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AFC West Preview

AFC West

So much for the AFC West being the toughest division for two years in a row. The 2003 season saw a marked separation between the haves and have nots. Kansas City ruled the roost, Denver snuck into the playoffs thanks to the tie breaker, Oakland had a swift and ugly fall from grace while San Diego could not put it together. This season will have much promise for all four teams, with any of them capable of putting together a nice run into the playoffs. Kansas City and Denver remain the teams to beat in the division, but both Oakland and San Diego could surprise if they get a few breaks early in the season.

Kansas City Chiefs (2003 Record: 13-3, lost in division round 38-31)

Hard to believe but after finishing the season with the second best overall record at 13-3, the season ended in extreme disappointment. Indianapolis came into Kansas City and exposed the Cheifs defense for what it was, or really, what it wasn’t, sending Kansas City to the golf course. Prior to that, it had really been a graet run that may have peaked just a bit too soon. Might things have been different, at least psychologically, if they had the #1 seed? Maybe.

Added
OL Chris Bober (NY Giants)
LT Lionel Dalton (Washington)
QB Damon Huard (New England)
CB Cliff Crosby (Indianapolis)
OL John Welbourne (Philadelphia)

Lost
QB Jonathon Quinn (Chicago)
OT John Tait (Chicago)
DT Derrick Ransom (Jacksonville)
OT Marcus Spears (released)
 

Draft
2.04 DT Junior Saivii (Oregon)
2.29 TE Kris Wilson (Pittsburgh)
3.30 LD Keyaron Fox (Georgia Tech)
4.09 WR Samie Parker (Oregon)
4.30 DE Jared Allen (Idaho State)
6.30 WR Jeris McIntyre (Auburn)
7.30 OT Kevin Sampson (Syracuse)

Overall Outlook

Traditionally Kansas City does not delve into the free agent market, and this off season was really no different than any other. Not a whole lot added, but not a whole lot lost either. The Chiefs didn’t really make that much noise in the rookie draft either. They’ve kept the nucleus together that rang up 13 wins in 2003 so they’ll be looking to not only match that in 2004, but take it to the next level by advancing in the playoffs to their ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl. They have the guns to make it happen, just need to peak at the right time this year. Strong AFC Championship contender.

 

Denver Broncos (2003 Record: 10-6, lost in wild card round 41-10)

The Broncos snuck into the playoffs by virtue of the tiebreaker, but it was only a short lived stay. The Colts doled out a complete beating in round one, Peyton Manning and company could not be stopped. That surprised many, especially since Denver had soundly thrashed the Colts only a couple weeks before that. Life in the NFL is funny, one week you drub a team, two weeks later they drub you. As they say, “He who drubs last, drubs best.” Or something like that.

Added
QB Mike Quinn (Houston)
DE Marco Coleman (Philadephia)
TE Jed Weaver (San Francisco)
DE Raylee Johnson (San Diego)
S John Lynch (Tampa Bay)
DT Luther Elliss (Detroit)
RB Garrison Hearst (San Francisco)
OT Cornell Green (Tampa Bay)
TE OJ Santiago (Oakland)
TE Byron Chamberlain (Washington)
CB Champ Bailey (Washington)

Lost
WR Ed McCaffrey (retired)
DE Bertrand Berry (Arizona)
OG Steve Herndon (Atlanta)
LB Keith Burns (Tampa Bay)
OL Ephriam Salaam (Jacksonville)
WR Chris Cole (Oakland)
QB Steve Beuerlein (released)
TE Shannon Sharpe (released/retired)
DT Daryl Gardener (released)
OG Calvin Collins (released)
RB Clinton Portis (Washington)
CB Deltha O’Neal (Cincinnati)

Draft
1.17 LB DJ Williams (Miami, Fla)
2.09 RB Tatum Bell (Oklahoma State)
2.22 WR Darius Watts (Marshall)
3.22 CB Jeremy Leseuer (Michigan)
5.20 CB Jeff Shoate (San Diego State)

6.06 WR Triandos Luke (Alabama)
6.25 C Josh Sewell (Nebraska)
7.24 QB Matt Mauck (LSU)
7.46 RB Brandon Miree (Pittsburgh)
7.49 QB Bradlee VanPelt (Colorado State)

Overall Outlook

Whenever a team like the Broncos does not win the Super Bowl, then changes are bound to be made. Denver boldly traded away their star running back in Clinton Portis. His replacement could come from the draft in Tatum Bell, it could come in the form of signed free agent Garrison Hearst, or it could come from within. The loss of Shannon Sharpe spurred the signing of not one, not two, but three free agents to try and fill in the void. Jake Plummer had an ok season, his first in Mile High. I expect that his numbers will rise having a full year in the Bronco system, and that should in turn translate into wins for the team. Otherwise, Denver’s playoff exit exposed their defense and many free agent signings, as well as rookie picks were made on that side of the ball so they should be an improved unit. Denver always expects to be in the playoff hunt, 2004 should be no different.

Oakland Raiders (2003 Record: 4-12)

What a fall from grace. One year you are in the Super Bowl, the next year you are perilously close to winning the “Toilet Bowl” (top overall draft pick). My how the mighty can fall, but the NFL is parity driven so not only can teams quickly fall, they can also quickly rise. A new sheriff is in town and by now Jon Gruden’s divorce to Tampa Bay should be a long lost memory, time to move forward.

Added
DT Ted Washington (New England)
OG Ron Stone (San Francisco)
CB Ike Charlton (NY Giants)
LB Danny Clark (Jacksonville)
LB Dwayne Rudd (Tampa Bay)
DT Warren Sapp (Tampa Bay)
CB Ray Buchannon (Atlanta)
WR Chris Cole (Denver)
TE Roland Williams (Tampa Bay)
CB Denard Walker (Minnesota)
RB Troy Hambrick (Dallas)
S David Terrell (Washington)
DE Bobby Hamilton (New England)
QB Kerry Collins (NY Giants)

Lost
LB Bill Romanowski (released)
DE Trace Armstrong (released)
OL Matt Stinchcomb (Tampa Bay)
DT Rod Coleman (Atlanta)
LB Eric Barton (NY Jets)
RB Charlie Garner (Tampa Bay)
LB Eric Johnson (Atlanta)
DE Lorenzo Bronell (NY Giants)
QB Rick Mirer (Detroit)
TE OJ Santiago (Denver)
DB Terrance Shaw (Carolina)

Draft
1.02 OT Robert Gallery (Iowa)
2.13 C Jake Grove (Virginia Tech)
3.04 S Stuart Schweigert (Purdue)
4.03 WR Carlos Francis (Texas Tech)
5.02 WR Johnny Morant (Syracuse)
6.01 DE Shawn Johnson (Delaware)
6.17 LB Cody Spencer (North Texas)
7.44 TE Courtney Anderson (San Jose State)
7.54 LB Andre Sommersell (Colorado State)

Overall Outlook

The Raiders seem confident that a healthy Rich Gannon will be back, however, capable Kerry Collins was also added to the squad after he was released. Whoever ends up leading the team, once again Tim Brown and Jerry Rice are the ball catchers. Even the most staunchest of their supporters has to wonder when their ride will come to an end. As usual, there are plenty of changes, players coming and going, the most noticable departure being Charlie Garner. Rookie Robert Gallery is poised to open holes for whoever wins the starting job. This is a team that really could go either way. If they start out the season hot and win a couple of games, that momentum could carry them into the playoff hunt. Though they just as easily could open up with a couple of losses and the ship might sink right then and there. Hard to tell.

San Diego Chargers (2003 Record: 4-12)

While many hoped that the 2003 version of the Chargers would be able to carry some momentum that they built at the end of 2002, it was not meant to be. The main reason is that quarterback Drew Brees has just not shown that he is a capable starter in the NFL. Really it’s just as simple as that since in all other aspects, the team isn’t that bad. I’m not saying that it’s great, or even good, it’s not bad.

Added
LB Steve Foley (Houston)
OL Leander Jordan (Jacksonville)
OL Mike Goff (Cincinnati)
LB Randall Godfrey (Seattle)
WR Kevin Dyson (Carolina)
P Bill LaFleur (San Francisco)
CB Jamar Fletcher (Miami)
OT Roman Oben (Tampa Bay)

Lost
DE Marcus Wiley (Dallas)
C Cory Rayner (Washington)
DE Ralee Johnson (Denver)
OT Vaughn Parker (released)
RB Antoineo Harris (released)
TE Stephen Alexander (released)
OG Michael Keathley (Chicago)
WR Tim Baker (released)
WR Dondre Gilliam (released)
OG David Brandt (released)
OT Damion McIntosh (Miami)
P Darren Bennett (Minnesota)
OG Kevin Garnon (Cleveland)
DT Joe Salave’a (Washington)
OT Ed Ellis (NY Giants)
OL Bob Hallen (New England)
WR David Boston (Miami)

Draft
1.04 QB Philip Rivers (North Carolina State)
2.03 DT Igor Olshansky (Oregon)
3.02 K Nate Keading (Iowa)
3.03 C Nick Hardwick (Purdue)
4.02 DE Shaun Phillips (Purdue)
5.01 DE Dave Ball (UCLA)
5.22 RB Michael Turner (Northern Illinios)
6.04 WR Ryan Kraus (Nebraska Omaha)
7.03 DT Ryon Bingham (Nebraska)
7.08 OT Shane Olivea (Ohio State)
7.53 OT Carlos Joseph (Miami, Fla)

Overall Outlook

If San Diego can settle things behind center, this is a team that could win some games. They return most of the key personnel from a year ago, which includes all world running back LaDainian Tomlinson. In a much publicized draft day trade, San Diego fleeced the Giants by getting the quarterback they wanted all along, plus some other draft picks. This might be Brees’ last chance to prove his worth. If things go ugly for him again early in 2004, San Diego just might punt another season and throw Rivers to the wolves and point towards getting things (finally) turned around in 2005. David Boston was also dealt away, what a disappointment he was on 2003. No doubt he created more problems than he was worth on this young team. If the Chargers can get a couple of wins under their belt, if Brees steps up and doesn’t lost games (or Rivers steps in and does the same), if all else holds the same, they could surprise….though those are an awful lot of ifs that I have my doubts will end up favorably.

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