The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: AFC West
The Good: The Broncos won the weak AFC West based off of the tiebreakers of a three-way-tie with everyone but Kansas City. During the 8-8 season, there were many good things about the Broncos. They got off to a 1-4 start with QB Kyle Orton before making the change to Tim Tebow, as many Denver fans publicly displayed their desire for him to start. Tebowmania took into full effect from his first start in Miami, all the way until they were ushered out of the NFL Playoffs by the eventual AFC Champion New England Patriots. The run game for the Broncos was the best rushing attack in the league, where they averaged just under 165 yards rushing a game. Willis McGahee finished the season with 1199 rushing yards and right behind him was Tebow with 660. The Broncos defense was also a big part of the Broncos success, with guys guys like Champ Bailey, Elvis Dumervil, Brian Dawkins and the outstanding rookie Von Miller, the defense stepped up and had a large part in helping the Broncos win the division. Another good thing, which in my opinion was the staple of the Broncos this year was the special teams play. Matt Prater won alot of games for them with his leg, kicking game-winner after game-winner, and the play of (former) WR Eddie Royal, Cassius Vaughn and Matt Willis in the return game was stellar.
The Bad: The play of QB Kyle Orton in the first five games of the season was bad, even though he “beat out” Tebow in the shortened offseason Orton came out of the gates struggling. When he was pulled from the starting lineup he was sitting below 1000 yards passing in five games, with eight touchdowns and twelve turnovers. While the turnovers hurt any team, Orton’s mistakes were usually when the game was on the line. Denver’s defense also struggled for the first five games when things just weren’t clicking for them, they gave up an average of 28 points a game up until the bye week where thereafter they gave up about 19 a game. Things got turned around for the team after the bye week as a whole.
The Ugly: Despite winning the division, the way the Broncos did it was horrible. A win is a win, and it’s great for any team, but the first three and a half quarters for this team were not good at all, and then they relied on “Tebow time”. The Broncos didn’t have a game where they looked like the dominant team, and it was hard for anyone to pick them because they didn’t look good at all. Three and a half quarters of bad football, a few minutes of pulling it together and a strong legged kicker were the big reasons the Broncos finished on top, that and a little bit of luck.. But I still commend them for going out there, and never giving up. With Peyton Manning under center now, I have a feeling that there won’t be as many of these lackluster performances.
San Diego Chargers
The Good: Unlike the Broncos, the Chargers got off to a hot start, which is not what Chargers fans are used to. The Chargers got off to a 4-1 start, with the only loss being a close one to the Patriots in Foxboro. The team was clicking early, winning the games that they should have won, and won a few that they were have thought to lose. Phillip Rivers was looking comfortable and Mike Tolbert was playing like a potential candidate for the rushing title. Defensively the Chargers were also off to a hot start, LB Antwan Barnes was tearing through offensive lines causing ruckus with pressures and sacks, Eric Weddle was picking off opposing QB’s week after week and Shaun Phillips was well, Shaun Phillips. They were looking like an early favorite to be a contender in January, but things took a turn for the worst.
The Bad: After a hot start, the Chargers started looking bad, taking a highly performing 4-1 team to a sub-par team. The next six games were horrible losses for the Chargers. Everything on offense, special teams and defense shut down as a whole and that was pretty much the season for the team. When they pulled it together for the last few games of the season, it wasn’t enough for them to make the playoffs. A complete flip-flop of a team caused many Chargers fans to wonder what happened to their team.
The Ugly: The Ugly for the Chargers could have been the change that I talked about in the last segment, but I want to go with what they did in the off-season, or rather what they DIDN’T do in the off-season. I’ve been a Norv Turner basher in the past, and who can blame me right? He kept his job, along with AJ Smith this off-season and the owner said that consistency is key in building a franchise. Well, Mr. Spanos the only consistency I can see for your team with keeping these two knuckleheads is a consistent streak of missed playoffs – especially with Peyton Manning playing in division. When the Chargers have another meltdown next season, then these two will be fired and the Chargers may see success. But until then, good luck.
The Good: The Raiders, like the Chargers got off to a hot start as well. Leading them to a 4-2 start to the season was QB Jason Campbell, RB Darren McFadden and WR Darius Heyward-Bey. After an emotional win over the Texans in a week five road game in Houston, it looked as if the Raiders finally had that spark that Raider Nation has long awaited, and the season from then on looked promising. Jason Campbell was seeing success for the first time in his career, and the Raiders running game was at the time, the best in the league. Between Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, the Raiders seemed unstoppable on the ground. Defensively everything was clicking for the team, they were healthy on the defensive line and pressured opposing QB’s game after game and everything looked good for them moving forward. Special teams, as always was a bright spot for these Raiders. Sebastian Janikowski tied an NFL record for the longest field goal made in history, and Shane Lechler continued to boot it over 50+ yards a punt.
The Bad: The injuries to the team put a halt to the success the Raiders were having. In a week six game against the Browns, Jason Campbell was hit, went down and was diagnosed with a separated collarbone, causing him to miss the rest of the season. Kyle Boller was able to step in there and finish the 4th quarter, but he was clearly not the answer to what they needed. When Hue Jackson made the trade to acquire Carson Palmer, Raiders fans thought he would be a savior, after giving up two very high picks for the 2012 and 2013 draft, Palmer was a Raider. He didn’t start his first game as a Raider, however he did enter after Boller threw three picks, and he wanted to match Boller’s three picks. But the biggest part of that game was an injury to Darren McFadden that had him sidelined for the rest of the year as well. From that point on there was injury after injury, and week after week the Raider faithful had to watch the once promising season spiral down to another year of missed playoffs.
The Ugly: I have two things here and I won’t go into major detail. Hue Jackson ruined the season with his roster decisions from the get-go. Kyle Boller should have never been the backup if they weren’t comfortable. That would have saved the Raiders from losing two high picks in the draft. Derek
Hagan should have never been released because he was playing well for the team, while Hue brought in a washed-up TJ Houshmanzadeh who produced hardly anything. The other thing I have here is simple, the Raiders cost themselves a successful season with over 160 penalties for over 1,300 yards. Both NFL Records. This was an undisciplined team that knew week after week they needed to be more accountable, but they went out and broke the all-time penalty record, previously held by – the Raiders themselves. Let’s hope that new GM Reggie McKenzie cleans this thing up.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Good: The good for the chiefs is that they never gave up, going into the season they lost all-pro tight end Tony Moeaki for the season, and it was a tough break for them losing the first three games of the year. Nothing clicked for them but they still pulled together as a team and tried to right the ship. After losing the first three games, they came out to win the next four and looked comfortable and ready to take the division by storm. They then hit another snag, losing the next four. After that they were able to pull off win, loss, win, loss, win for the rest of the year. Despite everything that happened, the Chiefs fought off all naysayers and went out and played as a team, week in and week out and never gave up.
The Bad: Injuries killed the team, coming off the 2010 campaign being the AFC West Champions; everything looked good for the Chiefs heading into 2011. In the preseason they lost the rookie WR Jon Baldwin for several weeks due to a fight with Thomas Jones. From that point on, it seemed week after week the team was losing pro bowl caliber players in the aforementioned Tony Moeaki, Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry, Gabe Miller, Matt Cassell and Jackie Battle. It was a major setback for the team throughout the season, and the blame can be placed wherever it need be, but just like the Texans, I believe it was the training staff that just didn’t have everything in place in the shortened offseason to get the guys ready for a full season. With all these players back, I can see the Chiefs making a bit of noise next season.
The Ugly: Who’s calling the plays? This is something I heard asked each and every week to former head coach Todd Haley. Haley has an extensive background on running an offense, which is a big reason he got the job in the first place, but this year he changed things up a bit. It was a back and forth on who was calling plays. One week it would be OC Bill Muir, the next Haley. This might not seem like a huge deal seeing as how they have the same playbook and it’s a different voice, but it mattered a lot for the Chiefs this past year. When an OC calls the plays, it usually comes in from the booth, transferred on down to an assistant coach on the field, and then relayed to the QB. When a head coach calls plays, it goes from coach to QB. Both of the play callers have separate ideas for what they want to do in certain situations. Having two guys try to do one job with one guy really messed with the consistency on offense, and that in turn made the offense struggle. When Todd Haley was fired, Muir took over as the primary playcaller and we saw an incline of success on offense for the team. If Haley would have picked one playcaller and used him all along, whether it was him or his OC, the Chiefs would have had a bit more success.
Follow me on Twitter! @NFLGuy_SK