OVERVIEW: AFC West
The 12-5 straight up win San Diego Chargers were the surprise team of the NFL in 2004 when considering that they had posted a shoddy record of 4-12 straight up and 6-10 ATS in 2003, if you had hitched your wagon onto these Chargers all season long in 2004 you were indeed a happy camper as the Bolts tallied a 13-2-2 ATS mark when it was all said and done.
If not for a missed FG on a muddy rain soaked field against the Jets in these Chargers opening playoff game last year, there is no telling how far the momentum of these Bolts may have carried them when considering the Jets lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the very same manner the following week.
However, in the big picture San Diego faced five playoff bound teams during the 2004 regular season and posted a shoddy 1-4 straight up mark in those games with their only win against a playoff team coming against Denver 20-17, the Chargers major malfunction in 2004 was their 31st ranked pass defense which forced the Bolts to outscore teams.
A closer look-see reveals that the Charger defense only registered 29 sacks all season long, meaning that not all the blame for that 31st pass defense ranking can be attributed to the Bolt defensive backs, some of the blame must go to the defensive front that failed to pressure opposing QBs. The Bolts did draft two potentially great defensive linemen with their first two picks by selecting DE Shawne Merriman out of Maryland and DT Luis Castillo out of Northwestern.
The Chargers were installed as doggies 10 times in 2004, this fact was a major reason why the Bolts were able to have the point spread success they had last season, with that being said, these Chargers will not sneak up on anyone this season and that includes the oddsmaker.
The now healthy Kansas City Chiefs will battle the Bolts back and forth for the top spot all season long, a sense of urgency will fill Chief land this season due to the fact that HC Dick Vermeil and most of his coaching staff are in the final year of their contracts.
The Chiefs along with the Raiders had an excellent draft, head Chief Dick Vermeil knows that his defense allowed more passing yards to opponents than any other team in the league last season, Vermeil managed to bolster his defense for the 2005 campaign with the free agent signings of former Steeler LB Kendrell Bell and former Miami defensive backs CB Patrick Surtain and SS Sammy Knight.
Kansas City finished 4-1 straight up and 3-2 ATS coming down the stretch last season and when the smoke cleared had the NFLs number one ranked offense by averaging 418.3 yards per contest which was 14 more yards per game on average than the 2nd ranked Indianapolis Colts, if the Chiefs can stay healthy and avoid another 1-4 straight up and ATS start on the season, they will once again be a playoff contender.
Did you hear that? I am talking about the whisperings coming out of Colorado and more specifically out of Denver these days, is it possible that Bronco HC Mike Shanahan is indeed an over rated commodity that is undeserving of past praise?
Well, the truth of it is that Shanahan and his troops have failed miserably since the retirement of beloved QB John Elway, the Stanford product retired following back to back Super Bowl wins and in the six seasons since his retirement the Broncos have made the playoffs just three times, however, Denver has not made it past their opening playoff game and each of these three playoff appearances ended in utter defeat with the Broncos losing by an average score of 37-12.
Shanahan has a lot of folks scratching their heads and wondering if someone spiked his punch with regard to his draft choices and free agent signings this season, riddle me this .Why would you sign four free agent defensive linemen off of the Cleveland Browns roster when that same Cleveland Brown defense allowed a whopping 144.6 yards to opposing running backs in 2004?
Why would Shanahan use a third round pick in the draft on problem child RB Maurice Clarett who sat out last season and was nothing but a distraction to the Ohio State Buckeye program? Does Shanahan like controversy on his team? Is Shanahan trying to prove that he can rehabilitate problem children better than professional psychologists? And what about those defensive linemen from the Brownie organization, does Shanahan think his defensive line coach teaches technique that much better than Cleveland to over come lack of talent or heart?
Questions questions questions, speaking of questions how bout dem Rayduhs? Watching his team finish with a record of 5-11 straight up and 6-10 ATS in 2004 did not sit well with owner Al Davis who along with 2nd year HC Norv Turner had one of the very best drafts of any team in the league by snagging Nebraska CB Fabian Washington with their top choice followed by Houston CB Stanford Routt and Arizona State QB Andrew Walter with their second and third picks.
Overall, using seven total draft selections Oakland drafted five defensive players, the silver and black also make some key free agent signings with regard to bringing former Jet RB Lamont Jordan and former Viking WR Randy Moss to town along with four other free agent signings to bolster their defense.
The Raiders, like divisional rivals San Diego and Kansas City, all shared the very same major malfunction in 2004 which was overall defense and more specifically pass defense. Oakland allowed 371 yards per contest to opponents in 2004 which ranked them 30th overall in total defense and only Kansas City and San Diego allowed more yards through the air than Oakland last season.
Needless to say, Oakland owner Al Davis has reached his boiling point after seeing his beloved Raiders post a combined record of 9-23 straight up and 9-22-1 ATS since the Raiders appearance in the Super Bowl against Tampa Bay on January 26, 2003, however, this years draft and fee agent crop appears to have righted the ship talent wise, now its just a matter of getting all of this new talent to gel together and become a team.
In closing, the AFC West appears to be a two horse race between the Chargers and Chiefs for the division title, based on how teams finished in 2004 the Chargers are saddled with the NFLs 2nd toughest schedule and will sneak up on no one this season, look to play against the Bolts when on the road as a favorite laying more than a FG.
The public will once again play nothing but OVERS when it comes to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2005 and who can blame them as Chief games exceeded the posted total 10 of 16 times last year, amazingly enough the O/U number placed on Chief contests last year was 46 or higher in 12 of their 16 games!
However, the Chiefs have the NFLs 4th toughest schedule and should show improvement on defense which will create Value by playing Chief games to go UNDER this season and especially when the number is above 48.
Denver has proven to be unreliable in most categories as of late and appears to be in a downward spiral, I would advise picking your spots very carefully with these Broncos.
Oakland should definitely improve their seasonal win/loss record in 2005 as this will be HC Norv Turners 2nd year at the helm and QB Kerry Collins 2nd year under center in Turners offense, however, the high profile signings of WR Randy Moss and RB Lamont Jordan will have Joe Public bettors throwing dinero at the Raiders which will create Value by going against the Silver and Black and especially when on the road in the early going.
Jim Campbell is one of the nations most respected Sports Handicappers, he specializes in College and Pro Football, you can visit Jim at his website located at footballforecastor.com for all of your handicapping needs including free play selections, College and NFL stats, trends and award winning analysis on upcoming games.
With over 30 plus years experience in the handicapping profession Jim has built a solid reputation, his web based handicapping service at footballforecastor.com as been in existence since 1997 and year after year proves to be one of the very best handicapping services in America.