1) San Diego: Quickly now, how many NFL head coaches can you name who were replaced following a 14-2 regular season? That is exactly what happened to Marty Schottenheimer following last years early exit from the playoffs, its actually head shaking stuff with regard to the Bolts letting ole Marty go when considering that San Diego had suffered through seven straight non winning seasons prior to Marty’s arrival including their 1-15 2000 season under former HC Mike Riley.
Not too many current head coaches in the NFL can boast of winning 35 of 48 games over the past three regular seasons like Marty and not many current HC’s have built a team like the current Bolts from the ground up, yet Marty was let go. In his stead the Chargers brought in retread Norv Turner who has a career head coaching record of 58-82-1, go figure. Turner has been handed the keys to a shiny blue Ferrari, and if he falls on his face again this time there are no excuses. Bolt fans should rejoice however, because amazingly enough the last two teams that had the NFL’s best record but were bounced from the playoffs (Pittsburgh and Indianapolis) came back to win the Super Bowl the following year.
The Bolts return virtually each and every skill position player which means that most of the starting jobs are locked down, a peek at the final stat sheet from last season reveals that the Bolts had the NFL’s 4th overall offense and 10th overall defense, the one area that must improve if San Diego wishes to make a deep run in the playoffs is the defensive secondary which ranked 13th, to accomplice this San Diego brought in top defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell to take over the defense. The Chargers were +13 in in T/O ratio last year and they will have to repeat that if they wish to equal their 14-2 regular season mark from a year ago because in addition to facing divisional rivals Denver and Kansas City twice each home and away, they will be making trips to New England, and Jacksonville and will also host Chicago, Indy, and Baltimore. Projected record: 11-5
**Look to play AGAINST the Bolts on September 16th when they travel to New England, one would think that San Diego would be the side to back because it was the Patriots that ousted them from the playoffs last year by the final of 21-24, however, let’s not forget that the Bolts opened their season at home against Chicago who was last years NFC representative to the Super Bowl, meaning that the young Bolts were sky high facing the Bears in their season opener at home and now must travel all the way to the right coast and be expected to be emotionally sound again against a Patriot team that is playing THEIR home opener, and oh by the way, I don’t think the Patriots have forgotten about the 17-41 arse kicking they received at home the last time San Diego came to town in 2005, its also nice to know that a check backwards in time reveals that New England has covered 6 of their last 8 meetings ATS versus San Diego.
2) Denver: The Broncos posted a regular season mark of 13-3 in 2005 and managed to knock off the visiting Patriots in the playoffs but in the end fell to the eventual Super Bowl winning Steelers at home 17-34. Last year Denver appeared poised to pick up where they left off in 2005 by winning 5 of their first 6 outings, however, they went on to post a record of 4-6 in their final 10 games including their season ending 23-26 home loss to the visiting 49ers which cost Denver a playoff spot to finish with an overall mark of 9-7.
This will be a transition year for the Broncos who on offense have settled on Jay Cutler as their QB who replaces the deposed Jake Plummer and former Titan RB Travis Henry replaces Tatum Bell who in turn was traded to Detroit, oddly enough this is the fourth year in a row that HC Mike Shanahan has deemed it necessary to replace his leading rusher. Denver also brought in WR Brandon Stokley (Colts) and TE Daniel Graham (Patriots) to add some fire power to the Bronco passing game along with QB Patrick Ramsey as an insurance policy to back up Cutler.
On the other side of the ball Denver brought in Jim Bates to serve as their defensive coordinator, his first order of business was to finalize the purging from the Bronco’s roster of former Brownie defensive players that never lived up to their potential, his second order of business will be to produce a pass rush which in turn will hopefully take some pressure off the Broncos defensive backfield. To speed this process up Denver drafted DE’s Jarvis Moss from the Florida Gators and Tim Crowder from the Texas Longhorns in the 1st and 2nd rounds respectively.
Denver was forced replace two key members of their defense with regard to losing middle LB Al Wilson and CB Darrent Williams, Wilson was a five time Pro Bowler but was released due to a combination of injury concerns salary cap problems, Wilson manned the middle and will be a tough cog to replace. The Bronco’s were also forced to bring in former Lion Dre’ Bly to man the corner opposite of Champ Bailey due to the untimely and tragic death of Darrent Williams who was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting in downtown Denver after leaving a New Years eve party with friends this past January.
Denver has a fairly easy schedule to navigate and should register 6 give-me wins with non division home dates against Green Bay, Tennessee, and Minnesota and road trips to Buffalo, Detroit, and Houston. As long as QB Jay Cutler does not implode or make too many critical mistakes that place a newly formed defense in jeopardy too many times, Denver should be in the playoff hunt once again. Projected record: 11-5
**Look to play ON the Bronco’s in their Christmas Eve MNF game at San Diego on 12/24/07, the Bronco’s will in all likelihood close as huge doggies in this affair for several reasons; A). Denver will be playing in their 2nd straight road game and actually will be playing on the road for the 6th time in 8 weeks, B). San Diego won both meetings last year and probably will have won the first meeting this year because Denver was probably beat up following games against Jacksonville and Indianapolis, and C). the public will see that Denver closed as +7.5 doggies in last years trip to Charger-land and lost by the embarrassing final of 20-48. I’ll take all the offered points in this game with Denver because according to the ole history book Denver has won 12 of their last 14 divisional revenge games in straight up fashion heading into this new season and posted a mark of 11-3 ATS in those games!
3) Kansas City: HC Herm Edwards was very lucky to have made the playoffs last season with a mark of 9-7 in his inaugural season, however, the Chiefs have way too many questions to answer and way too many positions to fill to even think about making a playoff appearance this year. For starters QB Trent Green is now a Dolphin which means that Edwards and his staff will have to choose a starting QB between longtime backup Damon Huard and second year Alabama product Brodie Croyle. The Chiefs would probably prefer Croyle to take the snaps from the opening gun but training camp reports suggest that he is not making the proper reads and has a case of happy feet which may lead to the much more experienced Damon Huard getting the nod.
Regardless of rather Huard or Croyle starts under center, protection will be a problem, one of the Chief strong suits for years has been their offensive line, however, Will Shields has followed Willie Roaf into retirement and Jordan Black left town via free agency, instead of finding suitable replacements for these losses via the draft or free agency, instead the Chiefs waited until the 6th round to draft an offensive lineman (Herbert Taylor) and opted to bring in no name free agents to fill the vacancies. With their first overall pick in the draft Kansas City opted for WR Dwayne Bowe out of LSU which gives the Chiefs a legitimate downfield threat, that is provided the QB has time to throw the ball to him! KC then grabbed DT’s Turk McBride and DeMarcus Tyler in the 2nd and 3rd rounds respectively as a means to sure up a glaring weakness on that side of the ball.
Defensively the Chiefs are old and very thin at every skill position and will in all likelihood not improve a stop unit that ranked 18th against both the rush and the pass, special teams will also be a problem this year as they must replace home run threat Dante Hall who was traded to St. Louis and kicker Lawrence Tynes who is now wearing Giant blue. Kansas City will have to fight hard to stay out of the AFC West basement this year it seems as they own a schedule that has them playing 3 of 4 games on the road to both start the season and also end the season. Projected record: 6-10
**Look to play AGAINST the Chiefs in their October 14th home game versus the visiting Ben Gals, Cincy will be fresh from a week of rest and will have refocused after opening their season up by playing three of their first four games against playoff bound competition. The Ben Gals opened last season with a 23-10 win at KC as 2 point road doggies but may be the slight favorite in this affair, if that is the case its nice to know that Cincy was now covered 3 of their last 4 contests against the Chiefs and have overall covered 7 or their past 8 games ATS versus the AFC West, according to the ole history book Cincy is in their best role when installed as a road favorite as evidenced by covering 7 of 8 times ATS over the past three seasons in this situation!
4) Oakland: Re-Build mode is again in full bloom in Oakland-land these days, with the hiring of new HC Lane Kiffin, da’Rayduhs are now being guided by a fourth different head coach since their January 26th 2003 appearance in the Super Bowl, but hey, I guess you have to expect what amounts to a head coaching carousel from a team “committed to excellence” and especially when said team has lost a staggering 49 of 64 games in straight up fashion since that aforementioned Super Bowl appearance!
The only good thing about losing year in and year out is that you get to pick high in the draft and eventually should hit a few home runs, unfortunately for Oakland their selections on draft day have not worked out so well thus far. New HC Kiffin hopes to infuse a new attitude on this Oakland team with 11 selections in this past April’s draft with former LSU QB JaMarcus Russell taken with the NFL’s first overall pick, the Raiders should not have a problem finding talent in this years crop of young draftees as they had five picks in the first three rounds. Kiffin and company was also very active in free agency with regard to bringing in 12 free agents including QB’s Josh McCown, and Daunte Culpeper, RB Dominic Rhodes, and WR Mike Williams.
Top draft pick QB JaMarcus Russell is still unsigned as of this writing which means that a battle for the starting job is a wide open three way race between Josh McCown, Andrew Walter, and Daunte Culpeper, the battle will be a fierce one because whomever finishes in third place will in all likelihood be sent packing. Oakland’s offense finished up last season ranked dead last in the NFL, mainly because of their terrible offensive line play.
Meanwhile, the Raider defense actually finished 3rd overall in the league, thus the reason why 7 of 11 draft picks and 11 of 12 free agent signings were offensive players. Although the Raiders have much better overall talent on this years roster versus what they have had over the past few years, look for another sub par year from Oakland because of the simple fact that it takes time to gel and build chemistry. Projected record: 5-11
** Look to play ON Oakland when the Brownies visit on Sept 23rd, Cleve will have played their first two games of the season at home against huge rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and they have a home game against Baltimore on deck following this left coast trip, which means that Cleve is in a divisional “sandwich” game when they visit the Raiders. This contest is also a revenger for Oakland who lost at home to Cleveland last year by the final of 21-24 as 2.5 point home doggies, the Raiders had a top 10 defense last year and they should be able to exact some revenge against a Cleveland team that is fresh off two hard hitting divisional games.
Jim Campbell runs [http://www.FootballForecastor.com] which has been an internet based sports handicapping service since 1997, you will be hard pressed to find another handicapper that has had the kind of success Jim has had, over the past eight years he has maintained one of the very best winning percentages of any sports handicapping service.