By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Western Junkie

The AFC West is an odd place. When one team sweeps its division schedule and still doesn’t win said division (hi, Oakland!) you know there’s some weirdness going on.

It continues with the Vegas over/under season totals, which have three of the four teams at under .500, San Diego being the exception. Did last year’s fattening up on the NFC West inflate the teams’ reputations? Is it a division on the way up, or down?

We explore with our third in the series of division looks at season win projections. (AFC East here, AFC South here).

Kansas City Chiefs (Over/Under: 7.5)

Last year: O/U 6.5 (OVER, 10-6)


Jamaal Charles is the NFL’s best offensive weapon.
It’s one thing to average 5.89 yards a carry for a season, as Charles did in 2009. But to follow it up with 6.38 a carry? Simply incredible, and unprecedented for a running back. He also averaged 10.4 yards a catch, fourth in the league among RBs with 30 or more grabs. Oh, and he’s a pretty good pass blocker, to boot. Not bad for a former third-round pick.

The Chiefs have the league’s best young secondary.
Eric Berry is 22, Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr are 25 and Kendrick Lewis is 27 – for a team that had a 78.1 Defensive Passer Rating despite a completely one-dimensional pass rush. Add 23-year-old Javier Arenas to the mix as the nickel guy, and factor in their comfortability with the exact same crew coming back, and this could end up being a team you just can’t pass against.


No more NFC West on the schedule.
Part of the reason Kansas City’s number is so low is because the Chiefs did so much of their damage against bad teams last year. They only faced three Quality Teams (with winning records for the season) all year, and got outscored by 34 points in those three games (not including a 23-point playoff loss). They were +74 against everyone else, but +71 of that came against the NFC West. With the NFC North on this year’s list, plus games against Indy, New England and Pittsburgh, it’s going to be a struggle.


The over/under of 7.5 here was one of the biggest surprises on the list, especially considering this team’s many strengths. At 8.5, it would have been a tougher call, but this is a well-run and well-coached team with a legit QB, a star running back, a go-to wide receiver and a defense that could get a lot better. That adds up to OVER 7.5, even with a first-place schedule, and could end up being well over 7.5 if the defense comes together. But the Chiefs will have to step up their game from a year ago just to stay at .500 or better.


Last year: O/U 11 (UNDER, 9-7)


They played like an 11-win team a year ago.
In assessing the Colts, we noted that Peyton Manning’s teams always finish with a better record than their point differential suggests. By that same formula, the Chargers should have won 10.9 games last year. It’s well-noted that they managed to miss the playoffs despite finishing No. 1 in yards AND yards allowed, which has to rank as one of the all-time great useless achievements in NFL history. It also goes diametrically against their recent past; in 2007, 2008 and 2009, they ranked higher in points scored than yards, and were strong in Bendability and Scoreability.

Their turnover margin is likely to get back in the plus zone.
Despite the fact that Philip Rivers only threw 13 interceptions in 579 dropbacks, the Chargers still managed to be -6 in turnover margin (23rd). Most of this was due to the fact that they forced very few fumbles – only 13, with seven of them recovered by San Diego – 29th in the league. Norv Turner’s three Chargers teams have gone +24, +4 and +8 in turnovers, and things like fumbles tend to come back to normalcy if they’re particularly low the year before.


The defense is old at key spots.
Takeo Spikes is 34. Bob Sanders is 30, and more injury prone than Great Aunt Peggy. Quentin Jammer is 32. Nose tackle Antonio Garay is 31. Rushers Travis Laboy and Shaun Phillips are 30. That experience should pay off if everyone’s healthy, but everyone also knows that age isn’t just a number in the NFL. With slim depth at cornerback, nose tackle and linebacker, the Chargers are counting on a pass from the NFL Injury Gods.


There can be little argument that the Chargers have what it takes to be an 11-12 win team. You don’t lead the league in both yardage stats without being good. Rivers hasn’t done it in the playoffs yet, but he’s put in one of the best three-year regular-season runs in NFL history with incredible game-to-game consistency and three  season ratings over 100. You could make an argument that he’s the most underrated player in football, and at least one CHFFer thinks this Chargers team is your next Super Bowl champ. Take OVER 10, and if the Chargers are 3-1 in early October go ahead and start spending the winnings.

Oakland Raiders (Over/Under: 6.5)

Last year: O/U 6 (Over, 8-8)


Any team that runs it as well as Oakland does will at least be in position to win a lot of games.
The Raiders were 8-8 last year, and played more like 9-7 – and to go over in 2011, all they need is seven wins. And while they might be due for a downturn, they also have one of the NFL’s top five running attacks. They were No. 2 in the league at 4.95 yards a carry, No. 2 in rushing touchdowns (19) and No. 2 in yards (2,494). We’ve been pretty clear over the years in emphasizing how much more important passing is than running in winning Super Bowls and making deep playoff runs, but a great running game will keep you competitive.


The secondary could be really bad.
Oakland finished 20th in Defensive Passer Rating at 85.56 last year, and that was against an easy schedule and with Nnamdi Asomugha in the fold. They were supposed to make some kind of free-agent move to replace Asomugha, but instead drafted a couple of projects in the secondary and hope what they had last year will do the job. The Raiders also got run on pretty thoroughly last year (4.51 YPC, 23rd), so they’re putting a lot of faith in their pass rush (third in Negative Pass Plays forced in 2010) to keep opponents off the scoreboard. Add in the presence of a new defensive coordinator (Chuck Bresnahan), and who knows what Oakland’s going to do on that side of the ball in 2011.

Their offensive growth from 2009 to 2010 was so ridiculous that there almost has to be a backlash.
Oakland increased its scoring more than two-fold in a season, which hadn’t been done by any of 1,000+ teams in the post-merger NFL. It’s a large reason that Hue Jackson is now head coach and not just offensive coordinator. The schedule is tougher, the Raiders’ edge in special teams has eroded with the new kickoff rules, and best-case scenarios just don’t repeat from year to year.


There were a lot of oddities about the 2010 Raiders. They won all six division games, but not the division. They ran the ball like the 1966 Packers, but got blown out of several games. They had a breakthrough season and fired their coach after it was over. All in all, with the Chargers and Chiefs strong and the Broncos having some upside, go with UNDER 6.5.

Denver Broncos (Over/Under: 5.5)

Last year: O/U 7.5 (Under, 4-12)


John Fox.
Until last year’s 2-14 debacle, John Fox had been one of the surest things in football. From his first year as defensive coordinator for the Giants in 1997 through 2009 in Carolina, his teams never turned in a record worse than 7-9. He also had no defenses finish out of the top 20 in yards allowed over that span. That’s 13 straight seasons of respectability – and unlike 2010, when he had a running team without running backs and quarterbacks that couldn’t play, he’s already committed to the proven commodity of Kyle Orton for 2011. From Josh McDaniel to Fox in a year? Can you say upgrade?

The Broncos are making two huge additions to the defense, and free agency had nothing to do with it.
Denver’s defense was bad in ways we’re still trying to comprehend in 2010. They allowed 29.4 PPG, and over the final 12 games of the season allowed 400+ yards eight times. But in addition to adding Fox and his proven track record, they bring back Elvis Dumervil from injury and Von Miller from college. Neither player is a lock to succeed – Dumervil could be less effective thanks to the injuries and a different system, and rookies are rookies. But if Dumervil is the type of pass rusher he was and Miller is anywhere near as good as he should be, that’s a big impact.


There’s no evidence that the secondary will be any better.
Denver was 30th in Defensive Passer Rating in 2010 at 93.02, and while an improved (maybe) front seven can help, the same basic secondary crew is back for another run. Champ Bailey still has it, but he’s 33 and Brian Dawkins is 37. Andre Goodman, who might start at the other corner, is also 33. Rookie strong safety Rahim Moore represents the new blood, and they certainly need it – but if you’re either too old or too young, and coming off a terrible season, where’s the hope for improvement?


The number, 5.5, reflects how low expectations are. The talent level is in the bottom half of the league, for sure, but before last year the franchise hadn’t been under six wins since 1990. That speaks to Pat Bowlen, and his move to grab Fox and restore order was a pretty clear winner. The Broncos won’t be a playoff team, but they won’t be as bad as they were last year, either – OVER 5.5.