The Team Stream posts analyze the needs and necessary moves each team should consider to be successful in 2012.
The AFC West was one of the most followed NFL divisions in 2011. With Tebow Main…no I promised myself I would never use that phrase, and I have to stick to my word, and the death of Al Davis the AFC gave sports writers infinite topics they could drone on and on and on about; which they did. What the AFC West did not do is prove that it can be one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL. Not every team in the division was a total disappointment. The Denver Broncos did represent the division in the Wild Card Playoffs by defeating the Pittsburg Steelers and their number one defense. Here is a unique look at some of the player moves I think AFC West teams should consider making to get their division back on top of the NFL.
San Diego Chargers- 2012 prediction: 7-9
Offense: The San Diego Chargers finished second in the division, tied with the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos with an 8-8 record. Something was off with the Chargers this year. Phillip Rivers finished 2011 tied for third in the NFL with 20 INTs. Rivers was sacked 30 times, and spent the good part of 2011 trying to avoid pass rushers. The Chargers need to protect their biggest asset. They need to address their offensive line, and the draft and free agency are full of players that can help. Center Demetrious Bell will be a free agent this year, and the Chargers could use a solid blocker in the middle.
Defense: Although Erick Weddle had a great season, look for the San Diego Defense to add some much needed depth at CB. CB Tim Jennings would be a great player to bring in to solidify a strong passing defense. The Chargers did leave a bit to be desired in running defense, finishing 20th overall. S.D. is strong up front, but a bit light at OLB. Shawn Phillips and Takeo Spikes are great players, but did not live up to their reputations in 2011. Look for the Chargers to add some depth at LB through the draft.
Kansas City – 2012 Prediction: 9-7
Offense: The KC offense would have been much better had Jamaal Charles not injured his ACL in week one. From that point on, Todd Haley had a tough time implementing the offense he spent all offseason game planning for. New Head Coach Romeo Carnell now gets his opportunity to showcase KC's offense. Dwayne Bowe is the key. KC needs to either sign Bowe to a long term contact or franchise him. Jonathan Baldwin has the skill set to be a great receiver, but has yet to show he can be a consistent threat. Up front, KC has a strong offensive line, but it wouldn't hurt to add some depth at guard.
Defense: Kansas City had one of the strongest rushing defenses in 2011, finishing 6th. I see them building on that momentum in 2012 by solidifying their secondary. With Brandon Carr set to become an unrestricted free agent, one of KC's top priorities should be to retain him through a long term contract. Eric Berry is one of the most talented young safeties in the game, and KC should look to pair him with another athletic safety like Thomas DeCoud; or if Tyvon Branch (who is set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2012) hits the open market, it is always nice to poach good players from rival teams.
Oakland Raiders- 2012 Prediction: 10-6
Offense: The Oakland Raiders have a lot to build on from 2012. Recently fired coach Hue Jackson led Oakland to a top 10 offensive finish in 2011. Carson Palmer struggled at times, but showed flashes that he still has what it takes to be an above average NFL QB. Newly hired head coach Dennis Allan has to feel pretty good about his offensive situation going forward. Allen is more known for his defensive prowess, and will rely on Gregg Knapp to construct an offensive game plan that will build on the successes of 2011. Oakland should focus on resigning running back Michael Bush . Michael Bush and Darren McFadden (whose durability is a huge question and could land him on the trading block), are one of, if not, the best running back duo in the NFL. That being said, McFadden has to prove he can stay healthy if he wants to become the elite running back he has the skills to become. Oakland's biggest need on offense is tight end. Kevin Boss did not live up to expectations in 2011. His production picked up toward the end of the year, but he never filled the role Zach Miller played. If Oakland addresses the tight end position in the 2012 draft, Ladarius Green from Louisiana- Lafayette should be their target. Oakland does not have a draft pick until round 5, but should receive some compensatory picks at the end of round 3 for the loss of Nnamdi Asomugha and Robert Gallary. At 6'6" 250 lbs, Ladarius Green is a big athletic tight end who has the strength to set the edge on running plays and out run line backers on deep routes.
Defense: Oakland's defense was awful in 2011 and let's face it, hasn't been good for a long time. Welcome Dennis Allan! Oakland fans should be really excited that new GM Reggie McKenzie hired a defensive minded head coach. Oakland has not had a defensive minded head coach since LEGENDARY football mind John Madden graced its sidelines. Oakland has already begun making the necessary changes it has to to become successful. Stanford Routt, his outrageous Al Davis contract, and his league lead in penalties has been sent packing (which should put all of Oakland's unreasonably paid players on high alert). Oakland will have to address some holes in the defensive backfield. They should look at corner back Brandon Carr if he becomes available in free agency, but we'll have to wait to see how Oakland is compensated in the draft to see if they will be able to secure some younger talent. Resigning or franchising Tyvon Branch should also be a top priority. He has led Oakland in tackles for the past couple of seasons and has been one of the lone bright spots on an otherwise dismal defense. I do think Oakland is going to have a decent season though, due to the fact that, with all due respect, Al Davis won't be interfering with the play calling or team activities.
Denver Broncos- 2012 Prediction: 8-8
The Denver Broncos shocked the football world in 2011. With all of the controversy surrounding the mystery of Tim Tebow, Denver was able to secure the AFC West title for the first time in years. Denver was able to install an offense that worked incredibly well in 2011. They humiliated the Oakland Raiders on their own field by rushing for more than 250 yards and they flat-out embarrassed the Pittsburg Steelers during the Wild Card playoffs with a one play 80 yard TD pass from Tim Tebow to Demaryius Thomas. The problem with Denver's lead option offense is that it was exposed going down the stretch. Much like the Miami Dolphins' Wild Cat offense of 2009, teams began to find weaknesses in John Fox's scheme and began to shut it down. In 2012, teams will have a whole offseason to game plan for Tim Tebow and the Fox Option. The best thing Denver can do is add to its top tier running attack. Denver should consider adding running back depth. Knowshon Moreno has not developed into the running back Denver hoped he would when they drafted him in the first round of the 2009 draft. Tim Hightower will be a free agent and (as long as he has recovered from his 2011 ACL injury) could be a valuable pick up. Or Denver can draft a running back like LaMichael James out of Oregon. LaMichael James' speed and elusiveness could be a great complement to Willis McGahee and Tim Tebow.
Defense: The Denver Broncos defense lost its biggest asset when Dennis Allen accepted the head coaching job with their division rival -- the Oakland Raiders. Allen utilized Denver's biggest assets, rookie MVP Von Miller and Elvis Dumervile, and turned Denver's 2010 bottom dwelling defense into a much improved squad in 2011. Allen took Denver's sack totals from 32nd in the league to 10th in just one season. With Allen gone, Denver will now have to rely on the defensive expertise of former Jaxsonville Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio to keep the 2011 momentum going in 2012. Denver should look to add some defensive depth by targeting cornerback Richard Marshall of the Arizona Cardinals if he hits the open market. Marshall is a key young corner back whose coverage abilities are still developing, but is dynamite against the run. Marshall would be a great candidate to replace Champ Baily should he get injured or decide to retire at the conclusion of the 2012 season.