Sunday, July 19, 2009

Previewing the NFL Season, House Style: The AFC West

The wife is asleep, I've finally found employment--and am looking forward to 8 hours of orientation tomorrow--the gin and tonic is a-flowin' and training camp starts next week. So it's time, children, to take a completely unbiased look at our own fave division, that western arm of the American Football Conference.

Of course, by "unbiased," I mean "from the perspective of a Denver fanbot who has managed to convince himself that Jay Cutler is only one whiskey soda away from renal failure, so hello, Kyle Orton." Follow, please, and then throw mud (and/or things that vaguely resemble it) in the comments...

The Kansas City Chefs

2008 Record: 2-14

That was a heck of a year, eh, KC fans? Don't lie. I know that you all loved watching your beloved red-clad band of homos be embarassed at home by the likes of the Buffalo Bills en route to the worst season in franchise history.

How could you not? You had your Larry Johnson playing Scarface quotes at press conferences, your Dwayne Bowe dropping on-side kicks that hit him in the chest, your Herm Edwards. You had Glen Dorsey playing like Tommy Dorsey. You had a force-fed and ill-considered youth movement that smothered all hope of success, you had a goofy spread system, you had one of the worst pass rushes the NFL has ever seen (fewest sacks in one season since they started tracking the stat. Good gravy.)

It was so bad that Tyler Thigpen looked like a bright light. Yes, Tyler Thigpen. It's a wonder that you all didn't put on white robes and gather at the Plaza for a civic Drano-chug.

So how, you ask, could it get any worse? Well, I'll be happy to tell you: just hire the offensive coordinator of a one-year Super Bowl wonder, a guy who is going from working with some of the game's best skill position players to some of its worst. Then allow him to employ that same team's defensive boss, a dude who oversaw a pretty poor group, was evidently nicknamed "pink panties" by his own players and who is expected to teach a 4-3 team to play the 3-4, despite his own apparent predilection for the 4-3.

Top that off with a draft that left most analysts scratching their heads in befuddlement, and lo! You have the makings of yet another long, long season in the City of Fountains. It probably won't be 2-14 bad, but awful nonetheless. If it makes you all feel better, Mike "The Silv" Silver of Yahoo! Sports picks your team to be a surprise playoff contestant in '09; too bad that guy is a Birkenstock-licking Berkeley hermaphrodite.

The House Says: 4-12, last place in the AFC West


The Oakland Raiders

2008 Record: 5-11

Ah, Oakland. When I was young, you were a team to be feared, a collection of future HoFers who talked tough and whipped everyone's asses besides.

Al Davis still thinks you are that team, Oakland; in fact, he still thinks it's 1973. He drafts players based entirely on their 40-yard dash times, demands that his coaches employ an antique 7-step drop deep passing game, sends down defensive calls from the owners' box and stubbornly, wholeheartedly believes in something called "the greatness of the Raiders." So, too, do Oakland's remaining fans, who are easily identified on messageboards nationwide by their use of the caps lock key and poor command of elementary-level grammar.

The reality, though, is that this franchise smells worse than Dom DeLuise's corpse in an Alabama summer. They've lost 10 or more games every year since they made the Super Bowl, the last year of Gruden's tenure (and, more important, the last time they had a decent GM with the juice to fight Davis). Their young quarterback, whom they took with the #1 overall pick, is likely to lose his job to Jeff Garcia, last seen helming the Buccaneers' ship as it sank to the bottom of Tampa Bay. Their run defense is embarassingly bad, they have no wideouts anyone fears and are likely to start a rookie safety that would probably have gone undrafted if they hadn't taken him in the 2nd fucking round.

So, Raider Nation, I'd like to ask you all something: how can everyone in the world not from Oakland be a "Raider Hater" when there's simply nothing to hate? Your team sucks, you're all a pack of mouth-breathing trogs and there aren't enough of you to sell out your tiny stadium. It would be a more honest representation of your squad's place in the NFL hierarchy if they played their games on the playground at Lake Merritt, against selected convicts from Pelican Bay. They'd still probably go 3-13.

The House Says: 5-11, third place in the AFC West (simply because I'm feeling generous, and because it will get in The Administrator's craw.)


The Denver Broncos

2008 Record: 8-8

Last year's Broncos team fielded probably the worst defense I have ever seen. I mean, wow. Really, really bad. I grew to hate watching their games by the end of the year--The experience was akin to having someone you dislike duct-tape you to a straight-backed chair and poke you in the ribs, over and over, with a tuning fork.

Blame can be assigned everywhere: to Mike Shanahan, for forgoing the construction of an NFL-quality defense in favor of stockpiling offensive talent and for hiring his old college coaching buddy in a kind of affirmative action for rich white dudes. To said college coaching buddy, Bob Slowik, for being a passive milquetoast whose greatest attribute--I shit you all not--was evidently that he used computer animation to illustrate his points in meetings. (He should have chosen some old-school Japanese anime, something with plenty of disemboweling and firebombing, but he clearly went with Allegro Non Tropo.)

The mess was so ugly, really, that no one escapes responsibility. Shanahan was lustful of power and couldn't give up even a scratch to a competent GM (read: not Ted Sundquist, who was treated like a saint by the Denver media for reasons I could never divine)-if he had, the Broncos would never have fallen out of the league's elite the way they did. The guy simply could not judge talent on that side of the ball. His list of draft-day failures is long and depressing, so much so that I won't even bother to go into it, save to repeat the oft-repeated fact that, from 2000-2005, the Broncos drafted exactly *one* player who is still starting on their defense, D.J. Williams. Holy. Fuck. You have to work to be that bad at the draft.

The flipside, as most homers will quickly tell you, is that last season's offense was nearly as good as the defense was execrable. Lookatalltheyards! They say. And here comes coach Mc(insert insult that starts with the letter "D") to mess it all up! Gahhhhh!

I'm a homer. But I'm also a realist. At least, when it suits me to be one. For all of Denver's offensive show-offery last year--they were fantastic at moving the ball between the 20s, and Jay Cutler did in fact throw for the 3d most yards in the league--they were pedestrian when it came to actually scoring touchdowns, only ranking 16th. Apologists will point to the many, many running backs who ended the season on injured reserve; yet, thanks to a young and excellent offensive line, that poor rushing attack still averaged nearly 5 yards a carry.

So what was the real problem? A few elements: Jay Cutler threw the most picks of anyone not named Brett Favre, many of them at crucial moments and in the red zone. Brandon Marshall caught a ton of passes--but only six for scores. Tony Scheffler led the league in average yards per catch but disappeared near the goal line. Mike Shanahan fell in love with an offensive gameplan that amounted to pass, pass, pass again, hope Jay doesn't throw an interception, Christ that was close, OK, pass.

The defense didn't help the offense, certainly--they were among the very worst in the league at forcing turnovers, along with winless Detroit--but the converse was also true. The constant air raid, led by a QB addicted to throwing into triple coverage, never gave a weak D any rest. It's a wonder that they were even in position to win the division at all, especially when you add in the eternal problem of our un-special special teams.

And yet, they were. Kyle Orton is not in Jay Cutler's league when it comes to skill, but he possessed a nearly identical TD-to-INT ratio and, hilariously, led a bereft Chicago Bears offense to more points than Cutler did Denver's. And it wasn't like he was doing it behind some updated version of the Monsters of the Midway; last year's Bears team ranked #21 in overall D, Denver at #29. Against the pass, Chicago was nearly as bad as we were.

So all of that bloviation leads me to this: Jay Cutler is a whiny lying creep who demanded a trade before Josh McDaniels even showed up, Mike Nolan is a significant upgrade over Slowik, our secondary will be light years better than it was previously (Brian Dawkins over Calvin Lowery? I say yes) and we drafted the best back in college football. The schedule is murderous, we won't make the playoffs, we have no true 3-4 nose tackle--unless Ron Fields or Chris Baker shocks the world--but we won't be nearly as bad as the John Claytons of the world imagine.

The House Says: 8-8, second place in the AFC West


The San Diego Chargers

2008 Record: 8-8

Remember when no one cared about this team?

Oh, right, they still don't.

The House Says: 11-5, first place in the AFC West, first-round playoff exit and the end of a particular group of players that could have won multiple Super Bowl championships. Suck on it, you worthless SoCal bandwagon wannabes. Enjoy rooting for the Irvine Chargers in three years.