FOOTBALL IS BACK !! For the first time since February there is hope and light and something to discuss that isn’t world-ending. Hurrah for football!
We’ve had the draft, we’ve had the speculation and we’ve had our fill of covid-friendly, iso-bubble namby-pamby training camps. What we really want is bone-crunching, pass-catching, touchdown-scoring football. Tomorrow night the reigning champion Chiefs get the season underway against division rivals the Texans at Arrowhead as they look to be the first repeat champions since the ’04 and ’05 Patriots. The season is going to post many, many questions and dilemmas for staff and players alike in these strange times, but ultimately one thing remains true, the best team post-Christmas will claim the crown. So lets take a look through the teams by Conference and Division and weigh up their chances of reaching the tickertape glory land…
THE AFC WEST
The defending Super Bowl champions look to have improved (If that’s possible) whilst their divisional opponents have all failed to make significant leaps forward that would allow them to challenge the Chiefs dominance. There is a lot to like about the teams below K.C but this ought to be a walk in the park…
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Super Bowl champions rarely repeat but very few people are betting against the Chiefs doing just that. They drafted smartly, taking Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the 1st round to beef up their running game knowing that teams will want to defend against Mahomes deep passing. The WR Group is awesome, Tyreek, Watkins (who blitzed the playoffs after a quiet regular season in 2019) and Hardman (Tyreek- junior?). Travis Kelce is the best T.E in the AFC by some margin, and the o-line, whulst not spectacular, is solid enough to buy time. Chris Jones, Frank Clark, Tyron Mathieu and Daniel Sorenson make the centre and spine of the D an absolute beast, the weakness may be at corner, where Fenton and Ward are liable to be picked off at times. Chances are, it wont matter.
The loss of Phillip Rivers and subsequent selection of Justin Herbert would be problematic if it were not for the Calming influence of T-Mobile, Tyrod Taylor. Ok he washed out at Cleveland 2 years ago but the situation was far from his fault, think instead about when he led an underdog Bills squad to their first playoff birth is 17years. Its just possible that Taylor can keep the Chargers in the wildcard race if he can connect with Allen and Williams (downfield his not always Taylors strength). I’d expect a lot of run plays based around the often underrated Austin Ekeler with Taylor utilising RPO. The Defence speaks for itself, not withstanding the loss of Derwin James for another season, they’re stacked with Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa, Linval Joseph (from Vikes), Denzel Perryman, Kenneth Murray, Chris Harris Jr (Formerly a Bronco) and Casey Hayward Jr. The offense only has to be “good enough” and this D will keep the games in reach.
Projected record: 9-7
VON MILLER IS OUT! VON MILLER IS OUT! Christ, it’s a disaster, a young team that should’ve been on the rise really needed its best pass rusher on the field. At best he’ll be back for the last few games (or the playoffs…?) so they’ll have to rely on newly signed Jurrell Casey and last years injury-victim Bradley Chubb (4games in ’19) to keep offenses honest, Bouye, Jackson, Simmons and Callahan should be a tricky backfield to dunk on, so expect close games based on Fangios exploitation of talent defensive players. On the offense, Drew Lock gets the keys for the season after his strong rookie showing, and he also gets a shiny new RB to play with in the form of Melvin Gordon who leapfrogs Lindsay and Freeman to the head of the Depth chart. First round receiver Jerry Jeudy and 2ND year pro, Courtland Sutton, could be the surprise WR duo in the AFC this season, though it maybe a year too early for real success. The O-Line is good, the coaching is good (but conservative) and the skill players are good, but good wont be enough in the West.
Projected record: 8-8
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
Is Derek Carr really Grudens first choice for QB? Well, if he’s not its too late to change that now, off-season signing Mariota is on I.R and Nate Peterman is next on the depth chart (With Deshone Kizer on practice squad)…so, over to you Derek! Josh Jacobs was brilliant last year and will doubtless be productive again, but the WR corps is bad. That’s a harsh judgement for poor old Henry Ruggs III straight out of the draft, but Renfrow, Agholor and Zay Jones aren’t drawing a lot of coverage so the newbie will be a very busy boy indeed, making lots of new friends with opposing CB’s and Safeties. T.E Darren Waller had a breakout year, but watch out for regression which often follows a great season. The Defence isn’t really worth words on the screen but I’ll try… Clelin Farrell didn’t play like a first round selection so he needs to step up in year 2, Malik Collins and Johnathan Hankins don’t scare anyone and the linebacking group and backfield group gave up far too many plays last season. Johnathan Abram should help here after missing all but 1 games last year, and the excellent Maxx Crosby will generate pressure upfront, but individuals rarely make up for under-manned units and that pretty much sums up the Raiders across the board. A backwards step is a real possibility, and that 10 year deal gets scarier and scarier….
Projected record 6-10