AFC West Outlook
August 5, 2012
By Marc Lawrence
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Deuces are wild in the AFC West these days.
For the second-straight year, the good news in the AFC West last season was that only one team suffered a losing record. And for the second year in a row year the bad news was that only one team in the division earned a spot in the playoffs.
Surprisingly, for the second-straight year, it wasn't San Diego.
The wild, wild West also finds two new coaches roaming the sidelines for - you guessed it - the second-straight year. Dennis Allen, defensive coordinator with Denver last season, takes the reins at Oakland while Romeo Crennel shed the interim label at Kansas City when he was elevated to full-time head coach this season.
Meanwhile, incumbents John Fox at Denver and Norv Turner at San Diego bring near-break even career records in to the season. That fits like a glove within a division that saw all four teams go 3-3 in head-to-head play last season.
Known as a good dog (49-37-1 ATS), and a bad favorite (32-43-3 ATS), Fox's NFL career numbers are balanced at 86-82 SU and 83-81-4 ATS.
Turner enters with a 111-117-1 SU and 118-117-4 ATS career log, including 39-54-3 ATS in division battles. Worse, when laying 10 or more points in division duels Turner is 1-9 ATS.
In closing, this note of caution: Before revving up with home teams in this division, you would be best advised to throttle down as AFC West hosts have gone 23-50-5 ATS since 2000 versus division opponents with losing records, including 0-7 ATS last season, and a mind-boggling 2-17-1 ATS in an anticipated low-scoring contest when the Over/Under total in the game was 40 or fewer points.
No matter how you spin it, it appears as if the numbers outlined above make this the mild, mild West… if you get my drift.
Note: Designated 'Play On' and 'Play Against' Best Bets follow each team's preview.
Team Theme: PEYTON'S NEW PLACE
The Broncos are betting four-time MVP Peyton Manning can win the race to the Super Bowl. Ironically, last year's team lost in the divisional round of the playoffs with a quarterback (Tim Tebow) who won seven of his first eight games after coming off the bench to replace an erratic starter (Kyle Orton). They opted, instead, to bank heavily on the belief that, three-neck surgeries aside, Peyton is the man and Denver is the place for Manning to re-establish his career. A young receiving corps and a young offensive line (three of five starters were still in college three years ago) will need to quickly come of age. Here's hoping Manning is sound and they don't need to look to the bench with Caleb Hanie, who is winless in his NFL career. NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year LB Von Miller and Pro Bowl DE Elvis Dumerville give new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio a strong nucleus. Del Rio, the Broncos' 7th DC the last seven years, worked with head coach John Fox at Carolina in 2002. The bottom line is with Manning the Broncos win another race to the playoffs… by a neck.
PLAY AGAINST: at Cincinnati (11/4)
Stat You Will Like: The Broncos will face .500 or greater foes (last year) in each of their first eight games of the season, and only one team with a losing record in their final eight games.
IN THE STATS: The Broncos were 6-12 'ITS' last season.
Team Theme: WHERE FOR ART THOU, ROMEO
When former Browns coach Romeo Crennel was hired as a defensive coordinator by Kansas City, little did he realize he'd be taking on another title in addition to DC for the Chiefs - that of head coach, again. The 2009 overhaul of the organization backfired when GM Scott Pioli and head coach Todd Haley were canned last year. Crennel brings in a new offensive coordinator for the 4th time in four years in Brian Dabol, formerly with the Dolphins and Browns. Meanwhile, Crennel will continue to run the defense. Injuries took a big toll on the Chiefs in 2011, knocking out four starters including QB Matt Cassel, along with RB Jamaal Charles, TE Tony Mokeaki and S Eric Berry. Only a strong second-half performance by the defense (held three of final six foes to season-low yards) kept the Chiefs competitive. The additions of former Pro Bowl RB Peyton Hillis and TE Kevin Boss should bolster the offense. For it all Romeo is no longer in hiding. He the big boss man, again.
PLAY ON: at Pittsburgh (11/12)
Stat You Will Like: Crennel is 0-6 SU and ATS in games after allowing 10 or less points in his NFL career.
IN THE STATS: The Chiefs won the stats in all three games under Crennel last season.
Team Theme: NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN
For the first time since Al Davis passed, there is a new Donald Trump running the show in Oakland and his name is Reggie McKenzie. The former Michigan Wolverines, Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks lineman - and current College Football Hall of Fame member - McKenzie's first move was hiring Dennis Allen as the Raiders new head coach. Allen, the defensive coordinator with Denver last year, inherits a deep but undisciplined front line, one that surrendered a whopping 5.1 Yards Per Rush last season for new DC Jason Tarver, a co-defensive coordinator at Stanford and former assistant with the 49ers. Look for improvement from the rush defense to become priority-one. Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp returns for a second stint with Oakland (Knapp was OC under Lane Kiffin in 2007-08). Knapp has plenty of weapons in QB Carson Palmer, RB Darren McFadden and WR Darrius Heyward-Bey. The pieces are in place for McKenzie to build this team the right way… from the ground up. If Allen can re-instill a modicum of discipline and tighten the screws on a leaky rush defense, this team could be a sleeper in the AFC West.
PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite vs. Kansas City (12/16)
Stat You Will Like: The Raiders set an NFL record for penalties and penalty yards in 2011.
IN THE STATS: The Raiders were 1-7 'ITS' away from home last season.
Team Theme: THE HOTTIE OR THE NOTTIE
After missing the playoffs the last two seasons, one might think Norv Turner would own a different zip code these days. It's easy to pin the blame on the embattled Turner who, despite a 52-34 ledger in his days in sunny San Diego, is surely the most vilified coach roaming the sidelines in the NFL these days. Noted for his slow starts and fast finishes, Turner actually got out the gate in atypical fashion last season when the Bolts opened the season with wins in four of their first five games. Not knowing how to react, they proceeded to lose their next six games before making another patented late surge to close out the up-and-down campaign - while improving to 23-3 SU in the month of December. It was enough for owner Alex Spanos to extend the services of the Norvous one for at least another season, but one can only assume the seat he sits on these days is hotter than Hades. New coordinators on both sides of the ball, along with a Grade 'A' draft which included three defensive stalwarts, holds promise for the new season ahead.
PLAY ON: vs. Denver (10/15)
Stat You Will Like: The Chargers are 4-11 SU and 5-10 ATS in Eastern-time zone cities with Turner.
IN THE STATS: The Chargers are 13-3 'ITS' at home the last two seasons.