Excuse my sigh of relief, but this is where I feel most at home. Let's start with Oakland.
The Raiders, finally being out of the salary cap shadow of the worst draft bust of all time (JeMarcus Russell) were sitting on a pile of opportunity coming into free agency. They did next to nothing with it. They got some hopeful has-beens, like Justin Tuck and Maurice Jones-Drew. These were not bad acquisitions. MJD looks like a significant compliment if not upgrade to the fragile Darrin McFadden. But then, as if drawn to some psychotic siren song, they paid money to get a truly broken quarterback, Matt Shaub. With their speed at receiver, that choice makes absolutely no sense. Shaub didn't have the strongest (by far) arm when he was playing for a Super Bowl contender. In pre-season, he's looked weak and bush league. If coach Allen doesn't start Derek Carr in week one, the Raiders are doomed to the cellar of the NFL, and Allen's fate as a head coach is sealed. On the plus side, Kalil Mack will become an excellent NFL Linebacker, pushing Clowney for d-rookie of the year. He will truly excel when the Raiders trade him to a team with prospects or foolishly allow him to leave in free agency 4 years from now. Keep in mind that Oakland plays the toughest schedule in the NFL, and this time such prediction appears to be real. I hold to the prediction that the Raiders will have the first chance at Jameis Winston, and maybe that was the plan all along.
If anyone has a rational explaination for what Kansas City was thinking in the off-season, I'd like to hear it now. They lost key elements to a truly frightening defense, weakening the squad when they have to face the best of the best. Quenton Demps and Brandon Flowers are gone, Flowers to the Chargers which KC faces twice this year. They lost key elements to the offense in McCluster (to the Raiders which KC faces twice a year), Albert, Asamoah and Schwartz all gone from the offensive line ... against a division that stacked itself on defense. I've always liked Dwayne Bowe as a receiver ... because I'm a Bronco fan. Bowe can't seem to hold onto the ball to save a game or his hide. We have now found out that it is because his middle finger is damaged. Yet KC continues to think him a viable threat when defenses have gotten tougher, taller and quicker. The one ace in the hole for the Chiefs is Jamaal Charles, sporting a big huge new contract and deserving of every dollar. Only.One.Problem. That guy now has a blazoned target with the bullseye squarely between his white numbers on red background. The NFL has brutally shown over the years that no team can pin its hopes on one player and expect a great result. KC has talent, but when it's mostly Charles the NFC West and the rest of the AFC West will shut that talent down.
San Diego is scary. I actually think they will again make the playoffs as a wildcard team. Phillip Rivers has again risen to the occasion, and he has cadre of good receivers. The defense has been stiffened. Te'o has come into his abilities, and Verrett and Weddle give them credible threat in the secondary. If there is a weakness to the Chargers, it is loyalty to Antonio Gates. He was the go-to guy for so very long, and the blue-print for the modern tight-end (actually that was Shannon Sharpe, but play along, won't you?) Gates has lost more than a step, and Green has taken his thunder. We'll see how the Chargers play out. I think very well.
Make no mistake, the best football team in the NFL is the Denver Broncos ... on paper. Every sports talking head says the same thing. But no one save the odds-makers in Vegas are willing to invest in what they all "know". No Pre-season power poll has the Broncos sitting better than 3rd. That's foolishness. It stems from the fact that Denver got creamed in the Super Bowl, and more to the point that the Broncos, and all of the AFC West, face a truly brutal schedule. The Raiders and the Broncos have to face New England in Foxborough, and the Seahawks in Seattle. Okay, bring it on and let the paper talk silently. Denver has retained the best scoring offense in history, and no one seems willing to believe that the Broncos' defense is really all that improved. They have the most underated Safety in football, TJ Ward, who slaved away in the obscurity of Cleveland. They have a HOF pass rusher on the D-line with Demarcus Ware, and return Von Miller. This is a team that appears, again on paper, as the best ever assembled in the history of the NFL. Now comes the timne they prove it. denver certainly has the talent to take out the rest of the AFC West. My hopes are with the Broncos, and I think they will face either New Orleans or Seattle come February in Arizona.