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After a five month hibernation, the NFL is about to poke its head out of the cave. Training camps around the country break out in a couple weeks. We are less than a month from the Bengals versus Cowboys and the first pre-season game in Canton. The September 9th regular season kicks off down in the bayou and sends the defending champs out on to the field against the same NFC team they beat to reach the Super Bowl.
A sober Sean Payton (read his book) on the sidelines toting Lombardi's Trophy versus a hungry, white stubble faced, Wrangler wearing quarterback with a surgically repaired ankle (we think) and a talented cast around him.
The National Football League knows how to make an entrance.
We know your Whatifsports.com football diet has been craving nourishment. Well, we are about to provide you a pre-season appetizer before training camps start. Beginning Monday July 12th, Whatifsports.com will preview a NFL Division-a-Day for eight straight days.
Throughout the 2010 NFL season, Whatifsports.com will provide Foxsports.com its game predictions and
Fox Sports Fantasy Football fantasy projections on a weekly basis. Using our NFL simulation engine, we have "played" the entire 2010 NFL season. Each game was simulated 501 times. The simulation engine has provided us game-by-game predictions and projected fantasy stats for all 32 NFL teams and 350 players.
Rosters and depth charts are up-to-date and as accurate as possible as of June 30, 2010. A schedule of upcoming NFL preview content including links to other previews that have already been posted is located here.
Also, we account for players with injury histories who are considered likely to miss games despite currently being healthy by randomly taking them out of what the analysis dictates is the correct number of games throughout the season. For players who will begin the season injured or who are assumed to replace the current starter during the season, we deliberately make those roster changes in the appropriate weeks. All of these items can cause some perceived inconsistencies with the scores, especially when a team plays one opponent from its division with one set of starters and uses different personnel later.
Today we preview the AFC West
DENVER BRONCOS (WIS Prediction: 10-6)
Absolute Record: 11-5
One mind-boggling hot start, one epic collapse. Through the first six weeks of the 2009 season, the Denver Broncos appeared to be a certain lock for the postseason. They were 6-0 heading into a bye week that would get them healthy for the stretch run. Unfortunately there was never any run. Denver lost four straight games out of the bye week and another four in a row to end the season, finishing with one of the biggest collapses in NFL history. After losing two of their top passing targets in the offseason, the Broncos could be in for more of the same in Josh McDaniels' second year.
Most Significant Newcomers: Quarterbacks. Kyle Orton has been assured that he is still the starter under center, but there are plenty of folks being developed behind him and Orton will be playing on a one-year contract. Denver added Brady Quinn from the Browns and Quinn, who never prospered in Cleveland, should be more comfortable with the makeup and vocabulary of McDaniels' system. The Broncos also added former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, giving up three draft picks to do so.
Biggest Strength: Defensive secondary. The fact that everyone in the starting group is in their 30s might make this pick a bit suspect, but good luck finding a bigger strength than a steady, veteran group at the back. This unit, which includes Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins, obviously would've been stronger a few years ago, but they've still got plenty left in the tank. The Broncos ranked third in the league last year, giving up just over 186 passing yards per game. This unit will be stronger if 2009 draft pick Alphonso Smith and this year's pick Perrish Cox develop.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Wide Receiver. With the loss of Brandon Marshall, the Broncos don't have a clear-cut No. 1 receiver. While that doesn't appear to be as troublesome in an offense that relies on multiple-receiver sets anyway, the lack of a go-to-guy should cause worry, especially considering the folks fighting for the role of No. 1. Eddie Royal looked promising as a rookie, but was bitten by a sophomore slump. First-round pick Demaryius Thomas didn't sell scouts on ever being a No. 1 receiver and Jabar Gaffney is nothing more than a crafty veteran.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Correll Buckhalter. If it seems like he's been around forever, he has, but he's got touchdown potential. Knowshon Moreno is Denver's top back, but he only averaged 3.8 yards per carry. With bigger bodies in the middle of the offensive line, Buckhalter could find himself plunging up the middle, especially in goal line situations.
Closest Game: Week 3 vs Colts (Avg. Score 18-17 - Broncos)
Fantasy Notables: Kyle Orton (14) 3828 yards, 22 TDs, 11 INTs; Knowshon Moreno (16) 978 yards, 7 TDs; Eddie Royal (50) 787 yards, 4 TDs; Daniel Graham (28) 343 yards, 2 TDs; Matt Prater (9) 28 FG, 35 XP
2010 Denver Broncos
|6||New York Jets||63||18-13|
|8||@San Francisco 49ers||60||16-14|
|10||Kansas City Chiefs||82||27-14|
|11||@San Diego Chargers||25||16-27|
|12||St. Louis Rams||90||27-10|
|13||@Kansas City Chiefs||77||24-16|
|17||San Diego Chargers||28||18-22|
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (WIS Prediction: 13-3)
Absolute Record: 16-0
At regular season's end, the San Diego Chargers were the pick of many to bring home the Lombardi Trophy. With 11 consecutive victories to close out the regular season, it was pretty easy to make that argument. Instead, the Bolts made a quick exit from the playoffs, faltering against the New York Jets in their first playoff game. Despite losing two of their most memorable faces, the Chargers appear to be the team to beat once again in the AFC West. To get there, they'll likely have to avoid the early-season struggles that have plagued them under Norv Turner. A relatively easy schedule should help that, but San Diego will need its new parts to work out early and often.
Ragin' RiversPhillip Rivers is on the brink of getting SD to the SB
Most Significant Newcomer: Ryan Mathews. The Chargers made the Division I (yes, I know, it's called the Football Bowl Subdivision) leader in rushing last year their number one pick after letting LaDainian Tomlinson head to the Jets. While Darren Sproles remains in San Diego, the small speedster can't shoulder the workload himself. But will the Chargers get the Mathews that bruised defenses throughout his last regular season with Fresno State? Or the one who was stuffed by a Wyoming defense three times from the one-yard line in overtime of the New Mexico Bowl?
Biggest Strength: Quarterback. Philip Rivers proved once again in 2009 that he is amongst the NFL's elite. Rivers passed for more than 4,200 yards and 28 touchdowns last year while throwing just nine interceptions. Despite the offseason losses, Rivers still has a bevy of different targets with different styles to throw to. And while he's surely not yet in the durability realm of Peyton Manning and Brett Favre, Rivers hasn't missed a start in four years.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Defensive line. The Chargers ranked amongst the worst teams in the league, giving up 4.5 yards per carry last year, and that starts up front in their 3-4 defense. Luis Castillo is the most notable name in the defensive line, but he had just two sacks a year ago and no player on this year's preseason two-deep up front got to the quarterback more than three times. The Chargers are simply hoping for a bigger season than last year from those in the trenches.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Malcom Floyd. With all eyes on Vincent Jackson, one of the league's top receivers, and tight end Antonio Gates, who is showing no signs of slowing, Floyd should benefit from one-on-one coverage. He stepped right in for Chris Chambers when San Diego sent the veteran packing in the middle of last season. Floyd finished with 776 yards, including nine grabs for 140 yards in the regular season finale. With speed to burn, Floyd should be on the receiving end of big plays throughout the season.
Closest Game: Week 12 vs Colts (Avg. Score 22-20 - Chargers)
Fantasy Notables: Philip Rivers (1) 4984 yards, 37 TDs, 9 INTs; Darren Sproles (33) 570 yards, 5 TDs; Vincent Jackson (3) 1269 yards, 9 TDs; Antonio Gates (1) 1074 yards, 7 TDs; Nate Kaeding (1) 32 FG, 47 XP
2010 San Diego Chargers
|1||@Kansas City Chiefs||93||31-14|
|6||@St. Louis Rams||95||32-12|
|7||New England Patriots||73||28-19|
|14||Kansas City Chiefs||94||33-12|
|15||San Francisco 49ers||87||27-12|
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (WIS Prediction: 5-11)
Absolute Record: 3-13
If the Kansas City Chiefs' trend of doubling their victories continues, they should be in for an 8-8 season. OK, that seems a bit ambitious, but they did double their win total last season to four. And while four victories may not seem like a big deal, the Chiefs have to hope that it's simply a step in the right direction. Now, with an impressive running back corps and a quarterback that has shown he can succeed in the NFL, whether Kansas City continues its upward swing will likely depend on a defense that was third-to-last in yards allowed last year. Kansas City has pinned those hopes on new coordinators Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis.
King of the CasselCassel probably the cool winters of New England
Biggest Newcomer: Eric Berry. Despite having the fifth pick in the draft this offseason, the Kansas City Chiefs may have ended up with the best player, especially when considering their needs. The safety out of Tennessee should bolster a unit that gave up more than 230 yards per game and 15 passing touchdowns a year ago.
Biggest Strength: Running back. The Chiefs got rid of the headaches and should gain production. Gone is Larry Johnson, who was probably more trouble than he was worth long before Kansas City finally waved goodbye. In is Thomas Jones, who is coming off a career year with the Jets. Jones rushed for more than 1,400 yards last year and gives the Chiefs a veteran presence to go alongside top back Jamaal Charles. The big man broke out in a big way once Johnson was out of the picture, rushing for more than 100 yards in each of his last four games, including a 25-carry, 259-yard, two-touchdown performance against Denver in the season finale.
Most Exploitable Weakness: The trenches. On the offensive side of the ball, the line gave up 45 sacks last year, ranking near the bottom of the barrel. Quarterback Matt Cassel showed in New England what he could do with time in the pocket, but he simply didn't get that in his first year in Kansas City. On the defensive side, the line experienced more difficulties in the switch to the 3-4 defense than were predicted. It's a young group that needs to show more effectiveness.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Cassel. The numbers he put up a year ago were far from impressive. He threw for just 2,924 yards and had as many touchdowns (16) as interceptions. He could see more success under center in his second year. An improved duo of running backs will keep opposing defenses honest and, while Dwayne Bowe has had his share of difficulties, he and Chris Chambers are still capable targets.
Closest Game: Week 2 vs Browns (Avg. Score 20-18 - Browns)
Fantasy Notables: Matt Cassel (23) 3188 yards, 15 TDs, 14 INTs; Jamaal Charles (12) 1136 yards, 9 TDs; Chris Chambers (25) 1054 yards, 4 TDs; Leonard Pope (33) 299 yards, 1 TD; Ryan Succop (26) 23 FG, 29 XP
2010 Kansas City Chiefs
|1||San Diego Chargers||7||14-31|
|3||San Francisco 49ers||38||15-17|
|14||@San Diego Chargers||6||12-33|
|15||@St. Louis Rams||60||20-19|
OAKLAND RAIDERS (WIS Prediction: 6-10)
Absolute Record: 5-11
Remember when the Oakland Raiders made the Super Bowl? We know it's tough, but try to think all the way back to 2002. With seven consecutive losing seasons since then, Raiders fans try to do the same thing just about every day. The Raiders were a paltry 5-11 again last year, yet somehow managed to retain their coach for once. They did get rid of their overweight quarterback, and we'll see if that helps Tom Cable keep his job through another year. At the forefront of the Raiders' question marks heading into the season is the quarterback job. With JaMarcus Russell out of the picture, Jason Campbell is the front-runner to beat out Kyle Boller, Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye in what is supposed to be an open competition. If that were the only question mark.
Biggest Newcomer: Linebackers. Hoping to improve a defense that gave up more than 360 yards per game in 2009, Oakland went to the trading block to pick up one and to the draft to pick up another. Kamerion Wimbley, formerly of the Browns, is expected to start at the strong side spot. Using the 8th selection, Rolando McClain is expected to plug up the middle.
Biggest Strength: Nnamdi Asomugha. It's hard to pick a unit that is the biggest strength, so we'll just go with one of the top two cornerbacks in the NFL. Asomugha's numbers don't look gaudy - he only picked off one pass last year - but that's because offenses simply can't, and won't, throw the ball at him. Oakland's cover corner still made 34 tackles last year, including eight for loss, and broke up four passes. He takes the opponent's top wide receiver out of play every game.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Receiver. It's not Darrius Heyward-Bey's fault that Oakland set him up to be the biggest bust of last year's draft and an injury didn't help him break away from that preseason mold. But Heyward-Bey, the 7th overall pick, caught just nine more passes than you and I did last year and never had more than two in one game. The problem is that he's still the biggest name in the Oakland receiving corps. Louis Murphy? Chaz Schilens? Johnnie Lee Higgins? Yeah, we're a bit lost, too.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Michael Bush. Once again, Darren McFadden will likely be the sexy pick for fantasy owners stuck with looking at a Raiders running back. But Bush had the bigger numbers last year and could do the same again this time around. And this time, Justin Fargas isn't around to make one worry about a three-headed monster in the backfield. Bush had just 19 more carries than McFadden last year but produced 232 more yards and two more touchdowns.
Closest Game: Week 3 at Cardinals (Avg. Score 18-17 - Raiders)
Fantasy Notables: Jason Campbell (12) 3968 yards, 21 TDs, 14 INTs; Darren McFadden (36) 699 yards, 4 TDs; Johnnie Lee Higgins (37) 868 yards, 4 TDs; Zach Miller (9) 797 yards, 4 TDs; Sebastian Janikowski (20) 25 FG, 31 XP
2010 Oakland Raiders
|2||St. Louis Rams||74||24-14|
|5||San Diego Chargers||13||15-27|
|6||@San Francisco 49ers||35||14-20|
|9||Kansas City Chiefs||64||23-17|
|13||@San Diego Chargers||8||13-31|
|17||@Kansas City Chiefs||56||21-20|
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Ryan Fowler is the Content Manager for Whatifsports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.