8/26 Update:
There is some concern with Rich Gannon looking very inaccurate in preseason. If he's off, the Raiders won't make it to the playoffs.

Major Additions:
RB Justin Fargas, FB Cecil Martin, FB Chris Hetherington, TE Teyo Johnson, DE Tyler Brayton, DT Dana Stubblefield, CB Nnamdi Asomugha.
Major Subtractions:
FB Jon Ritchie, DE Regan Upshaw, DT Sam Adams, CB Tory James, S Anthony Dorsett.

Offense This Year: There is no reason why QB Rich Gannon shouldn't be able to have another MVP-type season. All of the offensive starters will be back this year, with the exception of FB Jon Ritchie, who was expendable, because of FB Zack Crockett, and the signing of FBs Cecil Martin and Chris Hetherington. Jerry Rice and Jerry Porter might be one of the top five duos of receivers in the NFL, while the Raiders' deep offensive line will give Rich Gannon a lot of protection once again. I wouldn't be surprised if the Raiders have the top offense in the NFL again.
Defense This Year: The only major hit the Raiders took was the loss of DT Sam Adams, who was a great run stopper. The Raiders signed Dana Stubblefield, but I don't know if he can do the job that Sam Adams did. Their defensive line is the clear weakness of their defense, but with excellent linebackers and defensive backs, their defense will be an average one; not the 11th ranked one they had in 2002. Another concern for the Raiders' defense is depth. They have very few quality backups, so if a few defensive starters go down, this team could look like last year's Kansas City Chiefs.
Schedule and Intangibles: The Black Hole seems like an intimidating place to play, but the Raiders are surprisingly only 51-37 at home since 1992 (11-5 since 2001). Despite not being a dominating home team, the Raiders are a decent 43-45 on the road in the last decade. Another surprising statistic is that the Raiders' only winning month since 1992 is October (28-13). Despite being in the Super Bowl, the Raiders get to beat up on inferior teams like Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago and Minnesota this season. On top of that, the Raiders seem to dominate every other team in their own division.

Analysis: If Oakland stays healthy, they'll have another crack at the Super Bowl. However, the window of opportunity is closing quickly on this veteran team.

Projection: 11-5 (1st in the AFC West).


San Diego Chargers (Last Year: 8-8).
Major Additions:
FB Lorenzo Neal, WR David Boston, OT Solomon Page, CB Sammy Davis, CB Drayton Florence, FS Kwame Lassiter.
Major Subtractions:
FB Fred McCrary, WR Curtis Conway, LB Junior Seau, CB Alex Molden, S Rodney Harrison.

Offense This Year: Acquiring WR David Boston was huge for San Diego. Not only does it give QB Drew Brees a great target to throw to, it should also keep teams from focusing on perhaps the best running back in the NFL. LaDainian Tomlinson ran for 1,683 yards last year, without both a good passing game and a legit full back. Now he has both, as Pro Bowl FB Lorenzo Neal was signed to open up more running room for Tomlinson. This offense was 16th overall last year, and might break top ten this year. Two things will keep this offense from being elite: a good second receiver and the offensive line. WR Reche Caldwell might emerge to be a quality second receiver, but San Diego's offensive line has more holes than Swiss Cheese, even with the addition of OT Solomon Page.
Defense This Year: The Chargers have always been known for their good defense as long as LB Junior Seau has been on this team. Last year, they were ranked 30th, and this year, they will be even worse. Gone are two Pro Bowlers, Seau and S Rodney Harrison. Their defensive line has only one quality starter, DT Jamal Williams, but he is coming back from an injury. The defensive line won't be able to get to the quarterback, which will put a lot of pressure on a very young secondary, which ranked dead last in pass defense last year. Their linebacking group does not look much better, as Donnie Edwards is the only good starter. For the second year in a row, this will be one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
Schedule and Intangibles: San Diego is one of those "southern teams" that start off hot, and cool off as the weather gets colder. Since 1992, the Chargers are an impressive 25-17 in September (7-0 since 2001), but they are sub .500 in every other month. The city of San Diego is always hot, and even though it is tough to win there in September, the Chargers are only 46-42 at home since 1992 (6-2 last year). Schedule makers were nice to the Chargers this year. The Chargers have four home games in their last six, with the two road games being at Pittsburgh and Detroit. I have no doubt that the Chargers can start off at 6-2, but they must avoid a third straight year where they fade down the stretch. If they can just go 4-4 in their last 8 games, they can make the playoffs.

Analysis: San Diego's inability to stop the run will hurt them in their late season games, so their offense will have to carry them. As LaDainian Tomlinson goes, so go the Chargers. If Tomlinson goes down with an injury, they have no chance to win any games.

Projection: 10-6 (2nd in the AFC West).


Kansas City Chiefs (Last Year: 8-8).
8/26 Update:
Priest Holmes has looked healthy thus far. If Holmes is out, the Chiefs won't make the playoffs.

Major Additions:
RB Larry Johnson, OT Brett Williams, DE Vonnie Holiday, LB Shawn Barber, LB Kawika Mitchell, CB Dexter McCleon, S Julian Battle.
Major Subtractions:
DE Duane Clemons, P Dan "Igor" Stryzinski.

Offense This Year: Priest Holmes' condition determines this offense's output. When the Chiefs took Larry Johnson in the first round of the draft, things seemed bleak. However, there is indication that Holmes will be 100 percent by July's training camp. This offense was ranked 4th last year, despite having no legit number one receiver. This is something that the Chiefs are still lacking, but they have TE Tony Gonzalez, who is one of the top three tight ends in the NFL. Most of the Chiefs' receivers are young, so perhaps one of them will step up this year. WRs Dante' Hall and Marc Boerigter both showed flashes at the end of the season last year. If one of them (or maybe WRs Sylvester Morris and Snoop Minnis) step up, veteran WR Eddie Kennison could be a very solid number two. Finally, the Chiefs might have the best offensive line in the NFL. Not only do they have five great starters, they have a lot of depth. They will give QB Trent Green lots of protection once again.
Defense This Year: Kansas City was 4-4 when scoring over 30 points last year. That is an indication of how bad that unit was. Their defense was ranked last in the NFL in 2002, but it wont be this year. They have added quality defensive players such as DE Vonnie Holliday, LB Shawn Barber, CB Dexter McCleon and S Julian Battle, but the biggest determinant of how good this defense will be is the play of the two second year defensive linemen, DT Ryan Sims and DE Eddie Freeman. The Chiefs had barely any pass rush last year, so if these two (as well as Vonnie Holliday) can get pressure on the quarterback, it could make things easier for a subpar secondary. If Ryan Sims can stay healthy, the Chiefs should be able to stop the run well enough to make the playoffs.
Schedule and Intangibles: Of course the most significant intangible on the Chiefs is KR/PR Dante' Hall, who will provide a few "extra" touchdowns this year. Kansas City has the largest disparity of weather in the NFL. In September, it is scorching hot and dry, while in December, it is very cold and wet. These factors add up to an outstanding 65-23 home record since 1992. It is also why they are at their best in September and December (28-15 and 26-20 since 1992, respectively). Kansas City's last place finish has granted them an easy schedule. Their schedule includes Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Houston. If the Chiefs can win the "easy games", they'll make the playoffs.

Analysis: The Chiefs averaged 29 points per game last year. If Priest Holmes can stay healthy, and if the Chiefs allow a few less points per game than the 25 they gave up last year, the Chiefs could be playing in the playoffs.

Projection: 10-6 (3rd in the AFC West).


Denver Broncos (Last Year: 9-7).
Major Additions:
QB Jake Plummer, OT George Foster, G Heath Irwin, DT Daryl Gardner, MLB Terry Pierce, S Lee Flowers.
Major Subtractions:
QB Brian Griese, RB Olandis Gary, OT Blake Brockermeyer, DE Kavika Pittman, DT Chester McGlockton, DT Montae Reagor, CB Dernard Walker, CB Tyrone Poole.

Offense This Year: I lost a lot of respect for head coach Mike Shanahan, when he signed QB Jake Plummer to take over his team. Since 1998, Jake has thrown 43 interceptions, while only throwing 21 touchdowns. Having an excellent running game will help Jake the Snake, but his inaccuracy and inability to scan the whole field will continue to cause him to throw many interceptions.
Defense This Year: Last year, Denver was pretty efficient in stopping the run, but was only ranked 17th against the pass. DT Daryl Gardner will help them tremendously. They also drafted numerous defensive ends that will contribute. Denver has problems in its secondary. CB Deltha O'Neal is the best of the bunch, and even he was benched by Shanahan last year. The Broncos better be able to get to the quarterback often, without blitzing, or else their secondary will be torched. The loss of defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes also hurts Denver.
Schedule and Intangibles: Playing in Denver is always tough. Its usually cold, and it is very hard to breathe there. That would explain why Denver has an AFC best 66-22 home record since 1992. Looking at their schedule, it looks like they can go either 5-3 or 6-2 at home. Winning on the road will be tough for them this year. Other than Cincinnati, no other road game is easy, so the Broncos might be looking at a sub .500 record if they only manage a 2-6 road record.

Analysis: The Broncos' success lies in the hands of Jake Plummer. Enough said.

Projection: 8-8 (4th in the AFC West).


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