TORONTO - Last year the Kansas City Chiefs came from nowhere to win the division title thanks to a great running game and the stumblebum performance of the San Diego Chargers who seemed to pull a Plaxico Burress ó a riff of shooting themselves in the foot ó at every opportunity. The Chargers have been the prohibitive favourites for a number of years and this season is no different. With Phillip Rivers and a quality defence they will be hard to beat. The wild card is the Oakland Raiders what with another new coach and all.
Top 10 questions
1. Can John Fox get Denver turned around?
Sure he can as he proved in Carolina. The Panthers sank to a 1-15 record in 2001, moved to 7-9 the following year and in 2003 found themselves in the Super Bowl. The Broncos have missed the playoffs for five consecutive years and it will take Fox at least two years and perhaps longer before they can contend in a division where the other three teams seem to be improving.
2. Is Tim Tebow a distraction in Denver?
So far he has been nothing but. Kyle Orton is more than a serviceable quarterback but the Broncos didnít do him any favours by trying and failing to move him before the start of training camp. That caused the legion of Tebow supporters, and by that we mean his fans, to ramp up their support. The Tebow for top spot movement, though, also brought a tidal wave of criticism, especially from ESPNís Merril Hoge and lately, Boomer Esiason.
3. Is Kyle Orton underrated?
We say yes. Orton has the big arm and can throw the ball as last yearís stats proved ó 3,653 yards with 20 TD tosses against nine picks. That was before a rib injury knocked him out for the final three games. Orton is miles better than Tebow or Brady Quinn for that matter ó but if the offence struggles, guess who the fall guy will be.
4. How much will the Raiders miss Nnamdi Asomugha?
You donít lose the best in the business and not go down a step. Still, the Raiders always seem to draft players with speed and will take a long look at rookie DeMarcus Van Dyke who is a burner. Veteran Chris Johnson will likely get the first crack. Players of Asomughaís ability, though, are impossible to replace.
5. Is Jason Campbell a legitimate starter?
When Jason Campbell came to the Raiders last season in place of JaMarcus Russell, the entire team came close to weeping with joy. Campbell had a rough start as he was benched two starts into the season in favour of Bruce Gradowski, but three starts later was back running the show. Itís the second year that Campbell gets to work with Hue Jackson, last yearís offensive coordinator and now head coach, and that will be a plus. This could be his breakthrough season.
6. When will the coaching carousel end in Oakland?
Probably not until Al Davis departs this earth. Hue Jackson is Davisí new bum boy and we wish him well. Last year as the offensive coordinator he got the Raiders moving in the right direction. But Jackson is the Raiders ninth head coach since 1994 ó so our advice to him is to win early and often.
7. Was last year a fluke for Kansas City?
There wasnít a person on the planet that picked the Chiefs to go 10-6 and win the division. Not a one. But win they did thanks to solid if unspectacular play from QB Matt Cassel and a devastating running game led by Jamaal Charles. That plus a soft schedule and the collapse of the Chargers. This season the Chargers figure to play smarter, the Raiders to play better and the Chiefsí schedule is a killer.
8. Can the Chiefs repeat as the top rushing team?
Last year the Chiefs ran the ball down the throat of their opponents as they amassed a league-high 2,627 yards for an average of 164.2 yards per game. In Jamaal Charles, who gained 1,467 yards, the Chiefs have one of the best running backs in the league. Thomas Jones chipped in with another 896 yards, but at 32, he is at the age where the production might start to go backwards. To beef up any short-yardage problems they added fullback LeíRon McClain from the Ravens. So in a word, Yes.
9. Have the Chargers improved on special teams?
Letís just say they better and it is hard to fathom how they could be any worse. How bad was it? The Chargers allowed four returns for touchdowns, had four punts blocked and allowed one big play after another. To help remedy the problem the Chargers hired assistant coach Rich Bisaccia to turn the special teams around They intend to tighten up.
10. Can the Chargers regain the title?
You bet. In 2010 they were simply dreadful on special teams and a repeat of that fiasco is unlikely. They also doomed themselves by their terrible play at the beginning of the season when they opened 2-5 to dig themselves a massive hole. Any team that has Philip Rivers, has one hand on the division title.