|TheInsiders.com 2004 NFL Football Preview|
|NFC EAST||NFC NORTH||NFC SOUTH||NFC WEST||AFC EAST||AFC NORTH||AFC SOUTH||AFC WEST|
|2004 DENVER BRONCOS|
Michael Schon, BroncosUpdate.Com
Last Season's Record: 10-6 (2nd in AFC West)
Last Play Off Appearance: Jan. 4, 2004 v. Indianapolis Colts L 10-41
Key matchup(s): Sun Sep.12 KANSAS CITY ESPN, Sun Oct.10 CAROLINA FOX, Sun Dec.19 at Kansas City CBS, 16 Sat Dec.25 at Tennessee ESPN, 17 Sun Jan. 2 INDIANAPOLIS CBS
Star Power: Jason Elam, K 5' 11" 200 12th (Yr), Tom Nalen, C 6' 3" 286 11th (Yr), Jake Plummer, QB 6' 2" 212 8th (Yr), Trevor Pryce, DE 6' 5" 295 8th (Yr), Rod Smith, WR 6' 0" 200 10th (Yr), Al Wilson, LB 6' 0" 240 6th (Yr)
Notable Additions: Champ Bailey, CB 6' 0" 192 6th (Yr), Washington Redskins, Marco Coleman, DE 6' 3" 270 13th (Yr), Philadelphia Eagles, Luther Elliss, DT 6' 5" 318 10th (Yr), Detroit Lions, Garrison Hearst, RB 5' 11" 215 12th (Yr), San Francisco 49ers, Raylee Johnson, DE 6' 3" 272 12th (Yr), San Diego Chargers, John Lynch, S 6' 2" 220 12th (Yr), Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Notable Subtractions: Clinton Portis, RB; John Mobley, LB; Steve Beuerlein, QB; Deltha O'Neal, CB; Ed McCaffrey, WR; Shannon Sharpe, TE; Bertrand Berry, DE; Keith Burns, LB; Ephraim Salaam, T; Chris Cole, WR.
Notable Returnees: Reuben Droughns, RB 5' 11" 207 5th (Yr), Mario Fatafehi, DT 6' 2" 300 4th (Yr), Quentin Griffin, RB 5' 7" 195 2nd (Yr), Kenoy Kennedy, S 6' 1" 215 5th (Yr), Micah Knorr, P/K 6' 2" 199 5th (Yr), Ashley Lelie, WR 6' 3" 200 3rd (Yr), Matt Lepsis, T 6' 4" 290 8th (Yr), Dan Neil, G 6' 2" 285 8th (Yr), Donnie Spragan, LB 6' 3" 239 3rd (Yr), Lenny Walls, CB 6' 4" 192 3rd (Yr)
Offensive Overview: Throughout the Mike Shanahan era the Denver Broncos have been primarily known as an offensive team, and 2004 should be no exception. The loss of Clinton Portis, Shannon Sharpe and Ed McCaffrey will prove hard, but not impossible, to overcome, as the focus now shifts to the younger side, with third-year veteran Ashley Lelie and rookie Darius Watts being asked to step in. Lelie, a former first round draft pick, struggled during the 2003 season and has yet to find a comfortable rhythm with QB Jake Plummer. Considered to be on a short leash, Lelie finds himself in a make or break year with the Broncos and will quickly need to prove his value to remain on the roster. Watts, who had a tremendous training camp and preseason, could very well be Plummer's "go to guy" behind ten-year veteran Rod Smith. A second round pick out of Marshall, Watts has shown great speed and ability to hold onto the ball, but is still prone to rookie mistakes. His ability to overcome these mental errors will be a major key in Denver's offensive production. Without Portis in the backfield, the Broncos will turn to Quentin Griffin to lead the running attack. At only 5'7" 195 lbs., Griffin has shown an uncanny ability to elude tacklers and break up field quickly. While he may not be able to completely fill Portis' shoes, he is expected to join Denver's ever expanding list of 1000-yard rushers by seasons end. While the passing game may be in question, expectations are still high for the team to reach, and advance through, the postseason. Since the departure of John Elway, Denver has yet to win a single playoff game, having appeared in only two.
Defensive Overview: The Broncos made huge strides on defense during the off-season and expect the dividends to pay off quickly. Four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey and five-time Pro Bowl safety John Lynch will undoubtedly shore up Denver's weak secondary, while defensive ends Raylee Johnson, Marco Coleman and defensive tackle Luther Ellis add depth to an already strong defensive front line. The core of the Broncos defense lies with it's captain, sixth-year veteran linebacker Al Wilson, who's vocal leadership is the cornerstone to coordinator Larry Coyer's philosophy. Wilson's abilities to blend this group of veterans and rookies together is essential for Denver's success, and if early indications ring true, he's on the right path. First round draft pick D.J. Williams has shown a great deal of promise through the preseason, leading the team with fifteen tackles through five exhibition games. At 6'1", 247 lbs. he's the prototypical linebacker, with both speed and strength. Currently listed in the second spot behind Donnie Spragan on the teams' depth chart, it would not be surprising to see him move into the starting unit by mid-season. With the combination of a solid draft and off season signings, the Broncos have secured themselves a spot among the league's best defensive units.
Special Teams Overview: For the twelfth consecutive year Denver's special teams will be led by kicker Jason Elam, who signed a new long-term contract with the team last year. Elam ranks among the NFL's elite kickers having scored more than 100 points in each of his first 11 seasons, and currently holds all franchise records for total points with 1,313. His accuracy from both long and short range has kept Denver in a majority of the their games over the past few seasons, and should the offense struggle inside the red zone, Elam's a sure bet. Throw in kick returners Reuben Droughns and Triandos Luke and the Broncos have the makings of a fairly strong special teams unit.
The Denver Broncos will advance in the playoffs for the first time in the post Elway era, provided they can stay relatively healthy. This year's talent, desire and abilities combine to give the Broncos a legitimate shot at reaching the big dance.
|2004 KANSAS CITY CHIEFS|
Nick Athan, WarPaintIllustrated.Com
Last Year's Record (13-3) First AFC West
Last Playoff Appearance (January 2004)
Projected Finish (First AFC West & AFC Champions)
Key Games: 09/12/04 @ Denver Broncos, 10/4/04 @Baltimore Ravens, 10/31/03 vs. Indianapolis Colts, 11/22/04 vs. New England Patriots, 12/13/04 @Tennessee Titans, 12/19/04 vs. Denver Broncos, 12/25/2004 vs. Oakland Raiders.
Star Power: Running Back Priest Holmes (8th Year), Tight End Tony Gonzalez (8th Year), Guard Will Shields (12th Year), Quarterback Trent Green (11th Year), Tackle Willie Roaf (12th Year), Safety Greg Wesley (5th Year), Safety Jerome Woods (9th Year).
Notable Additions: Tackle John Welbourn (Trade Philadelphia Eagles), Guard John Bober (UFA New York Giants), Lional Dalton (UFA Washington Redskins), Wide Receiver Richard Smith (Undrafted Free Agent Arkansas), Punter Steve Cheeks Trade Houston Texans, Kicker Lawrence Tynes (UFA CFL), Defensive Coordinator Gunther Cunningham (Linebackers Coach Tennessee Titans).
Notable Subtractions: Tackle John Tait (Chicago Bears), Morten Andersen (Released 04-signed w/Minnesota Vikings.
Notable Returnees: Defensive End Erik Hicks, Safety Jerome Woods, Defensive Tackle John Browning, Cornerback William Bartee and Safety Greg Wesley.
Offensive Overview: When Dick Vermeil took the head coaching job back in 2001, he knew that the team he left; the St. Louis Rams was the 'Greatest Show on Turf' but the offensive juggernaut he put together in Kansas City includes six pro-bowl performers that can score at anytime from anywhere on the field. Quarterback Trent Green has been razor shape in the pre-season and running back Priest Holmes has set his sights on Eric Dickerson's rushing mark. Tight End Tony Gonzalez will be even bigger in the Chiefs offense this season especially with the wrath of injuries that their wide receiver corps has dealt with in the pre-season. Dante Hall will see more action at wide receiver and look out for undrafted free agent receiver Richard Smith out of Arkansas. He has the tools, speed and intelligence to be an impact performer this season for the Chiefs. Backed by the best offensive line in the NFL, the newest member of the 'Five Horseman' John Welbourn fits the mold of outstanding tackle. The loss of John Tait hurt but Welbourn has a mean streak that Tait couldn't match. The Chiefs led the NFL in scoring in 2003 and nothing short of an injury to one of the big three, (Green, Holmes & Gonzalez) could prevent that from happening this year.
Defensive Overview: When defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham decided to comeback to Kansas City to overlook, reshape and instill an attitude that had long since disappeared when he left as head coach four years ago, he vowed that the Chiefs defense would indeed play like they did back in the 90's. That might be a tough task considering the Chiefs didn't add any big time free agents and re-signed all of their veterans on a defense that was one of the leagues worst the last two seasons. There is little doubt that the team has talent and Cunningham has to get the most out of each player so this team can be a middle of the pack defense. With the Chiefs offense virtually unstoppable, the defense simply needs to stop the opponents several times a half and that should be good enough to get the Chiefs deep in the playoffs. Linebacker Mike Maslowski is out for the season and third sting linebacker Monte Beisel takes over in the middle until second year linebacker Kawika Mitchell is fully recovered from a severe ankle sprain. Up front, veteran Erik Hicks has been lights out in the exhibition season at defensive end, fourth round rookie Jared Allen could be a force on the other side. But the key to the teams defense is former first round draft pick defensive tackle Ryan Sims. The much-maligned Sims was forced to play in a defense that does not maximize his skills and Cunningham knows that Sims is better suited to attack the gaps. In the backfield cornerbacks Eric Warfield and Dexter McCleon give the defense two capable corners that can play solid bump and run. The downside to the defense is depth where rookies and unproved veterans will be forced to learn fast so the starters can get a breather.
Special Teams Overview: With the "Human Joystick' on the prowl, no team is safe in the kicking game. Dante Hall nearly made NFL history in 2003 when he nearly scored a touchdown via kick-off or punt returns in five consecutive games. He settled by scoring in four straight games and his 92-yard hail-marry against the Denver Broncos was the most electrifying moment in Arrowhead History. The Chiefs enter 2004 with unproven Kicker Lawrence Tynes, who was the CFL's best kicker last year and rookie punter Steve Cheeks. Tyne takes over for 44-year old veteran Morten Andersen who lost considerable leg strength and range in the off-season. Tynes routinely blasts 60-yard field goals in practice and Cheeks has the ability to punt the leather off the ball. Still it's a risk to go into the season with two unknowns at valuable positions. But the Chiefs had little choice and time will tell if they made the right moves.
The Kansas City Chiefs will go to the Super Bowl if...... the defense finishes the season ranked near the middle of the pack (no less than 15th). The offense could be even better especially when rookie tight end Kris Wilson returns in the second half of the season and fourth round draft pick Samie Parker can turn his sprinters speed into long gainers and fellow rookie Richard Smith can parlay his great pre-season and become a go-to-guy for Trent Green. Then the Chiefs with a rookie kicker hope that Lawrence Tynes can become the next Nick Lowery and his playoff performances are better than those of Lin Elliott.
|2004 OAKLAND RAIDERS|
Vince D'Adamo, SilverandBlack.Com
Last Season's Record: 4-12, tied for third in AFC West
Last Play Off Appearance: 2002
Key matchup(s): September 26 vs. Tampa Bay (ESPN), 5 p.m.; October 17 vs. Denver (CBS), 1:15 p.m.; November 28 at Denver (ESPN), 5:30 p.m.; December 5 vs. Kansas City (CBS), 1:05 p.m.; December 25 at Kansas City (CBS), 2 p.m.
Star Power: Charles Woodson, CB, seventh season, 6-1, 200; Jerry Rice, WR, 20th season, 6-2, 200; Jerry Porter, WR, fifth season, 6-2, 220; Rich Gannon, QB, 17th season, 6-3, 210.
Notable Additions: Warren Sapp, DT (Tampa Bay), 6-2, 300; Ted Washington, DT (New England), 6-5, 365; Bobby Hamilton, DE (New England), 6-5, 280; Danny Clark, LB (Jacksonville), 6-2, 250; Ray Buchanan, S (Atlanta), 5-9, 185; Marques Anderson, S (Green Bay), 5-11, 210; David Terrell, S, (Washington), 6-0, 190; Ron Stone, G (San Francisco), 6-5, 325; Amos Zereoue, RB (Pittsburgh), 5-8, 210; Roland Williams TE (Tampa Bay), 6-5, 265; Kerry Collins, QB (New York Giants).
Notable Subtractions: WR Tim Brown, DE Trace Armstrong, LB Eric Barton, DT Rod Coleman, S Anthony Dorsett, RB Charlie Garner, LB Eric Johnson, OT Lincoln Kennedy, QB Rick Mirer, LB Bill Romanowski, TE O.J. Santiago, CB Terrance Shaw, OT Matt Stinchcomb, DT Dana Stubblefield.
Notable Returnees: Napoleon Harris, LB, third season, 6-2, 255; Tyler Brayton, DE, second season, 6-6, 280; Tyrone Wheatley, RB, tenth season, 6-0, 235; Zack Crockett, FB, tenth season, 6-2, 240; Langston Walker, OT, third season, 6-8, 345; Barry Sims, OT, sixth season, 6-5, 300; Adam Treu, C, 6-5, 300, eighth season; Frank Middleton, G, eighth season, 6-4, 330.
Offensive Overview: No more West Coast offense featuring short-to-intermediate passes. First-year head coach Norv Turner will employ the power-running game and vertical passing attack. The offense has the potential and its share of questions. The good news is that the Raiders addressed the offensive line needs by drafting tackle Robert Gallery and center Jake Grove and signing free agent guard Ron Stone. Oakland has experienced depth at quarterback behind its line in Rich Gannon, Kerry Collins and Marques Tuiasosopo. Tim Brown's release clears the way for fifth-year man Jerry Porter to be the go-to guy opposite Jerry Rice. Porter has the size at 6-2, 220 and speed to be the deep threat the Raiders have lacked recently but can he stay healthy and consistent? Which Gannon will the Raiders see -- the 1999-2002 edition or the Kurt Warner-like meltdown of last season? Turner likes the power-running game and one featured back but are any of the current guys a realistic fit? Can the combination of Tyrone Wheatley, Amos Zereoue and Justin Fargas be an effective replacement for Charlie Garner? Oakland had better hope so. Wheatley is the closest the Raiders have to a workhorse capable of logging 15-20 carries but he has not performed in that capacity since 2000. Most importantly, the Raiders need a healthy line. Left tackle Barry Sims was the lone starter not to miss a game due to injury. Gannon's season-ending shoulder injury and the line's rash of health problems helped last year go to hell in hand basket at 4-12.
Defensive Overview: The Raiders underwent a massive makeover on this side of the ball as only four starters return from last season. Oakland also has a new coordinator in Rob Ryan. The last time Oakland underwent this much change was 2002 when nine new starters came aboard and the team reached its first Super Bowl in 19 years. The current changes look good on paper but expecting a repeat of that trend is a longshot. The run defense and pass rush were very problematic last season and figure to be better in 2004. Nonetheless, the changes also come with their share risks. The Raiders addressed their defensive line needs by signing tackles Ted Washington and Warren Sapp along with end Bobby Hamilton. Oakland also welcomes back a healthy tackle in John Parrella. Defensive end Tyler Brayton figures to be much better in his second season. Which Washington are the Raiders getting? The difference maker that helped New England win the Super Bowl or the one that will get injured? Which Sapp is Oakland getting? The dominant one of his first six NFL seasons or the one that has declined the last three? Ryan is shaping the Raiders into a 3-4 defense but how quickly can it mesh? Another potential problem with the 3-4 is that a line backing corps that was average to begin with got weaker by losing Eric Barton to free agency. Can Ray Buchanan, a convert from cornerback, be a top-flight free safety in place of Rod Woodson? How soon can cornerback Charles Woodson be ready after a 33-day contractual holdout? Special Teams Overview: We know the Raiders can kick the ball and return kicks but will they be any better at covering them? That is a big reason why Bob Casullo is no longer the special teams coach. Joe Avezzano, who replaced Casullo, is a three-time winner of the
Special Teams Coach of the Year and will have little tolerance for players lacking discipline. Very few teams can surpass the Raiders kicker-punter combination of Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler. Oakland also boasts a dynamic punt returner in Phillip Buchanon and should be formidable in kickoff returns with Doug Gabriel and/or Carlos Francis. Extra linebackers on the roster, part of the coverage problem. Better tackling and discipline, however, need to happen as well.
Projection: The Raiders will make the playoffs if their rushing offense and defense against the run can finish no worse than in the top eight of the NFL. Oakland, however, underwent a lot of change and much has to go right to make the postseason. Keep in mind, the AFC West still contains Denver and Kansas City. The Raiders will be a much better club but will just miss the postseason.
|2004 SAN DIEGO CHARGERS|
Denis Savage, SDBoltReport.Com
Last Season's Record: 4-12 (4th place in AFC West, Last in Conference)
Last Play Off Appearance: 1995
Key matchup(s): vs. Oakland, October 31, 2004 (Halloween)
Star Power: LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, 4th year, 5-10, 221 lbs.
Notable Additions: Steve Foley (Houston), Randall Godfrey (Seattle), Mike Goff (Cincinnati), Roman Oben (acquired via trade with Tampa Bay)
Notable Subtractions: David Boston (traded to Miami), Marcellus Wiley, eight of eleven offensive linemen from 2003
Notable Returnees: Donnie Edwards, Lorenzo Neal, Antonio Gates
Offensive Overview: Drew Brees will start the season as the starter with rookie quarterback Philip Rivers waiting in the wings. The staple of a Marty Schottenheimer run offense is ball control and LaDainian Tomlinson is a premiere back in the league. He will get his yards despite defenses stacking the box. Brees has not been able to relieve the pressure up front with a downfield passing game in the past but has looked like a new man this year. Still the offense will go only as far as Tomlinson can take them. He was their top receiver from a year ago with 100 receptions and Antonio Gates is the only other weapon they have from a receiver standpoint.
Defensive Overview: The Chargers will make the switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4. Their linebackers are athletic enough for the move but there will be some struggles in learning the new scheme. More pressure up front will help the young secondary which was torched for 36 touchdowns a year ago. Laden with draft picks that came out of the top three rounds, the secondary has to make strides for this team to improve. They favor the bump-and-run and can make big plays if there is finally pressure up front to force the issue.
Special Teams Overview: Everyone is new. Mike Scifres takes over the punting for the departed Darren Bennett and in preseason had just one of his 15 punts returned. Third round pick Nate Kaeding will handle placekicking duties and hopes to bring some distance that Steve Christie was incapable of. Undrafted rookie Wes Welker made a splash in preseason and will handle the return duties. He returned an NCAA record eight for touchdowns at his alma mater, Texas Tech.
The San Diego Chargers will win five games with Drew Brees under center. They own one of the toughest schedules in the league and do not have the talent on offense to compete in an offensive driven National Football League.