7. RB Travis Henry, Denver
The Broncos are known for annually fielding the NFL's most consistent running game, but they may be even tougher to stop this year. Last season they split the majority of the carries between the underachieving Tatum Bell (now in Detroit) and un-drafted rookie Mike Bell, but still managed to rank in the top 10 in rushing offense. What will they do with a much more talented back like free agent acquisition Travis Henry?
Don't count on Kansas City holding Denver to 38 yards rushing in either game this season. Henry rushed for 1,211 yards behind an average line in Tennessee last season and will surely exceed that number as a Bronco. Mike Shanahan will still feed Mike Bell a few carries, but Henry will be the main attraction. His ability to break tackles and kick it into another gear when he gets into the secondary will make Denver's running game lethal. He'll also take pressure off second-year quarterback Jay Cutler, whose strong arm might just make teams pay if they stack the line to stop Henry.
8. DE Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis
It might seem foolish to pass over Peyton Manning in this spot, but given his history against Ty Law and the improvements in Kansas City's defense this offseason, we'll switch to the other side of the ball. Freeney had a down year in 2006 (only 5.5 sacks), but dominated the Chiefs in the playoff game (two sacks and a forced fumble) and will surely return to form if he stays healthy, unlike a year ago.
Kansas City might be able to contain Freeney in Arrowhead Stadium, but this game will be played in the RCA Dome. How will Damion McIntosh, KC's new left tackle, handle the noise? It was a long time ago, but Chiefs fans may remember McIntosh (as a Charger) allowing Vonnie Holliday of all people to record three sacks in Arrowhead Stadium. The noise was a factor that day. McIntosh isn't exactly Willie Roaf, so it will be a challenge keeping Brodie Croyle upright this week.
9. QB Vince Young, Tennessee
Remember Aaron Brooks almost willing the Raiders to victory at Arrowhead in Week 11 last season? His scrambling ability almost pulled off the upset. Vince Young proved a year ago that outside of Michael Vick, he's the most dangerous running quarterback in the NFL. How will the Chiefs defend him in Week 15?
For starters, they better hope every starting linebacker is healthy. Kansas City will need every bit of Derrick Johnson's speed to contain Young when he runs to his right. The Cover 2 defense will give KC's corners the opportunity to come up and stop Young in the flats, so they'll need to bring their best tackling form to the field on this day. Fortunately the Titans lost their best wide receiver (Drew Bennett) and running back (Henry) in the offseason, so Young might be overmatched in Arrowhead.
10. RB LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego
In the past, Kansas City has done a decent job of stopping Tomlinson. Then Tamba Hali called San Diego a "finesse" team early last season, and Tomlinson responded with 199 yards in the next meeting. There was some bad blood between the Chiefs and Chargers last season for the first time in years, and I see no reason why the feud won't continue in 2007.
As if that wasn't enough, the Chargers had to go and hire Norv Turner. Say what you want about his head-coaching record, but the man knows offense. With a seasoned Philip Rivers at the helm, San Diego's offense will be at least as good as it was a year ago, when it led the NFL in scoring. If Turner can do for Tomlinson what he did for Emmitt Smith in Dallas, the Chiefs will have their hands full twice next season.
11. WR Roy Williams, Detroit
Cincinnati's Chad Johnson was mentioned as the NFL's top wideout in the first half of this article. Williams is right behind him, even with Jon Kitna as his quarterback. The Lions may have a horrible defense, but their offense can ignite quickly thanks to Mike Martz and his dominating wide receiver.
Neither of KC's corners can stay with Williams in man coverage. I wouldn't trust Bernard Pollard or Jarrad Page to contain him, either. This is a scary, scary matchup in Week 16, especially since the Lions may be playing the role of spoiler at this juncture.
12. DT Warren Sapp, Oakland
Two seasons ago I thought Warren Sapp was a washed-up veteran playing out the last dregs of his career with a bad football team. That statement's only half true. The Raiders are horrible, but Sapp is far from washed up. With 10 sacks a year ago, he's still one of the best pass-rushing defensive tackles in the NFL.
Oakland's offense may be the league's worst again this year, but the defense will probably be even better than it was a year ago. And so will Sapp. He's trimmed down to around 285 pounds. That means a quicker, fresher Sapp, and that's trouble for NFL offensive linemen. John Welbourn will definitely have his hands full twice next season, especially with the up-and-coming Terdell Sands lining up next to Sapp.
The Dirty Dozen – Part II
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