2017 AFC West division preview

2017 AFC West division preview

The NFL regular season is finally here. The season opener is tonight and the Chiefs and Patriots will be kicking off the 2017-18 NFL season. In the meantime, Hagan’s Haus will be bringing you the divisional previews and predictions of how teams will finish in their respective divisions. Without further ado, here is the 2017 AFC West division preview.

4: Los Angeles Chargers

2017 AFC West divison preview

(Photo Credit:http://www.spotrac.com)

Last season: 5-11

Strength of schedule: 3

The Chargers are heading in the right direction. Being in the AFC West is really the only thing holding them back.

When you look at the Chargers defense there is plenty to love. The defensive line is going to be terrifying to opposing offensive lines. Joey Bosa, Brandon Mebane, Corey Liuget and Melvin Ingram are going to cause nightmares. This front will dominate games and make the rest of the defense better.

The linebacking corp has a lot of questions to answer but won’t be required to be a special unit because of how good the defensive line and the secondary are. The secondary of the Los Angeles Chargers is one of the most underrated in the entire league. Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett are one of the best corner tandems in the NFL and helped the Chargers give up only 242.9 yards per game through the air.

As long as the offense doesn’t turnover the ball at the same rate as last season the Chargers defense will improve this season and make the team better as a whole. An improved defense can help Los Angeles close out games as they finished 1-8 in games decided by seven points or less.

Philip Rivers led this offense to some impressive numbers but the turnovers really hurt them. Rivers threw 21 interceptions on the season and the team averaged 2.2 turnovers per game. Despite the high volume of turnovers, the Chargers averaged the ninth most points in the NFL with 25.6 per game. Philip Rivers threw for 262.4 yards per game even though he lost his best receiver Keenan Allen early in the season. A healthy Allen could allow Rivers, and the rest of the Chargers offense, to a better 2017.

Turnovers weren’t the only problem with the Chargers, they struggled to run the ball. Los Angeles only managed to accumulate 94.4 yards on the ground. They can do much better with Melvin Gordan and a healthy offensive line.

Even with all the improvements the Chargers have made, they won’t see the results in the win column. They have the third hardest schedule in the league and it is because of their difficult division.

Prediction: 8-8 (2-4), wildcard candidate

losses: @Den, KC, @NYG, @Oak, @NE, @Jax, @Dal, @KC

3: Denver Broncos

2017 AFC West division preview

(Photo Credit: Gregory Payan/Associated Press)

Last season: 9-7

Strength of schedule: 1

When I predicted that the Broncos would finish third last season most called me crazy, some even called me dumb. Then the Broncos struggled and fell to third in the AFC West. The same will happen this season because Trevor Siemian is still going to be the signal caller. Even if he ends up being replaced, Paxton Lynch wouldn’t do much better. The Broncos will be wasting away their defense yet again this season.

Denver needs to run the ball more often to help Siemian. The Broncos only ran the ball 40.2 percent of the time last year. As a result, the Broncos averaged 92.8 rush yards per game. C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles need to remain healthy so that the running game can take off.

Another problem with the Broncos offense is their line. Denver lost Russell Okung but his injury history makes the loss manageable. To improve upon the unit the Broncos drafted Garrett Bolles. Matt Paradis is one of the best centers in the league and will have to be the anchor that gets this unit going. The Broncos’ passing attack was abysmal as well, ranking 21st. Because of the deficiencies on offense, Denver only managed to score 20.8 points per game.

Last season the vaunted Bronco defense struggled to stop the run. Denver had the fifth worst rush defense in the league, allowing 130.3 yards per game. The addition of Domata Peko should help solve this issue. The rest of the defense is still loaded. Von Miller helped lead the Broncos to 42 sacks as a team, good enough for third in the NFL. Denver still only managed to allow 18.6 points per game. Expect them to maintain this standard and give up anywhere from 17 to 20 points per game.

The defense will continue to be earth shattering against the pass but without being able to stop the run they can’t remain elite. The lack of a running game and no real threat throwing the ball means the Broncos are in for another difficult season. They also have the hardest schedule in the NFL. The defense is the only chance this team has at making the playoffs.

Prediction: 9-7 (3-3), wildcard candidate

losses: Dal, @NYG, @LAC, @KC, @Phi, @NE, @Oak

2: Kansas City Chiefs

2017 AFC West division preview

(Photo Credit: David Eulitt The Kansas City Star)

Last season: 12-4

Strength of schedule: 2

As is every year, Andy Reid will have his team in playoff contention. The Chiefs have a great defense that will lead the way. The offense is typically average but will have a few more playmakers this season. If the Chiefs can navigate the second hardest schedule in the league, they will make the playoffs as a wildcard team.

Alex Smith receives backlash but led the Chiefs offense to the 13th best offense in the NFL averaging 24.3 points per game. Kansas City didn’t do anything great but did things consistently.  They ranked 18th in third down conversion percentage (38 percent), 15th in rushing yards (109.2 per game) and 19th in passing yards (233.8 per game).

The injury to Spencer Ware will force Kareem Hunt to be the workhorse but he is fully capable. Similar to the rest of the offense, the offensive line is ranked in the middle of the pack. Tyreek Hill will be so explosive that he will open up the running game and the middle of the field for Travis Kelcie. Alex Smith will be more than a game manager this season as a result.

The real strength of the Chiefs is their defense. Kansas City only gave up 19.4 points per game despite losing top defenders Derrick Johnson and Justin Houston. What Kansas City really excelled at was red zone defense and forcing turnovers. The Chiefs only allowed points in the red zone 49.1 percent of the time. They also led the league with 2.1 takeaways per game. Kansas City will build upon this.

The Chiefs will continue to play Super Bowl caliber defense and the offense will be much more explosive. The second toughest schedule is what will cause problems, that and the emergence of the Oakland Raiders. Chiefs will likely make the playoffs but not win the division.

Prediction: 10-6 (4-2), wildcard candidate

losses: @NE, @Hou, @Oak, @Dal, @NYG, @Den

1: Oakland Raiders

2017 AFC West division preview

(Photo Credit: https://www.si.com)

Last season: 12-4

Strength of schedule: 4

Here come the Raiders. After a decade of sitting in the gutter, the Raiders are finally built for success. The only thing holding back Oakland from a Super Bowl is health.

Heading into this season the Raiders offense is poised to be one of the top units in the NFL. Derek Carr has completed 60.9 percent of his passes and thrown for 81 touchdowns to just 31 interceptions in his career. Carr still has Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree to throw the ball out to. They also added tight end, Jared Cook. Cook is a dangerous threat but can’t stay healthy.

The Raiders also signed Oakland native Marshawn Lynch. Lynch took a season off so he should be fresh to continue his beast mode persona this season. Oakland averaged 26 points per game last season and will be somewhere around that mark this season. As long as they stay healthy they will have one of the best offenses.

To make it to the Super Bowl the defense will have to step up their play. The Raiders defensive along gave up 24.1 points per game. Oakland struggled in giving up yards as well, ranking 26th in total yards (375.1 per game), 23rd rushing yards (117.6 per game) and 24th in passing yards (257.5 per game). The Raiders spent their first three picks on the defensive side of the ball to address these defensive woes.

(Photo Credit: http://www.sportsworldreport.com)

Oakland must improve in getting to the quarterback. They ranked 32nd in the NFL in sacks, accumulating just 25 for the season. Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and newly acquired Jelani Jenkins have to be better for the silver and black to get to the big game.

The Raiders are poised for a great season. They won 12 games last season and won’t win that many because of the difficult schedule. Still, 11 wins will be enough to win the division and set the Oakland Raiders up for a possible Super Bowl Run.

Prediction: 11-5 (4-2), division champion

losses: @Den, @Buf, @Mia, @KC, @LAC

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Super Bowl series 2017: AFC West

Super Bowl Series 2017: AFC West

Football is right around the corner and The Game Haus is going to get you ready for the 2017-18 NFL season. The Super Bowl series is going to explain how every team in the NFL can win Super Bowl LII. The Super Bowl series will be divided into eight editions, one for each division. This is the eighth, and final edition, Super Bowl series: AFC West.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs are entirely overlooked and it is egregious. Andy Reid has done incredibly well so far in Kansas City. Reid has gone 43-21 and the Chiefs have made the playoffs in three of his four seasons.

The only thing missing is the playoff success and thus a Super Bowl victory. Kansas City is just 1-3 in the playoffs during the Reid era. That can change this season as the Chiefs look to make a run at Super Bowl LII.

Kansas City is a team that wades in the water like a shark and out of nowhere will sneak up and attack you. Alex Smith gets the hate while the defense gets all the love but the Chiefs averaged 24.3 points per game last season, which was 13th best in the NFL. The Chiefs were able to get out in front of teams early, scoring the eighth most first half points with 12.8 per game.

Super Bowl series 2017: AFC West

(Photo Credit:http://www.kansascity.com/)

The Chiefs weren’t special on offense but they were consistent. They ranked 18th in third down conversion percentage (38 percent), 15th in rushing yards (109.2 per game) and 19th in passing yards (233.8 per game). Again, the offense wasn’t spectacular but they are wrongfully accused of costing this team successful playoff runs.

There is still room for growth. The offense can help the defense out even more by running more plays to keep that stellar defense rested. The Chiefs ranked 27th last season averaging 61.9 plays per game. An effective rushing attack is one of the best ways to run more plays.

Kansas City has added veteran running back C.J. Spiller and rookie running back Kareem Hunt in hopes of improving the offense, but Spencer Ware should be the feature back. This offense has been consistent and as long as they improve just a tiny bit, the Chiefs can remain Super Bowl contenders.

In the Reid era, the Chiefs have averaged 27.5 points per game in the playoffs. They also lost a playoff game to the Colts, 45-44. Anytime a team scores 44 points, they should win. As much blame as this offense gets, they have performed well enough to win games in the postseason.

Stepping away from the offense, the Chiefs are truly Super Bowl contenders because of their defense. Despite losing Justin Houston after five games and Derrick Johnson after 13, the Chiefs were able to rank seventh in points allowed per game at 19.4.

The reason the Chiefs were good on defense wasn’t that they held teams to low amounts of yardage; they actually were bad at allowing yards. They ranked 24th in total yards (368.5 per game), 26th in rushing (121.1 per game) and 18th in passing (247.4 per game).

What Kansas City really excelled at was red zone defense and forcing turnovers. The Chiefs only allowed points in the red zone 49.1 percent of the time. They also led the league with 2.1 takeaways per game. There can be improvements made in how much yardage allowed but if the Chiefs can continue forcing turnovers along with getting stops in the red zone, then the Chiefs can remain a top-tier defensive team.

In order to win the Super Bowl, Kansas City must get home-field advantage. They are 18-7 at home in the past three seasons. They must also get over the tough schedule that includes New England, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Dallas outside of the division, plus Oakland and Denver twice each.

If the Chiefs can navigate this schedule and make the playoffs, the offense needs to continue averaging 27.5 points per game and the defense must remain elite. Doing all of this will mean that Arrowhead will be home to the Super Bowl LII champions.

Oakland Raiders

The Oakland Raiders were legitimate Super Bowl contenders last season but the injury bug bit at the worst time. Derek Carr broke his leg in week 16 and just like his leg, the Raiders playoff chances were shattered.

Offensive tackle Donald Penn also went down and if the Raiders can remain healthy at their key positions, then they have one of the best shots in the league to win Super Bowl LII.

In order to win the Super Bowl, the Raiders must improve defensively along with remaining healthy. The Raiders gave up 24.1 points per game and the problem was that they struggled in the second half of games.

Oakland ranked 29th in second half points, allowing 13.4 per game. The Raiders struggled in yardage as well, ranking 26th in total yards (375.1 per game), 23rd rushing yards (117.6 per game) and 24th in passing yards (257.5 per game). The Raiders spent their first three picks on the defensive side of the ball to address these defensive woes.

Super Bowl series 2017: AFC West

(Photo Credit: http://www.sportsworldreport.com)

Part of the reason they struggled so much defensively was that they couldn’t get off the field on third down. Opponents converted 39.4 percent of the time against the Raiders on third down. If they can fix this, it will improve their entire defense.

Fixing their third down defense starts with getting to the quarterback which the Raiders were the worst at. Oakland ranked 32nd in the NFL in sacks, accumulating just 25 for the season. Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and newly acquired Jelani Jenkins must make a bigger impact in rushing the quarterback.

Oakland must also find some discipline. The Raiders ranked dead last in both penalties (9.2 per game) and penalty yardage (77.9 per game). Without these improvements, the Raiders won’t be capable of making deep postseason runs.

The strength of the Raiders is, without question, their offense which averaged 26 points per game. Oakland seemed to get better as the game went on, averaging the fifth most points in the second half with 13.6. The Raiders had no trouble racking up the yardage either, averaging 373.3 yards per game.

They can thank their surprisingly good rushing attack. Oakland ran for the sixth most yards in the NFL last season with 120.1 per game. Adding Marshawn Lynch to the mix should improve this number and make the entire offense even better.

Oakland had the 13th best aerial attack in the NFL, throwing for 253.2 yards per game. Derek Carr has been exceptional and has also been given solid targets to throw to. His two main targets, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, combined for 176 receptions, 2,156 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.

The Raiders decided Carr needed more and added talented receiving tight end Jared Cook and explosive wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.

Cook has struggled to remain healthy but has been effective when on the field. Patterson has been to the Pro Bowl as a returner but had a solid season catching 74.3 percent of the balls thrown his way last season. These two weapons could really push Oakland’s passing attack to the next level.

The only improvements the Raiders need to make on offense is on third down and in the red zone. Oakland only converted 38.1 percent on third down. Extending drives can help the defense get rest and therefore, perform better.

Although the Raiders averaged 26 points, they only scored in the red zone 58.6 percent of the time. If they can improve this percentage, then the Raiders could easily average 30 or more points per game. If the Raiders do that, then the Lombardi Trophy is going back to the bay, baby.

Denver Broncos

There weren’t many who believed the Broncos would struggle last season but Denver stumbled to 9-7. Similar to recent years, Denver’s defense was spectacular but the offense was just too far behind. The loss of Peyton Manning was more painful than fans care to realize. Denver might have a Super Bowl defense, but without a quarterback to make big plays, the offense is going to hold this team back.

Let’s start off with what this team is known for, and that’s defense. The Broncos have a reputation for beating up quarterbacks. Denver ranked third in the NFL last season with 42 sacks. This helped them get off the field on third down as they forced a third down stop 63.6 percent of the time. Getting to the quarterback often, and quickly, helped the secondary allow just 185.8 yards passing per game. That was the best mark in the NFL.

Super Bowl series 2017: AFC West

(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Despite all the success against the pass, the Broncos did struggle against the run. Denver had the fifth worst rush defense in the league, allowing 130.3 yards per game. Altogether, Denver only allowed 316.1 yards per game and that resulted in allowing the fourth fewest points per game at 18.6.

In order to get back to the Super Bowl, Denver must clog up the running lanes. The Broncos have added Domata Peko at defensive tackle to help their run defense. Denver cannot depend on the play of the quarterback and therefore the defense must become elite in all facets of the game. All that is left to conquer is the run.

Offensively, the Broncos need to run the ball more often to make up for their quarterback play. Denver only ran the ball 40.2 percent of the time. This resulted in an average of 92.8 rush yards per game, sixth worst in the NFL. C.J. Anderson is a great back but has yet to play a full season in his career. Speaking of injury prone, the Broncos did add Jamaal Charles to the mix in the backfield as well. While neither can remain healthy on their own, maybe being paired together can help them stay healthy and turn Denver into a good running football team once again.

None of that will be possible without good offensive line play though. Losing Russell Okung isn’t a crushing blow because he had health problems anyway. This is why Denver drafted Garrett Bolles. Also, Matt Paradis is one of the best centers in the league and if he can lead the rest of the unit then Denver can improve their offense.

The Broncos’ passing attack was abysmal as well, ranking 21st. Because of the deficiencies on offense, Denver only managed to score 20.8 points per game. Either Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch need to grab ahold of the quarterback spot with force and prove they can be the franchise quarterback.

If neither of them can, rookie Chad Kelly could sneak in and become the man. No matter how the cookie crumbles, one of these quarterbacks needs to have a great season to help get the Broncos to the Super Bowl.

For everything to fall into place the Broncos, offensive line play must improve which in turn will help the running game improve. Denver needs a quarterback to solidify their spot as the franchise quarterback and lastly, the Denver defense needs to stop the run. If the Broncos can solve all these problems, they can win Super Bowl LII.

Los Angeles Chargers

Super Bowl series 2017: AFC West

(Photo Credit: http://eastvillagetimes.com)

The Chargers have left San Diego and are embarking on the journey to run Los Angeles. Due to a slew of injuries and a sub-par defense, the Chargers finished last season 5-11. That record didn’t indicate how good the team really was. The Chargers went 1-8 in games decided by seven points or less. Los Angeles can become a contender simply by winning these close games.

The Los Angeles Chargers are going be a much improved defensive team. For starters, Joey Bosa will be ready at the start of the season and he had 10.5 sacks in just 12 games as a rookie. They also added safety Tre Boston to help out in a secondary that gave up 242.9 yards per game through the air.

The defense also includes Corey Liuget, Brandon Mebane, Melvin Ingram, Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward. These are some really good players but they must play together to improve last year’s bad season.

Last year, the Chargers ranked 29th in the NFL in points, allowing 26.4 per game. It was so high because they really stunk in the second half of games. The Chargers gave up a total of 14.6 points per second half last season with 8.3 of those points coming in the fourth quarter.

The Chargers defense partly struggled just because the offense gave up 2.2 turnovers per game, which was worst in the NFL. The defense is really talented and if they don’t get put into bad situations due to turnovers, they will easily bring down that amount of points they give up.

Last year’s offense was really good aside from the turnovers. They averaged the ninth most points in the NFL with 25.6 per game. Philip Rivers’ aerial assault led the way. They averaged 262.4 yards through the air despite losing their best receiver Keenan Allen. A healthy Allen could allow Rivers to have a better 2017-18 campaign.

In order to really improve the offense, the Chargers must run the ball more effectively. They averaged 94.4 yards per game but a banged-up offensive line hurt their potential. The Chargers know that a better offensive line will improve everything. Los Angeles snatched offensive tackle Russell Okung from the division rival Broncos. They also drafted guard Forrest Lamp.

Improvement for the Chargers starts with the offense. Running the ball more and simply staying healthy will accomplish that. The defense will then be able to bring down a number of points they allow due to rest. Lastly, the Chargers special teams must stop shooting themselves in the foot with bad punts, missed field goals, botched snaps and just horrible coverage.

It will not be easy for the Chargers to make the playoffs, especially in their division. If they can make the improvements listed, then they will have a puncher’s chance. Once they get into the playoffs it is anybody’s trophy.

 

Thank you for checking out the Super Bowl series: AFC West. This was the final edition of the Super Bowl series and you can find the previous editions of the Super Bowl series here.

You can “Like” The Game Haus on Facebook and “Follow” us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles written by other great TGH writers along with Matthew!

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Los Angeles Chargers NFL 2017 Draft Profile

Los Angeles Chargers 2017 NFL Draft Profile

Welcome to day seven of TGH Draftmas. Today we look at the Los Angeles Chargers.

Chargers Summary

2017 will be a big year for the Los Angeles Chargers. To start, they are moving from 70,000-seat Qualcomm Stadium to 27,000-seat StubHub Center. They will be hoping that the move to Los Angeles will leave behind the disappointment of the 2016 season. Finishing with a 5-11 record and 1-5 against teams in their division, the Bolts will looking to rewrite the wrongs of 2016.

Gus Bradley Los Angeles Chargers

Chargers new Defensive Coach Gus Bradley during his time at Jacksonville. Courtesy of Jaguars.com

The main area of need will be solidifying the defense. The Chargers finished up with the fourth-worst defense in the NFL, giving up a whopping 26.4 points per game.

The Bolts have started to address these issues by picking up former Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley to be their defensive coordinator. Bradley will likely look to change the Chargers’ defense to a 4-3 set up, as oppose to their previous 3-4 set up.

As expected it has been a quiet free agency for Los Angeles, with a focus on resigning players rather than making any dramatic moves.

Having resigned Melvin Ingram, Jahleel Addae, Kellen Clemens and Damion Square, it seems as if the Chargers will focus on the draft to fill some holes.

The one move they have made is signing left tackle Russell Okung. The former Broncos man is a welcome addition to the Chargers offensive line and a nice upgrade over King Dunlap.

With sell-out crowds expected at the StubHub Center all season, fans will be hoping that they can get some game changers in the draft to propel them to victory.

Chargers Picks and Needs

The Chargers have seven picks in this draft. They will be hoping that they can use these to add some much-needed depth.

First round: (1) No. 7

Second Round: (1) No. 38

Third Round: (1) No. 71

Fourth Round: (1) No. 113

Fifth Round: (1) No. 151

Sixth Round: (1) No. 190

Seventh Round: (1) No. 225

With seven picks, Los Angeles will be hoping to lay the foundations for a strong season. The Chargers have a strong front four defensively, so they will likely look to solidify in the back field. On the offensive side, a long-term replacement for 35-year-old Philip Rivers may be picked up in the later rounds.

The situation with Keenan Allen still remains a concern as he has suffered major injuries in the last two seasons. A decision will need to be made on whether the Chargers still feel he is fit enough to be their number one receiver.

With this in mind, I will say the biggest needs in no particular order are:

Offense

Offensive Tackle

Quarterback – A long-term replacement for the aging Philip Rivers

Wide Receiver – A strong receiver could be a consideration depending on the fitness of Keenan Allen

Defense

Safety

Cornerback

Chargers Targets and Thoughts

Let’s take a look at the first three rounds. As with the other Draftmas profiles, there will be no trades.

First Round:

Malik Hooker Chargers Draft

Courtesy of Cleveland.com

Pick #7: Malik Hooker S, Ohio State

The Chargers need a safety, and Hooker is the best safety in the draft, so it’s a match made in heaven. Hooker provides a combination of athleticism, range and ball skills which will see him go early in the draft. If Hooker is picked up early by another team, expect to see Los Angeles turn to Jamal Adams from LSU.

Second Round:

Pick #38: DeShone Kizer QB, Notre Dame

Philip Rivers isn’t getting any younger. This would be the perfect time for the Bolts to pick up a future starter. Combine this with a weak class in terms of QB’s and the stage seems set for the Chargers to pick DeShone Kizer in the second round. If he is taken, Los Angeles may decide to abandon the quarterback selection and solidify the offensive line with options such as Cam Robinson and Roderick Johnson likely to be considered.

Third Round:

Pick #71: Taywan Taylor WR, Western Kentucky

Losing Keenan Allen to injury in the first game of last season left Los Angeles struggling with passing options. Considering they recently gave Allen a contract extension, it is likely that Los Angeles will look for a partner for Allen and Taywan Taylor seems like a good fit. With an impressive 1,730 yards and 17 touchdowns last year, Taylor seems like a perfect fit at the number two receiver spot.

Conclusion

2017 looks to be a year of rebuilding for the Los Angeles Chargers, as they try to win over the hearts and minds of the people of Los Angeles. They will likely look to lay the foundations for a strong 2018 by focusing more on depth than making any superstar additions.

Thank you for joining us on our seventh day of TGH Draftmas! Check back tomorrow where we will be bringing you the Draft Profile of the Carolina Panthers!

 

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Joe!

You can read all of the previous days of Draftmas below!

Draftmas Day 5: Tennessee Titans

Draftmas Day 6: New York Jets

NFL Free Agency

Early NFL Free Agency: Sneaky Good Moves

The game of quarterback musical chairs is snagging the headlines early in NFL free agency like every year. If you do not have a quarterback who is at least competent, you have no chance in this league. However, every position matters. Here is a look at some sneaky good moves in the beginnings of the free agent frenzy.

Phil Dawson: Arizona Cardinals

Phil Dawson

Photo: sportsoutwest.com

Yes folks, a kicker. Arizona lost five games by one possession and tied another during last year’s seven-win campaign. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed 11 combined field goals and extra points. These things are not entirely unrelated.

Meanwhile, 42-year-old Phil Dawson missed just four total kicks for the 49ers. As crazy as it sounds, this may be a pivotal move in Arizona’s quest to return to the postseason in 2017.

 

 

 

Ronald Leary: Denver Broncos

Ronald Leary

Photo: hngn.com

Whoever winds up taking snaps for the Broncos next year will have much more protection. This is a heck of a start. Leary did not allow a sack while starting 13 games in Dallas last year. He has been a stalwart on the best offensive line in football since 2014.

Denver’s ability to sack the opposing quarterback in recent years is well documented. In 2016, the Broncos had just two more total sacks than their opponents. That is crazy considering the Broncos have both Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.

Poor offensive line play is also one of the reasons Denver struggled to break 50 rushing yards in a game for parts of 2016. Do not be surprised if center Matt Paradis is the only starting offensive lineman that returns in 2017. Last year’s free agent offensive line signings of Donald Stephenson and Russell Okung proved to be disastrous for Denver.

To become legitimate Super Bowl contenders again, the Leary signing needs to be the first step in another massive offensive line overhaul in Denver. The Broncos have also added former Raiders offensive tackle Menelik Watson to the fold.

A.J. Klein: New Orleans Saints

A.J .Klein

Photo: zambio.com

As long as Drew Brees is in town, the Saints will always be able to score. However, they have finished outside the top 25 in total defense for three straight years. While a single player will not change that, Klein is a step in the right direction.

Playing behind Luke Kuechly limited Klein’s snaps in Carolina. When he did see the field, he was reasonably productive. Klein took part in 137 tackles in Carolina despite starting just 23 games in four seasons. Additionally, three years and $15 million is a fairly cheap price to pay a 25-year-old contributor from a division rival.

           

 

Kevin Zietler: Cleveland Browns

Kevin Zeitler

Photo: stripehype.com

It is no secret that the Browns need work everywhere, and the offensive line is no exception. Zietler was one of three early moves the Browns made up front. The former Bengal is now the highest-paid guard in NFL history.

While the contract numbers are eye-popping and the Browns have an alarming tendency to screw things up, signing a guard from a division rival who has given up just 11 total sacks in five seasons is never a bad move.

March is all about basketball. However, the NFL’s version of March Madness is certainly worth continuing to keep an eye on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Franchise Analysis – Denver Broncos

Entering the 2016 season, the Denver Broncos had one question: “Who will take over for the legendary Peyton Manning?” One could argue that the question still remains. Trevor Siemian proved to be a serviceable quarterback, but not capable of overcoming below average running back and offensive line play. Other than the quarterback position, where else do the Broncos need to improve to make another run at a Lombardi Trophy in 2017?

2016 Evaluation – Offense

The Broncos failed to pick up where they left off in the 2015 season. Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler both contributed to an offense that ranked 19th in points and 16th in yards. The offense dropped to 22nd in points and 27th in yards this season. Who carries the blame for such a decline? We’ve already outlined the quarterback regression, but let’s take a closer look.

Trevor Siemian proved he has limitations this season. Will the Broncos be able to elevate his play by improving his supporting cast this off season (Courtesy of; DenverBroncos.com).

If it wasn’t apparent last year, it should be now. Peyton Manning covered up a lot of holes on this team last season. Even in his diminished state, Manning’s mind and control of the offense allowed him to put the Broncos in the best play possible on every snap. When Manning played, he accounted for 16 of the 39 sacks allowed. He was able to call plays that wouldn’t ask the offensive line to block for four to six seconds. He was able to minimize the impact that his average to below average linemen had on the passing game.

Even with an upgrade at the left tackle position from Ryan Clady to Russell Okung, the Denver Broncos still struggled. The biggest hole in this starting unit was the right tackle Donald Stephenson. Using Pro Football Focus player rankings, Stephenson was rated as the 77th best tackle out of 78 qualified players. Stephenson was also rated as the worst pass-blocking tight end in football. No quarterback can have success when one of his tackles is constantly getting beat.

2016 Evaluation – Defense

One aspect of the Denver Broncos that was never in doubt, was their defense. As a whole, they ranked 4th in both points and yards allowed. The unquestioned strength of this defense is their secondary. Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. provide this defense with incredible flexibility. Talib is able to match up with the top tier receivers on the outside and Harris can lock down even the best slot receivers. When a defense doesn’t have to roll coverage to a player or exchange responsibilities in the secondary, they can focus on rushing the passer.

Sylvester Williams had a down year defending the run. Will the Broncos look to upgrade the nose tackle position, or hope Williams will bounce back in 2017? (Courtesy of; Predominatelyorange.com)

When Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, and the emerging Shane Ray are able to rush the passer, this defense is suffocating. However, they must get better at stopping the run. This defense, despite their greatness, was 28th in rushing yards allowed. In their 3-4 defense, the nose tackle must be able to occupy double teams and keep linemen from blocking linebackers. Sadly, Sylvester Williams was unable to do that. Williams ranked as the 106th best interior defender against the run out of 117 qualified players. Denver must upgrade their nose tackle in their base defense if they hope to have more opportunities to rush the passer in 2017.

Divisional Analysis

The best way to ensure a spot in the postseason is to win your division. What does this team need to ascend back to the top of the AFC West?

Clearly, Denver needs to have more production from the quarterback position. However, that doesn’t mean the position needs an upgrade. Trevor Siemian proved to be a serviceable quarterback and can absolutely play better with an improved supporting cast. They also have their 2016 first round pick, Paxton Lynch. What Siemian lacks in talent, Lynch has. With these two players on the roster, they don’t need to try and upgrade the position.

Outside of the right tackle position, Denver could benefit greatly by upgrading their tight end. In 2016 we saw Carson Wentz be productive with an average at best collection of receivers. While they may be better than my analysis, they certainly aren’t as talented as Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders. What allowed Wentz to succeed? He had a receiving first tight end that worked the middle of the field in Zach Ertz. Given that this team isn’t great in pass protection, an upgrade at tight end will allow whoever is starting to get the ball out of their hands quicker.

Some options in the draft include David Njoku from Miami, Gerald Everett from South Alabama, and Evan Engram from Ole Miss. I know I didn’t include O.J. Howard, but I don’t think Denver will use their first round pick on this position and Howard most likely won’t be available in the second round. If Denver wanted to use a day two or three pick to address this position, they could select Tyrone Swoopes from Texas or Eric Saubert from Drake University.

We talked previously about their lack of production from their nose tackle. Given the importance of that position in the 3-4 defense, they need to bring in another player. Given John Elway’s track record of acquiring defensive free agents, I could see them going that route instead of the draft to address this need.

PostSeason Prospects

There are certain criteria that can translate into post season success. Where did the Denver Broncos stack up to the rest of the league in 2016?

It’s almost incredible that this team won nine games and didn’t finish inside the top 20 at any of these critical criteria. What’s most telling is their third down conversion ranking. It goes beyond just third down. This statistic gives you an idea about their success on first and second down. Because they struggled so much to run the ball effectively on first and second down, they often faced longer third down attempts than most NFL offenses. Also, if you can’t convert on third down, you won’t have prolonged drives. Thus, their ranking of 28th in Time of Possession.

This defense is unbelievable. Despite having a bottom third offense, the Denver defense was top 10 in every relevant defensive metric. Of course, they were not good against the run. No team can just run the ball for four quarters. When teams put the ball in the air, most of the time, it fell incomplete or in the hands of a Broncos defender. If they can just be an average team against the run in 2017, they will find themselves in the post season.

2017 Predictions

There’s no reason to doubt that John Elway will address their needs this off season through the draft and free agency. I think they will absolutely find a way to get more production out of their quarterback, whoever it is. I do want to say, under no circumstances should they try and acquire Tony Romo. Yes, Romo is talented. He’s better than every quarterback on that team, but he isn’t a good fit. Putting an injury-prone quarterback, who’s older than 30, behind a suspect offensive line is foolish because they will have to give up substantial defensive assets to acquire Romo.

This team cannot sacrifice their defense to support their offense. Elway and company will do everything possible to put their team in the best position possible. Overall, I think it will be enough to get them back into the playoffs. I believe the Denver Broncos will finish 11-5 and second in the AFC West and enter the 2017 postseason as a Wild Card.

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