2011 AFC West Preview

Jon Kinsman, YFFL Commissioner

September 02, 2011

The AFC West was a strange division in 2010, thanks in large part to the futility of the Eaters. It featured three of the league's five lowest scoring teams, yet yielded only one team with a losing record. The Thugs were clearly the class of the division and as it turned out, the rest of the league, as they captured their second Super Bowl title. They return as strong as ever, but they'll face a tougher challenge...from the unlikeliest of sources.

Team Capsules

Market Thugs

Peyton Hillis

We haven't seen a back-to-back champion for 10 seasons, but the Thugs have the best chance of any team in years. Sporting depth at every position, the Thugs will open Week 1 with Matt Cassel, LeGarrette Blount and Austin Collie on their BENCH. Any of these players would be starters on half the teams in the league. The credit can go to Bobby Sansone's masterful ownership last season. Between drafting Mike Williams, acquiring undrafted free agents Peyton Hillis and Blount, and trading Ryan Grant for Cassel, Sansone has built a team that will compete for many years to come. However, the Thugs aren't without worries. The secret to their success last season was the emergence of new stars. Hillis, Williams, Blount, Collie, Ahmad Bradshaw, Dwayne Bowe...nearly every player on their roster had a breakthrough season last year. The question now is whether they can duplicate those feats. Luckily, the Thugs have the depth to weather even several backslides. The AFC West is much improved, but the champs are still the class of this division.

Projected Record: 9-4

Apple Eaters

Percy Harvin

Hope springs eternal. The beauty of any new season is that every team starts with exactly the same record. The fact that the Eaters won only one game and lost nearly half the roster to injury last season and only had 11 active players to keep at the beginning of this one means nothing when the season opens on Thursday. Instead, the Eaters feature the most dynamic quarterback in the league (Michael Vick), the 2011 Draft's top pick (Mark Ingram), a returning superstar receiver (Vincent Jackson), an emerging star that is now his team's #1 receiver (Percy Harvin) and a former #1 overall pick that is ready to reignite his career (Reggie Bush). Last season was a nightmare for the Eaters, so even a handful of victories would be a moral victory. The Eaters shock the world and compete for a playoff spot.

Projected Record: 7-6

Ludke's Merry Men

Ray Rice

Brett Favre and Terrell Davis. Peyton Manning and Marshall Faulk. Rich Gannon and Priest Holmes. An elite quarterback and running back duo have taken many YFFL teams to the promised land. The Merry Men hope that Matthew Stafford and Ray Rice are next in line. For that to happen, Stafford (3 games in 2010) needs to stay healthy and Rice (3 TDs in 2010) needs to find the end zone. A tumultuous offseason for Steve's supporting cast makes Stafford and Rice even more important. Sidney Rice is now in Seattle with questionable quarterback play, Pierre Thomas finds himself in an even more crowded Saints backfield, and Jeremy Maclin suffered a mysterious illness that kept him out of camp for a prolonged period. All this leaves the Merry Men with the dreaded "two TE set" (albeit with two emerging youngsters) and plenty of question marks. The Merry Men score more points than last year, but fall victim to a tough schedule.

Projected Record: 7-6

Burger Buddies

Peyton Manning

Sometimes you don't see the cracks in the foundation until the building falls down. At face value, the Buddies finished 7-6 last season and were in the playoff hunt all season. But look a little closer and you'll see that they were the fourth lowest scoring team in the league and didn't have a RB or WR that finished in the top 20 at their position. The culprit yet again - Peyton Manning. Number two on the league's all-time scoring list, Manning has played in exactly 1 YFFL playoff game since 2001 as he perpetuates the Manning Curse across the league. Now he's coming off neck surgery and has one of the weakest supporting casts of his career. Beanie Wells has disappointed but received a stay of execution in Arizona when Ryan Williams went down. He will be their top RB. At receiver, Pierre Garcon leads a corps full of question marks. Plaxico Burress is coming off a jail sentence and Roy Williams is now in Chicago, but several years removed from a 30+ point season. Manning is always good for a few extra wins, but do the Buddies want them? With Josh Freeman waiting in the wings, it's time for Manning to haunt a new team. If some of the veterans get off to good starts, the Buddies will be a major player at the trade deadline. This season's success won't be measured by number of wins, but rather, the number of 2012 draft picks they can acquire.

Projected Record: 4-9

Preseason Superlatives

Division MVP

Michael Vick, Eaters

The Eagles are all in on Vick and so are the Eaters. After trading Tony Romo in the offseason, Vick is the unquestioned starter and the single biggest factor in rescuing the Eaters from the doldrums of a 1-win season a year ago. Surrounded by weapons, boasting all the speed of his youth and a much-improved passing ability, everything is in place for Vick to have a career year...if he stays on the field.

Most Underrated

Vincent Jackson, Eaters

Jackson's contract situation got ugly last year, then injuries slowed him when he finally returned. However, he was on the verge of becoming one of the league's finest receivers two years ago and still has the talent to get back there as evidenced by his 3-TD performance when he finally got on the field in last year's Stupor Bowl. Expect a big season from Jackson, who will be yet another piece of the Eaters' return to glory.

Most Overrated

Matt Schaub, Thugs

In many ways, the Thugs are a great team in spite of their quarterback. At the controls of the Texans' high-scoring offense and with Andre Johnson to look for downfield, you would think that Schaub would post huge numbers, but he scored 6 or fewer points in half of his starts last year. With the emergence of Arian Foster as a top NFL back, Matt Cassel may be the Thugs' signal caller by season's end.

Breakthrough Player

Matthew Stafford, Merry Men

There are really just two trajectories for Stafford to follow this season: become the franchise quarterback that the Merry Men thought they were drafting two seasons ago or forever be labeled an injury risk. He's looked healthy and fully in control of the offense during the preseason, so expectations are sky-high on East Elm Street - this is the year he stays on the field and pays off.

All-Division Team

QBMichael VickEaters
RBPeyton HillisThugs
RBRay RiceMerry Men
WRVincent JacksonEaters
WRDwayne BoweThugs
TEJason WittenThugs
KSebastian JanikowskiBuddies
UTMike WilliamsThugs