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Published on 08/03/2007 at Fri Aug 03 14:28.
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[Jay Cutler in practice]
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Date Position Winner
Fri, June 15 Receivers and Tight Ends DEN
Fri, June 22 Secondary DEN
Fri, June 29 Runningbacks SD
Fri, July 6 ***BroncoTalk BYE Week***
Fri, July 13 Linebackers SD
Fri, July 20 Offensive Line SD
Fri, July 27 Defensive Line SD
Fri, Aug 3 Quarterbacks  
Fri, Aug 10 Coaching Staffs  

The Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers are the frontrunners for the AFC West. It’s just that simple. As these AFC West Watch stories continue each week, it’s becoming more and more apparent that the Chiefs and Raiders will be clawing at only each other for divisional rankings. Today is the second-to-last week of this segment, and next week I will finish the rankings with the all-important Coaching Staff. In the meantime I hope to rank the Special Teams as a “side” story… but today, it’s the quarterbacks who are under debate. While the Raiders and Chiefs find themselves with new starters for their teams, the Chargers and Broncos return their signal caller from the end of last year.

Is there a more important position on a team than the quarterback? Very few teams have ever won a Super Bowl without a real stud at quarterback – as much as I’ve backed Jake Plummer over the years, I don’t think he was good enough to carry a team to that level of success. The entire offense depends on the quarterback being able to understand and execute every play that comes his way. It’s the reason I saved this segment for near the end – it’s so important to the success of the season, I needed as long as possible to swarm over the facts and make sure an early-offseason injury didn’t disrupt the rankings later.

And I’m done sitting on the fence about Jay Cutler. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I am INSANELY excited about his potential this year. While I’ve posted on the concerns about hyping him too much, I can’t help myself. On to the rankings.

1. Denver Broncos

[Jay Cutler]I struggled for a long time, trying to retain objectivity and resist the homerism in me to just pick the Broncos outright. I thought about how Philip Rivers made it to an AFC Pro Bowl last year. I thought about all the success he enjoyed as the Chargers moved to a 14-2 record. I thought about the accuracy, the passer rating, the touchdowns and the #1 offense in the NFL last year. But when it came down to it, I couldn’t get past this nagging thought in my head:

I believe Jay Cutler will be better than Philip Rivers this year.

And I think the rest of the fans in the AFC West fear the same thing. If the strong-armed, hugely talented kid from “The Ivy League of the South” doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what would. I believe Jay Cutler will be among the top 10 quarterbacks in the league this year. I ranked him at #6 in an earlier Top 10, behind only the likes of Marc Bulger and Carson Palmer. He’ll still be hard pressed to get into the Pro Bowl in the AFC, but I’m flying high with Cutler this season.

THE BACKUPS: The Denver backups do leave something to be desired – namely, veteran leadership. All training camp long, I haven’t been encouraged by the accuracy (or lack thereof) of Patrick Ramsey. And while, currently attending Northern Arizona University I’m a natural fan of Preston Parsons, there’s still something missing in the form of a veteran mentor-type for young Cutler. A solid, dependable backup would be nice too.

2. San Diego Chargers

[Philip Rivers]It’s hard to believe the Chargers went 14-2 the year after they cut Drew Brees. Think about that – the league’s passing leader was released by this team, and they still went and had the best record in the league. That tells me two things – the team was extremely talented and well-coached, and that Philip Rivers was pretty good. Norv Turner may be able to turn Rivers’ game from good to great – he’s had that effect on quarterbacks in the past, if not as head coach.

But we all know the real reason for the Chargers’ success was Ladainian Tomlinson, not Rivers. Rivers wasn’t asked to take control very often – he had a very good throw at the end of the Seattle game to come back, and his short throw to LT that went long in Denver was the nail in the coffin for the Broncos. But I always saw Rivers as the casual driver of an extremely efficient machine. He managed the game well, and he made plays when needed – but when his game began to fall off at the end of last year, he couldn’t always step up. Just consider the last game of the Chargers’ season, when the Patriots knocked them out of the hunt – the coaches inexplicably took the ball out of Tomlinson’s hand for most of the second half. Rivers couldn’t get it done, and the offense sputtered.

I didn’t like the drafting of Craig Davis, and I don’t think this will help him too much this year. Without the weapons at receiver, it’ll be more dump-offs to Tomlinson and deep middle throws to Gates – with more talent at WR, Rivers could be better than last year.

THE BACKUPS: Billy Volek is one of the more valuable backup quarterbacks in the league. Charlier Whitehurst, their third round pick from last year, fills in the third roster spot with a bit of talent in case Volek can’t handle the Chargers’ offensive firepower.

3. Oakland Raiders

[Josh McCown]Before the Raiders signed Daunte Culpepper this week, I was fully prepared to rank them fourth behind the Chiefs. But it was a good move, and if Culpepper were to miraculously return to form some time this season it could be a HUGE steal. I don’t think this will happen, and I wouldn’t be surprised to not see Culpepper at all this year while he nurses his injury, so that leaves Josh McCown and still-holding-out JaMarcus Russell as the true options at QB.

I’ve been a McCown fan since he played here in Arizona, and thought he should have gotten a chance in Detroit. I think we’ll see some success from this guy, who filled in admirably as Kurt Warner‘s backup on the Cardinals. At the ripe age of 28, McCown is just old enough to have been around the block while still young enough to move around the pocket as the Raiders’ offensive line collapses. At 6-4, 214 lbs., he has the size you’re looking for. With a winning record at home for a Cardinal – a remarkable feat for the team – I like his upside to hold off Russell for possibly the entire year.

THE BACKUPS: The #1 Overall Pick himself, Russell is still holding out for the fat contract before he’ll report to the camp. Word is that the negotiations are slow… Daunte Culpepper won’t be healthy enough to play until October, or so I’ve heard, and so for the time being their backup is Andrew Walter. Enough said.

4. Kansas City Chiefs

[Brodie Croyle]I’ve been looking to see what the reporters and fans are saying about Brodie Croyle in Training Camp – and the reports have been good. He has nice touch and accuracy and seems to be handling the system well. I think he’ll be the starter until about week 3… then some freak injury will occur, just like it did at Alabama, and Damon Huard will take the reigns.

THE BACKUPS: Was there a better backup than Huard last year? Jeff Garcia possibly… maybe Tony Romo or Jay Cutler, although they came in due to lack of performance, not injury. I expect Huard to be playing some time during this season, simply because I can’t honestly expect Croyle to make it through the physical, grueling 16-game season without getting knocked out of a game or two.

Average Rank So Far

San Diego Chargers – 1.72
Denver Broncos – 1.86
Oakland Raiders – 3.14
Kansas City Chiefs – 3.28

The Broncos creep forward in the rankings, and the Raiders actually move ahead of the Chiefs. Sorry, Kansas City – you’re at the bottom of the barrel thus far.


    YOU HAVE GOT TO BE JOKING. Cutler better in 06 than Rivers? Cutler Played 5 games! All Rivers did was win 14 games, lead the #1 offense and go to the pro bowl. YOU ARE THE WORLDS BIGGEST HOMER. I suppose next you’ll tell me that tatum Bell is better than LT?!

  • kmonty

    1. Never said Cutler was better in 06. These are what I think they’ll be in 07.

    2. You know, Chargers fan-land was calling for Marty’s head because of the flag he foolishly threw in the playoff game. What about the year before, when Tony Dungy threw a similar flag against Troy Palumalu’s wacky interception-fumble exchange? Dungy shouldn’t have thrown that flag either, but he did, and Marty did the same. Sometimes “you just have to.”

    My point is that in the second half of that game, the Chargers decided for whatever reason to rely on Rivers to win the game. They handed it off to LT, what, 6 times? And Rivers couldn’t get it done – and he had a ton of opportunities to do so. During the end stretch, the more the team relied on him, the more he struggled. And you get rid of the coach?

    3. Damn right I’m a homer.

    Welcome to BroncoTalk, happy to have you.

  • Al

    “My point is that in the second half of that game, the Chargers decided for whatever reason to rely on Rivers to win the game. They handed it off to LT, what, 6 times? And Rivers couldn’t get it done – and he had a ton of opportunities to do so. During the end stretch, the more the team relied on him, the more he struggled. And you get rid of the coach?”

    I think that was more Cam Cameron over thinking going up against Belichick. The play calling was horrible. Not running the ball with the lead was a mistake.

    But Rivers did his part. The receivers didn’t. They had plenty of drops. McCardell’s number should have been called more often instead of the younger receivers.

    Rivers did put the Chargers in position to tie the game at the end. He ran the two minute drill brilliantly. But Kaeding is not clutch when its January, so the Chargers lost.

  • Tom Myatt, Jr.

    I believe Mr. Jay Cutler to be a fine young man. Loaded with potetial and I really enjoyed watching him last year and at Vanderbilt. Great arm strength. Nowhere to go but up and he is in capable hands with the Broncos coaching staff.

    However, using Philip Rivers as a benchmark may be a tough nut to crack. Both Cutler and Rivers are going to be great. I watched Rivers for all of his four years in college where he started every game from day one of his freshman year. The kid is a winner. And so is Jay. I don’t think Vandy has seen a team such as the one that Jay led since WWII.

    I am looking forward to watching both of them. There is no doubt that they will both wind up in the Hall some day.