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AFC Teams With New Looks

   by Bryan Leonard - 08/11/2010


NFL Preseason is approaching. Time for players, coaches and teams to turn over a new leaf. General managers have hired some new coaches, while coaches have added some offensive and defensive assistants to try and improve things. Here's a look at some changes to look for with some teams in preseason.

Ravens: The Ravens are off a 13-6 SU, 14-5 ATS and 10-8 SU, 9-8-1 ATS seasons under John Harbaugh, which makes him 23-13-1 ATS in the NFL. Expectations are high as a balanced offense adds speedy WRs Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth, while the defense picked up Texas LB Sergio Kindle and mammoth Alabama NT Terrence Cody through the draft.
I know what you’re thinking: Just what the Baltimore defense needs, more rock-solid talent up front! Instead of relying on 36-year old WR Derrick Mason (1,028 yards), QB Joe Flacco now has some interesting young weapons in Boldin and Stallworth, both 29 years old. Boldin had 84 catches for 1,024 yards with the Cardinals last season. The ground attack is outstanding with RBs Ray Rice (1,339 yards, 5.3 ypc) and Willis McGahee (544 yards, 5.0 ypc), while TE Todd Heap is a solid blocker and receiver.
The Ravens' defense allowed 93 yards rushing per game, fifth in the NFL, and only looks better. The only concern would be the secondary, as cornerback has been a weakness, showing some age and injuries. Two of their top cornerbacks, Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb, are recovering from knee surgeries and Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed had a hip procedure in May. Last season the Ravens were 6-2 SU, 5-3 ATS at home, which puts them at 34-22-2 ATS at home. Note that Baltimore is 28-5 SU/20-11-2 ATS as a home favorite since 2003.

Chargers: Norv Turner has turned San Diego from a run-oriented team under Marty Schottenheimer to a pass-happy one. For 2010, gone is longtime star RB LaDainian Tomlinson, and there was an ugly contract scrap with restricted free agents WR Vincent Jackson and OL Marcus McNeill. The ground game, if there is one, will lean on rookie RB Ryan Matthews, the No. 12 pick in the draft (Fresno State).
“It’s exciting,” center Nick Hardwick said. “We’re going to have to come up with our own identity, and we don’t know what it will be.”
This should still be a pass-first offense behind QB Phillip Rivers (4,254 yards, 28 TDs, 9 picks). The defense loses longtime NT Jamaal Williams, a key cornerstone up front, and wacky CB Antonio Cromartie. Coach Ron Rivera begins his second full year as defensive coordinator after taking over late in the 2008 season. Last season San Diego finished 16th in total defense (No. 16 against the rush, 11th against the pass), more of a blitzing team under him. The Chargers drafted DT Cam Thomas (North Carolina) in the fifth round.
“Sometimes you would get the sense that people felt bigger than the team,” said TE Antonio Gates. “Not to say it was an issue, but we know it’s not an issue for sure now.” That was a slight knock at LT and Williams. Sports bettors should note that San Diego is 31-19 SU, 30-17-3 ATS on the road the last six seasons.

Broncos: It was a roller coaster season for first-year coach Josh McDaniels. The Broncos started 6-0 SU/ATS, then collapsed in a 2-6 SU, 1-7 ATS finish, missing the playoffs. So which team will show up in 2010?
It was an ugly final month, losing to the Raiders by one, the Eagles by a field goal and getting blown out at Kansas City, 44-24, in a no-show to end the regular season.
The 2009 offense got production out of QB Kyle Orton (3,802 yards, 21 touchdowns, 12 picks), but they add quarterbacks Brady Quinn from Cleveland and drafted QB Tim Tebow. The wide receiver corps has a brand new look with star WR Marshall shipped off to Miami. WR Demaryius Thomas, a first-round pick from Georgia Tech, is expected to step in for problem-child Brandon Marshall, traded to Miami.
Stopping the run has been a huge problem the last three years, so for 2010 they went wild adding veteran defensive players. The defensive line has a new look with an investment of a three-year, $16 million deal to 348-pound NT Jamal Williams (Chargers), a four-year deal that could be worth up to $20 million for DE Jarvis Green (Patriots) and a five-year deal worth $22 million for defensive end Justin Bannan. Green and Bannan are 31 years old, while Williams is 34.
Five of the last 10 opponents topped 170 yards rushing. The defense enters August with problems, too, as sack leader Elvis Dumervil will miss preseason and LB Moss is banged up. Denver carries a 5-0 run over the total into the new season, though they started 2009 at 9-2 under the total.

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