There is a disgusting amount of futility in football if you go anywhere near a division labeled “West” these days. I thought this had ended with baseball season this year, but let’s look over this and the rationale for either sucking, or in the case of both division leaders, aggressively mediocre. We’ll start with the AFC West, where I have the good fortune to root for one of the four teams and watch two of the others on a regular basis.
AFC West (a combined 13-27)
- Broncos (6-4) – There but for the grace of Ed Hochuli and another couple of ref calls goes Denver and its herky-jerky offense. Jay Cutler looks like the truth one week and a bad combination of Jake Plummer and Brett Favre the next. Banged up and brutalized on both sides of the ball, they somehow managed to win on the road without Champ Bailey on defense or any sort of running back (fullback Peyton Hillis did most of the work.) The defensive coordinator will be fired, and if this team manages to make it to the playoffs, it will do so because Coach Rat Fink is not completely in over his head. An egotistical jerk, yes. Riding the coattails of John Elway and Terrell Davis, yes. Somewhat less than “offensive genius”, yes. But stupid? No.
- Chargers (4-6) – It’s ridiculous that this team has assembled such a mountain of talented skill and line players on both sides of the ball yet is under .500 and likely to get worse. Of course, anyone with some sort of football suss would have told Bolts’ GM A.J. Smith that hiring Norv Turner to do anything more than be an offensive coordinator was a stupid idea, but he decided to have his “I’m Keith Hernandez” moment and fire Marty Schottenheimer. Yes, Turner got the Chargers to the AFC Championship game, but how short-lived and lucky does that look now? You can argue that the lack of Shawne Merriman alone is responsible for the decline in team defense, but that isn’t enough of an explanation for the lack of want-to visible in this team.
- Raiders (2-8) – All easily explained under Al Davis’ insistence on micromanaging this team. It’s no fun to root against them any more because they’re too awful to hate on. You feel bad for legit stud players like Darren McFadden and Nnamdi Asomugha who get stuck there for a few years. Tom Cable makes Lane Kiffin look like a frickin’ savant. (I believe Kiffin was actually getting somewhere; when you have three very good running backs, a first-year starting QB, and a lousy crop of wideouts, you run the ball all the time.)
- Chiefs (1-9) – Both the offensive and defensive lines degraded so thoroughly that the former couldn’t protect either mediocre quarterback and the latter couldn’t rush the opposing quarterback. Herm Edwards is just a lousy coach now. This is a problem for me because I think he appears to be a decent person. You hate to see decent people suck at things, but his time management and philosophies regarding offense are bad. It’s gotten to the point that Chiefs fans are worried that Tyler Thigpen is a legitimate QB of the future, but both Edwards and Carl Peterson will find a way to screw him up.
The NFC West (14-26) has been bad for a while; there’s a tendency to forget just how easily the Seahawks coasted at times, but now? Damn.
- Cardinals (7-3) – Here’s how damning this divisoin is upon any team that happens to emerge with a decent record: I can’t tell how legit Arizona is. I really can’t. The Cyborg known to us as Kurt Warner seems to be functioning at a high level, enough to be MVP. But they are beating teams (or have beaten teams) that fall apart as the season goes on. If they keep it close with the Giants, they might actually be a good team.
- 49ers (3-7) – Lousy ownership hires bad coach in Mike Nolan, who takes on Mike Martz, who’s clearly waiting for Nolan to get the axe so he can slide into the interm head coach position, only to get passed over for linebackers coach and Bears’ legend Mike Singletary. Too much drama, too much J.T. O’Sullivan, and too much flux in offensive coordinators. Alex Smith wasn’t going to be great or anything, but he was effectively wasted by the O-coordinator Musical Chairs game.
- Seahawks (2-8) – The perfect storm of injuries and endemic poor West Coast play-calling and time management on behalf of Mike Holmgren. Eventually, this was going to catch up to them. Paradoxically, they signed both Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett to try and improve the running game — yet both Matt Hasselbeck and Seneca Wallace had to throw a ton.
- Rams (2-8) – Much like KC, the cupboard was absolutely bare, and what was there is constantly injured (Marc Bulger, Steven Jackson) or double-teamed (Torry Holt). Still feeling the leftover Scott Linehan malaise.
Despite a better record overall, I still have to give the edge of suck to the NFC West, for having its bottom thre be poor on a more consistent basis and for the complete depths plumbed by 3/4 or the division. At least Denver and San Diego only need fixing on one side of hte ball.