Seventh of an eight-part series
In PFW's midseason team reports, we focus on each team's biggest surprise and biggest disappointment, a fantasy football MVP, an assistant coach on the rise, and a fearless prediction for the second half of the season.
Biggest surprise: With 878 receiving yards, WR Brandon Lloyd already has exceeded his yardage total of the past four seasons combined. He has reached a career high in receiving yards for a season and likely will shatter his top reception total of 48, after reeling in 42 through eight games.
Biggest disappointment: The Broncos' running game has been a nonfactor this season. Denver ranks dead last in the league in rushing yards (67.2 per game) and yards per carry (2.9). The Broncos haven't had a player rush for more than 60 yards in a game, and they are the only team without a run of 20 yards or longer.
Fantasy MVP: Lloyd has been among the league's top receivers all season and has made a major impact in the fantasy world. The eighth-year wideout has a knack for making the big play, and his 20.9 yards per catch make him a threat to break out at any time. The Broncos continue to struggle with the running game, meaning Lloyd should see plenty of looks through the remainder of the year.
Assistant coach on the rise: QB coach Ben McDaniels has helped lead Kyle Orton to his best season to date in his first year coaching the Broncos' signalcallers. The brother of head coach Josh McDaniels, Ben was promoted from his position as an offensive coaching assistant last season. While it's not likely he will become an offensive coordinator any time soon, the future could be bright for the young coach, who is said to think a lot like his brother.
Fearless prediction: The Broncos have struggled to stop the running game and have some of the league's top backs looming on their schedule. With two games remaining against the Chiefs, one against Arian Foster and the Texans and a trip to Oakland, the "D" will be tested down the stretch. Judging by their first-half performance, it would be a surprise if the Broncos won more than 2-3 games in the second half.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Biggest surprise: The rapid ascension of CB Brandon Flowers was something most team observers didn't see coming. He has taken his game to a different level in 2010, denying top receivers week after week and forcing QBs to throw away from him. He quickly is developing into a shutdown corner.
Biggest disappointment: After getting a contract extension in the offseason, WR Chris Chambers has been invisible. He has just eight catches for 82 yards, and he was a healthy scratch in two contests. His lack of production has left Dwayne Bowe as the team's only legitimate wideout.
Fantasy MVP: Owners of RB Jamaal Charles have to be elated with what he's done thus far. Despite having to share carries with Thomas Jones, Charles is on pace to far exceed his 2009 production, already rushing for 103-666-2 and adding 16-191-0 receiving. Gaining a league-best 6.5 yards per carry, he's had at least 87 yards on the ground in all but two contests and could approach 2,000 scrimmage yards for the year. If he starts scoring more, he'll join the fantasy elite.
Assistant coach on the rise: Coaching along with Todd Haley in Arizona, Maurice Carthon followed Haley to Kansas City. There, as both the RB coach and assistant head coach, he has helped mold the Chiefs' rushing attack into the best one in the league. Along with offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, Carthon has figured out a way to best use Charles and Jones as a tandem and has been able to get the most out of each back. It might not be long before he's considered head-coaching material.
Fearless prediction: With a lead in the division and a schedule that sets up well in the second half, the Chiefs will finish 10-6 and capture the AFC West for the first time since 2003. Haley will get strong consideration for Coach of the Year.
Biggest surprise: There's a strong case to be made for RB Darren McFadden's breakthrough, but QB Jason Campbell's improved play in recent weeks is even more surprising, simply because he was so awful at times early in the season. Head coach Tom Cable could have another QB controversy to settle when Bruce Gradkowski is completely healthy.
Biggest disappointment: Expectations were high for MLB Rolando McClain after he was drafted eighth overall. He has shown promise but hasn't lived up to the hype. Inconsistency at quarterback and pass-protection breakdowns are problems the Raiders were hoping to leave behind in the offseason, but they linger.
Fantasy MVP: Just as some people were ready to write him off, McFadden is having a breakout season. Owners are going to have to live with his lack of durability — he missed two games this season with a hamstring injury — because when he's healthy, there are few players more dangerous.
Assistant coach on the rise: The Raiders' offense has gone from one of the worst in the league to being ranked in the top 10. That ought to look pretty good when offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who was added to Cable's staff in the offseason, goes to update his résumé. Jackson has his sights set on becoming a head coach soon.
Fearless prediction: With a second-half slate that includes games against the Steelers, Dolphins, Colts and Chiefs, the Raiders won't return to the playoffs this season. The annual "will Cable stay or go" story will begin again in January.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Biggest surprise: There was talk that ILB Kevin Burnett could be on the roster bubble in training camp, yet all he has done is lead the team in tackles while also racking up five sacks. Team observers say that he looks like a different player this season, and he's one of the main reasons the Bolts' "D" had been No. 1 most of 2010.
Biggest disappointment: The Chargers' special teams in general have been beyond awful. P Mike Scifres has already had four punts blocked. The club has had multiple issues with snaps and holds in the kicking game. And worst of all, San Diego has given up three returns for TDs. If not for horrendous special-teams play, they easily could have two more victories.
Fantasy MVP: Because of the way he's dominated his position, TE Antonio Gates is the choice. While QB Philip Rivers has been sensational, Gates has been far and away the game's best tight end this season, catching 40 passes for 663 yards and nine TDs. What makes these numbers even more amazing is that Gates has produced them while playing with a serious toe injury. He's been nothing short of incredible.
Assistant coach on the rise: In 2009, his first season in San Diego, secondary coach Steven Wilks helped the Bolts' pass defense rise 20 spots in the rankings. Now in Year Two, he has the pass "D" ranked No. 4 in the league. Aiding in the development of CB Antoine Cason and getting top-notch play from the vets in the secondary, Wilks' status is rising quickly; he might not be far away from becoming a coordinator.
Fearless prediction: Just as they have in years past, the Chargers will wake up in the second half of season after a slow start, making a run at the division crown in a winnable AFC West. This time, however, they will fall one game short and miss the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
You can read more midseason team analyses in the current print edition of PFW (cover date: Nov. 14, 2010) — including categories such as team MVP, player to watch and keys to the second half — on sale now at retail outlets. You can also purchase a print or electronic (PDF) copy of the issue at PFWstore.com.