Continuing on with our NFL Divisional Preview series, today we take a look at the AFC West.
All teams are listed in order of their project finish.
Denver Broncos – Denver has been the frontrunner in this division since the moment they were knocked out of the playoffs by the Ravens and continuing throughout the offseason. Most, including me had them running away with the division and being favorites in the AFC. After the Seattle game a couple of nights ago, their national perception has changed.
What we saw was a Denver defense that is vulnerable, an offense that is still learning how to properly utilize all of the new weapons it has acquired and a special teams unit in shambles.
I do think they’ll get it together. With Peyton Manning under center, the Broncos have more room for error, especially early on, than most franchises. The addition of Wes Welker to an already elite receiving corps cannot be understated. At running back, Ronnie Hillman may start the year No. 1 on the depth chart, but look for Montee Ball to take that spot before the season ends. He’s too much like former Colts running back Edgerrin James to not excel in Manning’s offense.
Defensively is where I would worry if I were a Denver fan. The loss of Von Miller, potentially for the first six games of the season, is going to hurt this unit any way you cut it. They are going to need someone else on that front seven (possibly Derek Wolfe) to step up and be a leader with his play.
Because of the offense, I think Denver still has enough to win 11-12 games and win the division outright.
Kansas City Chiefs – The Chiefs might have been the most talented 2-14 team in NFL history in 2012. All these guys were missing was a coach and a quarterback. It appears they now have both in Andy Reid and Alex Smith. Now they need to stay healthy, which has proven to be a difficult task this season (see Jamaal Turner).
I expect Dwayne Bowe to have a big season, as Smith (sadly) might be the best quarterback he’s had since he’s had in the NFL. Also, look for Dexter McCluster to play an integral role in the offense from the slot and well as out of the backfield. I also like the Anthony Fasano signing and expect to see him emerge as a favorite target of Smith’s as the season progresses.
At running back, if Charles is unable to go right away, rookie Knile Davis looks like a larger version of Charles with the same type of explosiveness. He should be able to pick up most of the slack in the backfield should Charles have to miss an extended amount of time.
Defensively, the Chiefs have All-Pro caliber talent at all three levels. I expect the front seven to be among the most lethal in the league, both against the run and in the pass rush. Safety Eric Berry and corner Brandon Flowers will be huge down the stretch in a pass-happy league, especially against the receiving corps of the Broncos.
This team has all the makings of a 10-win club with a shot to compete for a spot in the AFC playoffs.
San Diego Chargers – An improved offensive line, led by the mammoth rookie from Alabama D.J. Fluker, should help get Philip Rivers back to his old self. A revamped receiving corps won’t hurt. Look for Rivers to spread the ball fairly evenly to a variety of targets including Malcom Floyd, Vincent Brown, Eddie Royal and rookie Keenan Allen.
As far as running backs go, Ryan Mathews appears to be running harder this preseason and looks poised for a solid campaign. Look for Danny Woodhead to play the role that Darren Sproles once played in this offense and continues to play in New Orleans.
Defensively, this is a young group of guys led by veteran safety Eric Weddle. I like Manti Te’o to step up and lead this squad to a statistical repeat of 2012, when they finished the year as a top ten defense.
Lots of change in San Diego bodes well for the future of the franchise, but I see them as an 8 or 9 win team in 2013.
Oakland Raiders – It’s getting better, really, but it’s still going to take more time. Oakland has some exciting talent on offense and seems to finally have the quarterback of the immediate future in Matt Flynn. I like the trio of Denarius Moore, Rod Streeter and rookie Brice Butler to comprise the bulk of the aerial attack for Oakland.
On the ground, this is a make or break year for Darren McFadden in more ways than one. It’s a contract year, one that will decide whether he gets elite money in 2014 or will just be looking for a job somewhere. I like his odds with the revamped running game catered to his style. If he does falter, veteran Rashad Jennings will be waiting to step in and shine as he has done in the past at Jacksonville when healthy.
Outside of the veteran leadership that Charles brings to the defensive unit, there is little to be excited about defensively in Oakland. Rookie outside linebacker Sio Moore has the look of a guy who can be an impact player down the road, but I see a lot of growing pains for the Silver and Black in 2013.
It looks like it could be a long season for Raider Nation, as 5-6 wins would be quite an accomplishment. A four win campaign looks more realistic at this point.
BY J.P. SCOTT ON AUGUST 20, 2013
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