AFC West Preview
The AFC West ended up surprising people in 2013 as one of the NFL's weaker divisions in recent years sent three teams to the playoffs: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, and San Diego Chargers.
|Kansas City||11 5||.688||5-3||6-2||2-4|
|San Diego||9 7||.563||5-3||3-4||4-2|
With the expected improvement of the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North it will be harder for the AFC West to field three playoff teams in 2014.
Below is a preview of the AFC West in order of predicted finish:
General Manager: John Elway
Head Coach: John Fox
Last Season: 13-3 First in the AFC West. Clinched homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
Divisional Round- Defeated the San Diego Chargers 24-17
AFC Championship- Defeated the New England Patriots 26-16
Super Bowl XLVIII- Lost to the Seattle Seahawks 43-8
The Broncos won the AFC West for the third straight season, posting a 13-3 record for the second consecutive year. Armed with a record-setting offense, the Broncos cruised into the playoffs with the #1 seed. Peyton Manning won his fifth consecutive MVP award after completing 450-for-659, for an NFL record 5,477 yds. He also set a new record with 55 td and was intercepted just 10 times. Manning posted a quarterback rating of 115.1. The Broncos offense also set an NFL record for most points scored in a season with 606.
We Say Goodbye:
Owner Pat Bowlen-Stepped down as CEO due to illness.
S Mike Adams-Indianapolis Colts
DE Robert Ayers-Tennessee Titans
CB Champ Bailey-New Orleans Saints
G Zane Beadles-Jacksonville Jaguars
WR Eric Decker-New York Jets
CB Duke Ihenacho- Washington Redskins
WR/PR Trindon Holliday-New York Giants
RB Knowshon Moreno-Miami Dolphins
LB Shaun Phillips-Tennessee Titans
CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie-New York Giants
LB Wesley Woodyard-Tennessee Titans
DT Kevin Vickerson-
They Say Hello:
WR Emmanuel Sanders-Pittsburgh Steelers
CB Aqib Talib-New England Patriots
S T.J. Ward-Cleveland Browns
DE DeMarcus Ware-Dallas Cowboys
2014 Draft Picks
Round 1- CB Bradley Roby (Ohio State)
Round 2- WR Cody Latimer (Indiana)
Round 3- OT Michael Schofield (Michigan)
Round 4- NO PICK
Round 5- LB Lamin Barrow (Louisiana State)
Round 6- C Matt Paradis (Boise State)
Round 7- LB Corey Nelson (Oklahoma)
The Denver Broncos head into Week 1 of the regular season with just one goal in mind; hoisting the Lombardi Trophy high over their heads at the conclusion of Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, AZ. As Peyton Manning enters his 17th NFL season at the age of 38, the Broncos are well aware that winning a championship with Manning as their quarterback is a year-to-year proposition. The entire franchise is focused on just this year and their moves in the offseason, acquiring Pro-Bowl veterans, demonstrates that thinking.
Questions going into the season:
The Broncos defense has been greatly improved just by getting healthy. Injuries to key players such as linebacker Von Miller (who also served a 6-game suspension to begin the season), defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, defensive end Derek Wolfe, cornerback Chris Harris Jr., cornerback Champ Bailey, and safety Rahim Moore hampered defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and what he could do with a defensive unit that was in the top 10 in 2012. The Broncos ended 2013 21st in pass defense and 9th in run defense.
Now with the healthy return of all those players, minus Bailey who wasn’t resigned and Vickerson who was released at the end of preseason, the Broncos were on track for an improved defense. Then costless agency came and the Broncos decided to be aggressive, shocking the league by signing defensive end DeMarcus Ware immediately after his release by the Dallas Cowboys, safety T.J. Ward away from the Cleveland Browns, and cornerback Aqib Talib from the New England Patriots. The Bronco also drafted cornerback Bradley Roby in the first round who has all the makings of a shut down corner in the near future. The Broncos defense enters the 2014 season with a roster that is more athletic and has more depth than at any time in more than a decade, especially on the defensive line. It is a defense that has the makings of one of the better defensive units in the league.
What’s a concern?
Kicker Matt Prater has been suspended four games for a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Prater, who set the NFL record for the longest field goal last year with a 64-yard field goal, is a weapon for the Broncos with his near-perfect accuracy kicking field goals in the 40-49 yard range. Without Prater the Broncos have had to go with 23 year old Brandon McManus who has never kicked a regular season football. McManus, who just completed his second pre-season, was acquired last week from the New York Giants. The Broncos like his leg strength, especially on kickoffs, but have no idea what to expect when the game is on the line and they need a long field goal to win the game.
Peyton Manning. Manning appeared in midseason form in preseason, completing 43-of-54 passes for 423 yards, three touchdowns and just one interception. At 38 years of age and entering his 17th NFL season, Manning still hasn’t shown signs of age beginning to slow him down. The Broncos wide receivers have said all preseason long that Manning’s passes are coming out faster than at any time since his arrival in Denver.
General Manager: Tom Telesco
Head Coach: Mike McCoy
Last Season: 9-7, third in the AFC West, clinched second AFC wildcard.
Wildcard Round: Defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 27-10
Divisional Round: Lost to the Denver Broncos 24-17
The San Diego Chargers, under first year head coach Mike McCoy, witnessed the revival of quarterback Phillip Rivers. Playing in a new offense, some of which McCoy had implemented for Manning in Denver when he was offensive coordinator, reinvigorated Rivers who posted the highest quarterback rating of his career (105.5), throwing for 4,478 yards with 32 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. After a 5-7 start, things began to click for the Chargers as they went on a four game winning streak, including an upset win against the Broncos in Denver, to end the season 9-7 and secure the second AFC Wildcard. The Chargers secured their first winning season since 2010. Rivers ended up winning Comeback Player of the Year and rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen set rookie records in receptions (71) and receiving yards (1,046).
They Say Goodbye:
Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt- Head Coach Tennessee Titans
CB Derek Cox- Minnesota Vikings
FB Le'Ron McClain-
CB Johnny Patrick- New York Jets
NT Cam Johnson- Pittsburgh Steelers
S Brandon Taylor-
QB Charlie Whitehurst-
We Say Hello:
RB Donald Brown- Indianapolis Colts
QB Kellen Clemmons- St. Louis Rams
LB Kavell Conner- Indianapolis Colts
FB David Johnson- Pittsburgh Steelers
2014 Draft Picks:
Round 1- CB Jason Verrett TCU
Round 2- OLB Jeremiah Attaochu Georgia Tech
Round 3- OG Chris Watt Notre Dame
Round 4- None
Round 5- NT Ryan Carrethers Arkansas State
Round 6- RB Marion Grice ASU
Round 7- WR Tevin Reese Baylor
The San Diego offense has been revived under head coach Mike McCoy. In 2014 Phillip Rivers and company look to take the next step with the Denver Broncos and first place in the AFC West in the target sights. The Chargers were unable to improve on the offensive line so look for the offense to insist on Rivers getting rid of the ball quickly with short completions to avoid the sack and keep the offense on a quick pace. The more pass-oriented offense of 2014 will mean less rushing opportunities for Ryan Matthews, but Matthews and the change of pace back Danny Woodhead will still get their opportunities for touchdowns inside the five yard line.
With an improved defense and an offense heading into their second year under the McCoy system, the Chargers are primed for another post season run. They may challenge Denver early for the division lead, but in the end they don't have the talent yet to overtake the Broncos for the AFC West crown.
Questions going into the Season:
Like the Broncos, the Chargers enter 2014 with an improved defense. Just as Jack Del Rio had to scheme a pass rush for the Broncos last season,Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano had to do the same after losing Dwight Costlessney for the season with a torn quad muscle and being without Melvin Ingram for the first part of the year with a torn ACL. Costlessney is now recovered and looking to get back to the same form he had when he was with the Indianapolis Colts, even though he will be operating as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Ingram and Jarrett Johnson will get the bulk of the pass rushes while linebackers Mantei Te'o and Donald Butler will be charged with stuffing the run. In a division that features Peyton Manning at quarterback in Denver and Jamaal Charles at running back in Kansas City, it will be important that those four do their jobs well.
The Chargers also upgraded in the secondary with the addition of Brandon Flowers at cornerback from the Chiefs. Flowers is an upgrade over Derek Cox, especially going up against the stable of wide receivers the Broncos will throw at them in their two games during the regular season. The Chargers will be placing Flowers up against their opponent's top receiver with corner Shareece Wright on the other side. First round pick Jason Verrett will assume the role of slot corner and will be tested early against the likes of Wes Welker in Denver. Verrett is highly thought of and how he does against veterans like Welker will go along way in determining if those high opinions are justified.
What's the concern?
The offensive line is still a concern in San Diego. Even though Rivers' sack total dropped from 49 in 2012 to 30 in 2013, the drop is owed more to the quick pass release offense that head coach Mike McCoy has employed than to the pass protection provided by the o-line. Until the offensive line problems are corrected, the Chargers will never be able to maximize their running game or give their star quarterback the complete protection he needs.
It's a quarterback's league and the Chargers are no different. How far the Chargers go depends on how far their quarterback can take them. Was last year's revival of Rivers and his career a long-term upswing or will he fall back into old bad habits? The answer is probably yes, this is a long-term upswing, especially if McCoy continues to be his head coach and he has talented players catching the ball like tight end Antonio Gates and wide receiver Keenan Allen. McCoy won division titles with both ends of the quarterback spectrum in Denver with Tim Tebow in 2011 and Peyton Manning in 2012. If anyone knows the ins and outs of an NFL quarterback and what it takes to be successful it's Mike McCoy. Rivers should be very pleased to have him in his corner.
General Manager: John Dorsey
Head Coach: Andy Reid
Last Season: 11-4, second in the AFC West, clinched first AFC Wildcard.
Wildcard Round: Lost to the Indianapolis Colts 45-44.
The Kansas City Chiefs experienced a quick turnaround under new head coach Andy Reid who came over from the Philadelphia Eagles. The Chiefs went from 2-14 in 2012 and the first pick in the NFL draft to 11-5 and a playoff berth in 2013. The Chiefs also began the season 9-0, becoming the last team in 2013 to stay undefeated. The Chiefs became the first team in NFL history to pick first in the draft and become the last team to lose a game in the same year. The Chiefs challenged the Broncos for the division lead until losing to Denver in Week 11 and Week 13 knocked them out of the lead and sent them on a downward spiral, finishing the season 2-5. The loss to the Colts in the wildcard round extended the Chiefs' playoff losing streak to eight games, dating back to 1993.
They Say Goodbye:
CB Brandon Flowers- San Diego Chargers
T Branden Albert- Miami Dolphins
G Jon Asamoah- Atlanta Falcons
G Geoff Schwarts- New York Giants
DE Tyson Jackson- Atlanta Falcons
WR Dexter McCluster- Tennessee Titans
LB Akeem Jordan- Washington Redskins
S Kendrick Lewis- Houston Texans
S Quintin Demps- New York Giants
CB Dunta Robinson- Costless Agent
We Say Hello:
DE Vance Walker- Oakland Raiders
LB Joe Mays- Houston Texans
RG Jeff Linkenbach- Indianapolis Colts
CB Chris Owens- Cleveland Browns
WR Kyle Williams- San Francisco 49ers
2014 Draft Picks:
Round 1- DE Dee Ford Auburn
Round 2- None
Round 3- CB Phillip Gaines Rice
Round 4- RB De'Anthony Thomas Oregon
Round 5- QB Aaron Murray Georgia
Round 6- G Zack Fulton Tennessee
Round 6- T Laurent Duvernay-Tardif McGill
Round 7- None
The Kansas City Chiefs surprised even those analysts who thought they were headed for a turnaround with how they performed through the first nine games of the season. The second half though was a far different story and their collapse in the wildcard game in Indianapolis after being ahead 38-10 in the second half hangs over them as they head into Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans.
The Chiefs suffered several defections via costless agency in the offseason that has weakened the team on both sides of the ball. The biggest costless agent loss was cornerback Brandon Flowers. Flowers defection to San Diego not only left a sizeable hole in the secondary, it plugged a hole in a division rivals defensive backfield. On the offensive side the loss of left tackle Brandon Albert, despite the fact he never lived up to his potential, still leaves an unknown and alot of questions at the most important position on the offensive line. Alex Smith just signed a contract extension but the Chiefs have an unproven Eric Fisher who struggled in his rookie season at right tackle to protect their quarterback's blindside.
With holes in the offensive line, especially at left tackle, and a depleted secondary the Chiefs look to take a step back this year. Finishing third in the division and missing the playoffs is likely for the Chiefs in 2014. However, the Chiefs will be just one good offseason of impact acquisitions away from returning to contention in the AFC West.
Questions Going Into The Season:
It's hard to find anything that has improved on a team that lost key players in the offseason without making any moves to replace them with equal or greater talent. The Chiefs go into the 2014 season with the same quarterback and set of receivers that were ranked in the mid 20's in offensive output. On defense the Chiefs are going with unproven or less talented replacements for their departed costless agents. But what the Chiefs do have going for them is Reid who has shown the ability to maximize the talent he has by game planning them into favorable situations that set them up for success. With a year under his belt, Reid understands the strengths and weaknesses of his players and will do all he can to set them up for success.
What's The Concern?
An offensive line dotted with unknowns, especially at left tackle, is a concern for any team who in this age of offensive football must keep their quarterback on his feet and costless from pressure long enough to get the pass off. Fisher, the Chiefs first round draft pick in 2013 at left tackle, was switched to right tackle during the season due to the presence of Brandon Albert. Fisher struggled in his rookie season while battling injuries. Now that Albert has left for Miami in costless agency, Fisher will get his first start at the position he was drafted for. However, Fisher is still an unproven commodity in the NFL at left tackle and has struggled in the preseason.
It's going to be a test under fire for Albert in the AFC West. The division is filled with talented pass rushers who will be difficult for Albert to deal with in his first year. From Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware in Denver, to Melvin Ingram and Dwight Costlessney in San Diego, and Oakland's first round draft pick Khalil Mack who has been favorably compared to Miller.
When you mention the Kansas City Chiefs one player comes to everyone's mind, running back Jamaal Charles. There hasn't been a player in recent years who has donned the red uniform of the Chiefs who has been as productive and has carried as much of the load than the 27 year old Charles who is in his sixth year with the team. Last year in 15 games he rushed 259 times for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns plus he caught 70 passes out of the backfield for 693 yards and seven touchdowns.
It's Charles who makes the offense go. His ability to make nothing into something has perplexed opposing defenses and put the target on his back. With so much attention being placed on the running back, it opens up other opportunities on the field for Smith and his receivers. Take Charles out of the equation and the Chiefs offense would be dead on arrival.
General Manager: Reggie McKenzie
Head Coach: Dennis Allen
Last Season: 4-12, fourth in the AFC West.
In year two under the leadership of general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen, the Oakland Raiders once again finished with a record of 4-12. 2013 marked the franchise's 11th straight non-winning season and 11th straight year without a playoff appearance since their 48-21 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII.
The 2013 season was marked by another year of multiple quarterbacks playing horrible football. Trapped by the sins of the father (failing drafts and bad costless agent signings), Mark Davis has been handcuffed by more than $50 million in dead money on the books and unable to sign any costless agents who could make an impact. Davis' choice to restore the Raiders to their former glory, McKenzie has had to ride out the bad contracts in 2012 and 2013 while putting on the field a team lacking in talent. McKenzie also had to keep convincing the owner to ignore the inherited impulse to fire his front office and head coach and stay the course.
They Say Goodbye:
QB Terrelle Pryor- Seattle Seahawks
RB Rashad Jennings- New York Giants
WR Jacoby Ford- New York Jets
LT Jared Veldheer- Arizona Cardinals
LG Mike Brisiel- Retired
OL Andre Gurode- Costless Agent
RT Tony Pashos- Costless Agent
DE Lamarr Houston- Chicago Bears
DT Vance Walker- Kansas City Chiefs
CB Philip Adams- Seattle Seahawks
CB Mike Jenkins- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
CB Tracy Porter- Washington Redskins
DE Jason Hunter- Costless Agent
We Say Hello:
RB Kory Sheets- Saskatchewan Rough Riders
RT Austin Howard- New York Jets
DE Justin Tuck- New York Giants
LB LaMarr Woodley- Pittsburgh Steelers
CB Tarell Brown- San Francisco 49ers
DE Antonio Smith- Houston Texans
WR James Jones- Green Bay Packers
OG Kevin Boothe- New York Giants
LT Donald Penn- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
QB Matt Schaub- Houston Texans
CB Carlos Rogers- San Francisco 49ers
RB Maurice Jones Drew- Jacksonville Jaguars
DL C.J. Wilson- Green Bay Packers
WR Greg Little- Cleveland Browns
2014 Draft Picks:
Round 1- LB Khalil Mack Buffalo
Round 2- QB Derek Carr Fresno St
Round 3- LG Gabe Jackson Mississippi St
Round 4- DT Justin Ellis Louisiana Tech
Round 5- No Pick
Round 6- No Pick
Round 7- CB TJ Carrie Ohio
Round 7- DL Shelby Harris Illinois St
Round 7- S Jonathan Dowling Western Kentucky
With the end of the 2013 season came the removal of much of the bad money weighing down the payroll. McKenzie headed into the offseason with $64 million in cap space, by far the largest of any team in the NFL Armed with that much cap space you would think the Raiders would have the pick of the litter. But with an uncertain stadium situation (LA Raiders or San Antonio Raiders anyone?) and the worst reputation of any franchise in the NFL, the Raiders found themselves hamstrung a bit during the 2014 costless agency period.
Wanting to build through the draft, McKenzie is facing pressure from an increasingly impatient Davis to fill holes quicker. McKenzie has had to patchwork the roster with mid-tier costless agents who won't change the course of the franchise in one season. He did pick up a talented pass rushing linebacker by the name of Khalil Mack out of Buffalo in the first round. Mack is often compared to the Broncos' Von Miller and he has the ability to give the Raiders a credible pass rushing threat. The Raiders have also taken another shot at their quarterback of the future with the drafting of Derek Carr in the second round from Fresno State. Matt Schaub will start the season at quarterback but if he reverts back to the 2013 Houston Texans version of Schaub, the Raiders' future will be now.
2014 will be a better season for the Raiders, but not by much. It would take the Chiefs experiencing another season like 2012 in order for the Raiders to climb out of the cellar in the AFC West.
It's hard to find one area of the team that has improved more than the other. Over the last few seasons the Raiders' roster has looked like one giant slice of swiss cheese. Due to budget constraints the Raiders had to plug holes with players who were either past their prime or mid-level costless agents who would be reserves on other teams but were thrusted into starting positions on the Raiders. But if you have to narrow down to just one area where the 2014 Raiders have improved it would be in the pass rush with rookie first round draft choice Khalil Mack.
The 2013 MAC Defensive Player of the Year has all the tools to be a dominant pass rusher in the NFL for many years to come. Considered more polished than the Texans' Jadeveon Clowney, the only question regarding Mack is how quickly he can adjust to the play of NFL offensive linemen.
Unlike the difficulty in finding an area of biggest improvement, it isn't hard to find an area of concern on the Raiders' roster. Right now the biggest concern for the Raiders and their future chances of righting the ship lies at the feet of owner Mark Davis. He hired Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen because he felt they were the right people to restore the Raiders' brand of excellence in football. If Davis becomes impatient with the progress of the Raiders and decides to tear a page out of his father's playbook and fire both of them, the franchise will be pushed back into the wilderness of professional football with no clear path out. Whatever the plan, it's going to take sometime to fix the mess it took years to create.
When a team has been as bad as the Raiders have been for as long as they have been, they are clearly devoid of an MVP-caliber player. If 2014 is the season that the Raiders' franchise finally begins to turn in the right direction, a player will emerge who will clearly deserve to be called MVP.