2013/14 NFL Preview: AFC West
With the National Football League teams completing their OTA’s and preparing for the start of training camps in just about a month (the Dallas Cowboys start on July 21 and the Detroit Lions on July 23), it is time to start taking a look at the upcoming NFL season.
In this segment, we’ll take a look at the AFC’s West Division. The past two seasons, the Denver Broncos have ruled this division after the Tim Tebow-led 2011 version backed in with a .500 record (and stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round) and the Peyton Manning-led 2012 version romped to the championship before stunningly losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs. Not much is going to change in the AFC West this year as the Broncos have reloaded for another shot at the AFC championship, of which they are the favorite to win.
After coming back from not playing at all in 2011, quarterback Peyton Manning looked to be in his old form (albeit with a bit of a linguine arm) in leading the team to the AFC West crown. Although the team was disappointed in the outcome of the 2012 season, they have reloaded with personnel that make them not only a contender for the AFC title but for the Lombardi Trophy also.
Manning made the most of his wide receivers, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, in leading the team to the AFC title last year and his selections at the WR slot only got better in the offseason. Coming over from the New England Patriots, Wes Welker only gives Manning more ammunition in what was an outstanding offense from 2012. Backing up potent (but injury-prone) running back Knowshon Moreno will be second round draft pick Montee Ball of Wisconsin, who should take to head coach John Fox’s offense very well.
The defense suffered a bit of a hit in losing defensive end Elvis Dumerville to free agency, but the D will still be potent with cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Quentin Jammer coming to join the team. As long as the defense is adequate for the Broncos, expect a third consecutive AFC west title banner to go up in the Mile High City after this year is done.
Prediction: First (Record: 13-3)
San Diego Chargers
One of the most perplexing teams in the NFL for several seasons, the San Diego Chargers did nothing to dismiss the “perplexing” tag from their name. Adding first round draft pick Manti Te’o of Notre Dame is going to draw a great deal of attention to the squad, but there will be plenty of help on the defensive end of the ball with the newcomer linebacker. Defensive end Dwight Freeney has come over from the Indianapolis Colts and he is joined by Derek Cox, who will have the responsibility of replacing Jammer.
It may be time for quarterback Philip Rivers to “put up or shut up” as to his status as an elite NFL quarterback. Long having some of the most potent weapons in the game (including tight end Antonio Gates), Rivers has disappointed many. As he enters his ninth season in the league, there isn’t much in the cupboard for him (other than Gates) and there may be rumors of his departure to another team.
Perhaps Rivers can find something in the new offense installed by new head coach Mike McCoy, taking the reins over from the equally disappointing Norv Turner. The team will be better than last year’s 7-9 squad and may have a shot at making the playoffs – that is, if they don’t act like the underachieving Chargers they have been for the past few years.
Prediction: Second (Record: 10-6)
Where the Chargers are perplexing, the Oakland Raiders have just been chaotic. Taking over last year as head coach, Dennis Allen led the team to a miserable 4-12 record; to give some perspective, the previous Raiders coach, Hue Jackson, went 8-8 (and nearly won the division) in 2011 and lost his job. Perhaps with a second year to work with, the Raiders can move back to their “Commitment To Excellence” that seems to have eluded their grasp for well over a decade.
If they are to do it this year, they are going to do it with a whole new cast of characters. Gone is quarterback Carson Palmer and, to be honest, the Raiders don’t quite know yet who will take over. They traded for Matt Flynn (from the Seattle Seahawks) and also have Terelle Pryor and Tyler Wilson on the bench. It should make for an interesting preseason and these men compete for the job. In his contract year, Darren McFadden will team up with all-everything player Josh Cribbs (another free agent signing) to give whoever is quarterback a running/passing option on the field.
Picking up safety (and former Raider) Charles Woodson and cornerback Tracy Porter in free agency, the Raiders should be able to stop a passing attack, but their run defense is porous at best. This will be the thing that prevents the Raiders from making significant inroads into the division, although they will be better than in 2012.
Prediction: Third (Record: 7-9)
Kansas City Chiefs
One of the most woeful teams of 2012 was the Kansas City Chiefs. Suffering through a 2-14 season that saw one of their players commit a murder-suicide that shook the squad, a housecleaning was in order that started with changing over from the now-departed Romeo Crennel to the newcomer in former Philadelphia Eagles front man Andy Reid.
Reid set about rebuilding the team in the draft, taking tackle Eric Fisher with the first pick in the draft. They were able to separate quarterback Alex Smith from the San Francisco 49ers to head the offense (and sent the failed experiment in Matt Cassel out the door) and, along with some talent left over from the Crennel days (wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, running back Jamaal Charles), should be better in 2013.
The defense is still a question mark for the Chiefs. To try and thwart the passing game, the Chiefs signed three defensive backs in free agency, Sean Smith, Dunta Robinson and Quintin Demps, which should improve that area. The front seven are porous, however, and it could be a long season for Reid as he attempts to right the Chiefs’ ship.
Prediction: Fourth (Record: 4-12)
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