by Casey Angel
As a wise man once said, let’s start from the beginning. However, in the world of NFL free agency, successful (or unsuccessful) drafts, and injuries, the “beginning” seems like just yesterday. For that very reason, we’ll take a look back on the four AFC West teams before looking forward to each outlook.
1. Denver Broncos
2013 Record: 13-3, AFC Champions.
What hasn’t been said about the Denver Broncos? After leading the league in point differential (+207), they seemed destined to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl after finishing up with the 1 Seed and a 13-3 record. After cutting through a red-hot Chargers team and then the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship, the Broncos failed to show up in one of the most lopsided Super Bowls we’ve witnessed in a long time. All of the records set by Payton Manning, the dominance of one of the best divisions in all of football was quickly forgotten not because they had lost the Super Bowl, but the fashion in which it was squandered. 43-8 has been the only number that stuck with this Broncos team throughout the offseason.
That kind of thrashing can cripple a team, cause them to look elsewhere, but not this Broncos side. Aside from those who will be returning from injuries (Von Miller & Ryan Clady), the Broncos realized that their weaknesses last year could be addressed through free agency. A serious soft spot was that of the aging Champ Bailey at cornerback, so very neatly they signed New England’s best cover corner Aqib Talib and spent their first round pick on CB Bradley Roby out of Ohio State. Von Miller has become a concern with injuries and suspensions, so very neatly they provided more reinforcements to rush the quarterback in former-Cowboy DeMarcus Ware.
12-4, AFC West Division Winners.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
2013 Record: 11-5, AFC Wild Card. Lost in first round.
The Kansas City Chiefs were truly a team of two halves. The first half of the season was littered with weak opponents (Jaguars, Texans, Browns) and favorable home matchups (Giants, Raiders), leading to a fast 9-0 start. Then came the Bye Week and ouch… The Chiefs proceeded to lose both matchups to the Broncos and both to the Chargers, finishing with just 2 Wins in their last 7 games. The fast start was enough to secure the top Wild Card spot in the AFC under first year head coach Andy Reid and newly traded for quarterback Alex Smith. In what was one of the more exciting playoff games, the Indianapolis Colts beat Kansas City 45-44 in the opening round of the playoffs.
The big stumbles of Kansas City down the stretch has made many people wonder about their legitimacy in a tough AFC West. Some big question marks remain about offensive weapons outside of Jamaal Charles, a secondary that lost CB Brandon Flowers to in-division rival San Diego, and their ability to compete with Denver and San Diego as they look to return to the playoffs. In this author’s opinion, the resurgence of the Kansas City Chiefs was greatly accelerated by a terrible first half slate of opponents in 2013, something that will change quickly and harshly given that they will face the Broncos, Patriots, Chargers and 49ers, all within their first 6 games. Late season games against the Cardinals and Seahawks will be no walk in the park either.
6-10, 4th in AFC West.
3. San Diego Chargers
2013 Record: 9-7, AFC Wild Card. Lost in second round.
The San Diego Chargers were the second team in the division that had a ‘tale of two halves’, one that was exactly opposite of their rival, Kansas City. After starting 5-7 with injuries to the defense and growing pains under first year head coach Mike McCoy, the San Diego Chargers put together another impressive second half, winning 5 of their last 6 games and earing the Wild Card berth. In the playoffs, the Chargers beat the AFC North division winners in Cincinnati before losing to the Denver Broncos in the second round.
Much of the 2013 early season struggles were due to defensive injuries as they allowed more than 20 points in 8 of their first 10 games, then held opponents to less than 20 points in 5 of their last 6 games, including the playoff win in Cincinnati. With a second strong draft in a row behind them, look for the young parts of the San Diego Chargers defense to continue to mold together as the likes of Melvin Ingram, Manti Te’o, Jason Verrett, Donald Butler & Corey Luigit become household names along with their veteran counterparts of Eric Weddle, Jarret Johnson, Dwight Freeney and newly acquired Brandon Flowers. The offense will be highly dependent on the health of Ryan Matthews, which gave QB Philip Rivers a nice distraction for much of the season. San Diego still has highly skilled position players including Matthews,
10-6, 2nd in AFC West, Wild Card.
4. Oakland Raiders
2013 Record: 4-12.
It was much the same for the Oakland Raiders in 2013, who have become one of the more hapless organizations in football for the better part of a decade. 2013 marked the 11th straight season in which the Raiders missed the playoffs, a stark contrast to the 2013 season in which every other AFC West team made it to the playoffs in 2013 alone. The Raiders started off well considering their expectations, going 3-4 through their first 7 games with big wins over San Diego and Pittsburgh. However, the months of November and December were especially cruel to the Raiders, going 1-8 during the final two months of the season.
The Oakland Raiders needed a facelift after their 2013 season, and they seemed to book a great plastic surgeon. This team is completely different in almost every way. Last year was plagued by inconstancy from the backfield positions, the Raiders addressed both by signing RB Maurice Jones-Drew from the Jaguars and QB Matt Schaub from the Texans. However, the biggest move was that of drafting second round pick out of Fresno State, QB Derek Carr, who has since won the starter job, and rightfully so. However, with all of those massive changes on offense, it is the defense which looks better than ever. In addition to second rounder Derek Carr on offense, the Raiders scored what many consider the most NFL ready player in linebacker Kahlil Mack. Along with Mack, their defense is littered with newly acquired veteran talent such as Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley up front as well as Charles Woodson and Carlos Rodgers in the secondary. Make no mistake about it, this Raiders’ defense will not only be a vast improvement from the 2013 shell, but has the potential and talent to be a top 10-15 defense by the end of the year.
8-8, 3rd in AFC West.