The AFC West is tough to predict. Several variables could change the division’s outcome radically. Here’s some discussion, albeit one-sided, and then I’ll make my personal predictions.
The Oakland Raiders need a lot of help. Their first choice, and the 5th pick overall, was LB Khalil Mack out of Buffalo. Mack is a 6 feet 3 inch, 251 pound All American, and considered by most worthy of an early pick
The Raiders chose Fresno State QB Derek Carr as the overall 36th pick. He is considered ready to play this year. Oakland has been looking for a franchise QB for several years. Coach Dennis Allen will have some tough decisions, and most of them will determine the team’s future for the next several years.
Their defense has become better thanks to off-season deals and the draft. The offense is questionable. And the biggest question is; ‘will Coach Allen start QB Matt Schaub, or will he go with the rookie?’
The Kansas City Chiefs surprised nearly every one for the first half of the 2013 season, and finally made it to the playoffs. Coach Andy Reid has changed the hopes of every fan. However, their draft choices were questionable, and only given a C+ by the experts.
Their biggest loss was to free agency. Three of their five starting offensive linemen left for greener pastures; left tackle Branden Albert, and guards Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz. They also lost defensive end Tyson Jackson and receiver-returner Dexter McCluster.
Will Alex Smith have a comparable season to 2013 in 2014? Who will be his targets besides Dwayne Bowe? Recently there have been rumors that Houston Texans’ Pro-Bowler Andre Johnson may become a Chief. That would be a huge loss to Houston, and a great game-changer for Kansas City. There are far too many questions for me to believe they could challenge San Diego or Denver for the Division Championship.
I may stand alone, and receive my younger brother’s anger, but I do not believe the Denver Broncos will win their division this season. Their offensive line was a huge problem in the Super Bowl. They signed 15 free agents in the off-season, and only one was an OT. They drafted Michael Schofield, offensive tackle out of Michigan, in the third round. He is expected to secure a position, but creating a cohesive unit will not happen in a single season.
The other problem is Peyton Manning. He may have another record setting season, but he is in the twilight of his career. The other part of an uncomfortable situation is a threat of injury. The team is built around their Hall of Fame QB. If he is injured, their season could be in shambles.
I am not a fan of John Fox or Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio. Poor decisions by Fox cost the Broncos a second playoff game in the 2012 season, and he obviously failed to have his team ready to play against Seattle in February. And Jack Del Rio’s defensive secondary was porous. In addition, the team’s sack statistics were unacceptable.
The San Diego Chargers are a bit of an enigma. QB Phillip Rivers’ stats are excellent, but he has failed to take the Chargers deep into the playoffs. Their draft received a B- overall. Choices in the first three rounds were a CB, Jason Verrett, from TCU; Jeremiah Attaochu, an OLB from Georgia Tech; and Chris Watt, an OT out of Notre Dame. All three may be possible starters in 2014.
Head Coach Mike McCoy has a talented offensive unit of Rivers, RBs Ryan Matthews, and Donald Brown. Their receiving corps is excellent led by TE Antonio Gates, and WRs Eddie Royal and Keenan Allen. Gates has had foot problems and the backup QB is Kellen Clemens, who has not yet proven he has the ability to play in the NFL. An injury to Rivers could be as disastrous as an injury to Manning would be for Denver.
So, here’s the way I see it.
San Diego will finally win their division. The strength of their roster. Head Coach Mike McCoy, Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, and Defensive Coordinator John Pagano will make a difference. Rivers may have finally matured and his only concern will be winning, not statistics.
The Denver Broncos should claim second place, barring an injury to Manning resulting in his loss for several games. He makes receivers better, and that may be beneficial to Emmanuel Sanders a WR acquired from Pittsburgh. Their draft also contains WR Cody Latimer who is 6 feet 3 inches tall, weighs 215 pounds, and ran a 4.39 40 yard dash. They will most likely be a wild card team.
I would personally love to see Andy Reid take Kansas City to the playoffs again. I just don’t see it happening. Their offensive line will have to learn to play as a unit. I do not believe that Alex Smith will have the type of success he had early in the 2013 season. With the 49ers he was frequently hesitant, and his release is not as quick as I believe it should be.
The Oakland Raiders continue to rebuild. I predict that Derek Carr will be their starting QB, if not for the first game, by the third. He has great talent, but he’s not ready for the speed of the NFL. The 2016 season may find them at the top again, but not in 2014.
Next: The NFC North Division