The AFC West division dominated the American Football Conference during the 2013 season, with three of its teams clinching a spot in the postseason. The Denver Broncos headlined the division, earning the #1 seed in the playoffs and a win in the Conference Championship game. The Kansas City Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers fought their way into the playoffs as well, receiving the #5 and #6 wildcard seeds respectively.
The Denver Broncos spent their offseason setting themselves up for another Super Bowl run. They addressed weaknesses in every phase of their defense, adding pass rusher DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib, and safety TJ Ward. The addition of these three pro-bowl players will strengthen the
Denver defense that ranked 19th in the NFL last year in yards allowed per game. The Broncos suffered losses to both their offense and defense during the offseason. The team lost breakout wide receiver Eric Decker and running back Knowshon Moreno during free agency. They cut future hall of fame cornerback and Broncos veteran Champ Bailey to free up CAP space as well.
Coming off the best season of his career, Peyton Manning is preparing for another run to the playoffs. Wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker headline the strong core of offensive weapons. Many people believe that the key to the Broncos’ offense this year will be second-year runningback Montee Ball. He is now slotted as the teams’ full-time starter and will make an impact in expanding the offense and opening up holes for the passing game through the middle of the field.
Prediction: The improved Broncos defense and dominant offense heads into the 2014 NFL season in the hopes of improving its stellar 13-3 record from last season. I believe that the best-case scenario for the Denver Broncos this season would be a 14-2 record, a division title, and a #1 seed in the playoffs. However, with the improvement of so many other teams in the conference, the Broncos could see themselves falling to 12-4 or 11-5 and having to fight a close battle for the AFC West division crown.
Kansas City Chiefs
The second best team in the division last season was the Kansas City Chiefs. The team gained the first wildcard slot in the postseason after finishing with an 11-5 record.
The team’s focal point was clearly its defense. It finished the regular season with 47 sacks and 21 interceptions. The defensive roster remains very similar after the offseason. The only two major losses to their squad were cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Dunta Robinson. Kansas City added to its already vaunted pass rush by drafting linebacker/defensive end Dee Ford in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
The Chiefs suffered key hits to their offensive line during free agency, losing tackle Brandon Albert and guard Geoff Schwartz. They will rely on second year player and 2013 first-overall pick Eric Fisher to slide into the left tackle position and lead the team’s offensive line.
Prediction: After taking a few hits on both sides of the ball, I believe the Kansas City Chiefs will fail to improve on their 11-5 record from last season. Unless the defense can carry the team even more so than they did last year, the Chiefs look to be about an 8-8 or 9-7 team.
San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers finished as the AFC’s #6 seed in the postseason and the 3rd best team in the AFC West. They finished with a 9-7 record and capped their year off with a playoff win in the Wildcard Round against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The team stayed very quiet during this year’s offseason, the only major signing being cornerback Brandon Flowers to strengthen their secondary. The Chargers also addressed this position during the draft, selecting Jason Verret in the first round.
Led by quarterback Philip Rivers, the Chargers’ offense had a strong year last season. Keenan Allen broke out as a star wide receiver in his rookie year and will be relied on as the team’s number one option in the passing game. Runningback Ryan Matthews is also coming off the best year of his 4-year career, and is primed to have an even stronger season rushing the ball behind the Chargers’ solid offensive line.
Prediction: I believe that the Chargers will perform even stronger than they did last year, winning 10 or 11 games and clinching a wildcard spot yet again in the postseason. If the defense can hold its own, the sky is the limit for the Chargers once they begin the postseason.
Perhaps the busiest team in the NFL in this year’s offseason was the Oakland Raiders. After finishing just 4-12 last year, the Raiders went on a spending spree signing veteran players in free agency.
On defense, the team added defensive end Justin Tuck, linebacker LaMarr Woodley, and cornerback Carlos Rodgers. The Raiders also utilized their first round pick on a defensive player and selected linebacker Khalil Mack. Oakland not only addressed its defense, but also its offense, which failed to produce consistently last season. Matt Schaub and Maurice Jones-Drew were brought in to be the starting quarterback and running back respectively.
Prediction: I believe that Oakland has a strong chance to improve on its 4-12 record from last season. With the addition of many new veteran players, the Raiders will probably win 5 to 7 games this year and although seeing improvement, still fall short of the playoffs.