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AFC West preview

More NFL divisional analysis from the astute Ian Steven, @deevo82.

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AFC West

Denver Broncos

The Broncos were an offensive juggernaut last season until they came up against the road hump that was Seattle in the Super Bowl. It certainly helps any team to have the best quarterback to have ever played the game taking the field and in Peyton Manning the Mile High club have a first ballot hall of fame candidate.

In fact – I probably don’t need to elaborate too much – they have Peyton = division winners. Just as key to Denver’s success is left tackle Ryan Clady. The all-pro lineman went down with a Lis franc injury last year and he was sorely missed in the Super Bowl as Manning was mauled by a pressure heavy Seahawks defense. The rest of the line is average but Manning is so good at reading defences and releasing quickly that it does not become a factor.

Losing Knowshon Moreno in free agency was a blow to Denver’s running game and Eric Decker’s departure to New Jersey left a vacancy at wide receiver that free agent Emmanuelle Sanders looks to fill. The ever-reliable Wes Welker will miss the first four games of the season due to a drug suspension, giving him time to recover form yet another concussion, but Jacob Tamme and Julius Thomas should be able to pick up a lot of the underneath work.

On defense the Broncos have spent big bucks in an effort to tighten up with DeMarcus Ware, Aquib Talib and TJ Ward joining Von Miller for what should be a fearsome defense on paper. The Colorado outfit are near enough locks to win the division but are they good enough to get back to the Super Bowl?

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs were one of the big surprises of last season. Most people believed that Andy Reid would help turn the franchise around but nobody foretold the resurrection would be so imminent. The Arrowhead outfit won their first nine games before losing focus after the bye week to “slump” to an 11-5 record.

The bulk of the success was down to the conservative play of quarterback Alex Smith who threw for 23 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions with a passing attack that featured a lot of play action, thanks to the constant threat of running back Jamal Charles.

Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe has been suspended for the first game of the season for marijuana possession and he needs to wind his neck in as the Chiefs don’t have anyone else in the same stratosphere as him talent-wise at the skill positions.

The offensive line are serviceable with former first overall pick Erik Fisher settling into his second season. The fact that the Missouri franchise are keeping six running backs on the roster gives you a big hint about what their plan of attack will be this season.

On defense, the linebacker trio of Justin Houston, Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson are the most talent packed unit in the NFL. You can even throw Frank Zomba in there without too much of a drop off. As talented as the linebackers are – the Chiefs were terrible last year in terms of giving up yards. How did they manage to win 11 games? Quite simple – they were 5th in the league in points conceded, 19 per game, which is a trait Reid borrowed from his days in Philly with the late Jim Johnson marshalling the defense. Expect a lot of ball control on offense and a lot of field goals scored against on defense as the Chiefs flirt with the wildcards for the second straight season.

Oakland Raiders

Who’s next? The Oakland Raiders?! Dear, Lord. Let’s get this savaging over with.

Two rookies have instantly upgraded this roster by increasing the amount of talented players in the Black Hole to….two.

Derek Carr is a big-armed quarterback from Fresno State and is the brother of David Carr, the former number one overall pick by the Houston Texans. He has been anointed the starter for the Raiders after beating out Matt Schaub for the top job and it is a bold move by Dennis Allen as he has no one to throw to and no-one to block for him.

He does have a couple of big name running backs to hand off to in Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden but Jones-Drew is showing signs of wear and tear and McFadden is so often on the treatment table he does not get the chance for any wearing of tearing to manifest. It’s going to be a tough rookie year for Carr.

On defense, Khalil Mack was the top draft choice of Reggie McKenzie and the outside linebacker from Buffalo is highly thought of with the potential for being moulded into a blue chip player.

And Charles Woodson is back – but he’s 37. That’s about it really. The Raiders could well end up with the worst record in the NFL @ 4.00 with Ladbrokes.

San Diego Chargers

You have to feel sorry for Philip Rivers. He led a top-five offense last season and defeated the Bengals in Cincinnati to reach the divisional playoff game against the Broncos but he still does not get the same sort of fanfare as some of the more established quarterbacks in the league. He is immobile to the point of being compared to a Scottish central defender; he has an awkward throwing motion and is an irritable trash talker. But he is tough, respected by his team mates and compiled a 105 QB rating whilst throwing for nearly 4,500 yards last season. He is the QB the cognoscenti picks in his fantasy draft.

With such a talented quarterback you have to wonder what Tom Telesco is thinking of protecting his top asset with King Dunlap – an offensive tackle the same size as Mount Everest with the same 40 yard dash time.

Keenan Allen came from nowhere last season to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award and he will become a huge comfort blanket. If tight end Antonio Gates can stay healthy, expect the eight-time Pro Bowl selection to post over 100 receptions this season.

The rest of the line’s pretty good however with Nick Chadwick a Pro Bowl talent and they should open a lot of holes for Donald Brown and Ryan Matthews.

It’s defense that is the biggest problem for the Bolts. They gave up a huge chunk of yards in 2013 and have brought in the ageing Dwight Freeney to add some much needed pass rush. Mike McCoy will hope inside linebacker Manti T’Eo makes a big leap in his second season and becomes the sort of lynch pin on defense that made the Hawaiian such a big hit at Notre Dame.

Expect Kansas City and San Diego to duke it out over a playoff spot as Denver pulls away for the division title.

Verdict
1.3 for the Broncos to win the division is just not tempting enough. They will win it – there’s no doubt in my mind –the big question is – can they get to the Super Bowl and avenge their demons?

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