AFC West 2013 Preview: Can Anybody Stop the Denver Broncos?
It's amazing how contrasting the western divisions are in the NFL heading into 2013. In the NFC it is a no-holds-barred arms race for supremacy while the AFC it's pretty much a Super Bowl contender and three unknowns. Everybody knows what to expect from the Denver Broncos. They went 13-3 last season and have the easiest schedule in the league on paper for this one. Their roster has the players and the coaches in place. Is there any team in the division that can stop them?
Oakland Raiders - Matt Flynn leads wide open quarterback race
GM Reggie McKenzie came in from Green Bay with a plan to rebuild the Oakland Raiders and that plan hasn't taken long to take shape. Much of the roster that made up the 2012 season is gone and in its place is a collection of promising but inexperienced talent. No position better exemplifies this than the quarterbacks. Oakland not only traded veteran Carson Palmer to Arizona early in the off-season, they also traded for Seattle backup Matt Flynn whom McKenzie oversaw with the Packers. Together with fourth round pick Tyler Wilson and other former backup Terrelle Pryor the Raiders have perhaps the most wide open competition for the starting quarterback job in the league. While it does bring a degree of excitement to the fans, it also brings uncertainty. There are no guarantees Oakland will win much in 2013. However, if things shake out quickly and the team comes together they have enough playmakers to at least make it interesting.
San Diego Chargers - Mike McCoy determined to revive Philip Rivers
Perhaps the biggest enigma of the AFC West is the San Diego Chargers. Once the dominant team of the division, they have fallen on hard times thanks to injuries, free agent losses and regressed play from their stars. That is one reason the team hired new head coach Mike McCoy. His goal heading into the season is to help quarterback Philip Rivers rediscover his Pro Bowl form. Indeed since 2010 he has steadily gotten worse. Last year was one of his worst since his rookie season, posting over 1,000 fewer passing yards and 22 turnovers. He also got sacked 49 times. Those are not numbers that equal success. McCoy knows this but believes the problem isn't just with Rivers. The entire offense needs an overhaul and that has been the mission since. They added some very nice pieces in the draft in right tackle D.J. Fluker and wide receiver Keenan Allen. Together with a bolstered running game featuring Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown backing up Ryan Mathews, the Bolts appear poised on paper to improve.
Kansas City Chiefs - Andy Reid and Alex Smith hope to turn Chiefs around
Many wondered aloud why the Kansas City Chiefs can't win. They certainly don't lack for talent on offense or defense. The running theory, which is supported by experts was they lacked proven ability at the two most important spots on a team: head coach and quarterback. Those now appear filled with former Coach of the Year Andy Reid coming over from Philadelphia and able veteran Alex Smith taking over at quarterback after getting traded from San Francisco. If anything else they bring an air of prior success and professionalism to the Chiefs young roster. Couple that with a bevy of calculated off-season moves including #1 overall pick Eric Fisher and free agents Donnie Avery, Anthony Fasano, and Sean Smith and it seems Kansas City has no real roster weakness heading into the season. The key is for Reid to get them playing efficient, high energy football from the start. Doing that may give them the best opportunity of any team to challenge Denver.
Denver Broncos - Peyton Manning ready to finish what he started
The one reason the Broncos are so heavily favored in the west is two words: Peyton Manning. While the team has plenty of talent throughout the roster, it is having the four-time MVP under center that makes it all work at such a high level. Denver hasn't rested on their laurels either. Haunting memories of their bitter defeat in the playoffs against Baltimore remain fresh and the front office has stayed busy trying to fix the issues that led to it. They signed star slot receiver Wes Welker away from New England, guard Louis Vasquez, corner Quentin Jammer and linebacker Shaun Phillips from San Diego, and drafted defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and running back Montee Ball. Amazingly their roster seems even stronger than the 13-3 unit that stormed through the season a year ago. There is no question it is Super Bowl or bust for Denver. To lose the division would be unthinkable, though never impossible.