The AFC West finds the Denver Broncos with the highest season win-total, 11.5, in the NFL this season. The question begs whether coaching changes in Kansas City and San Diego will thwart Peyton Manning’s return to the postseason.
AFC West Division
Team Theme: PEYTON’S RACE
Realizing star QB Peyton Manning is not getter any younger (who is?), the Broncos were busy in the offseason making moves to bolster a run to the Super Bowl now. WR Wes Welker moves over from New England while G Louis Vasquez leaves San Diego’s starting lineup for Denver’s. In addition, VP of Football Operations John Elway slapped the franchise tag on OT Ryan Clady. Meanwhile, former Broncos QB coach Adam Gase assumes the new offensive coordinator role with Mike McCoy taking over the reins in San Diego. Jack Del Rio returns as the defensive coordinator, the first time Denver has had the same DC in consecutive seasons since 2005-06. The selection of Wisconsin’s Montee Ball in the 2nd round of the draft could be a coup as the workhorse running back also blocks and has excellent hands, prerequisites for working in a Manning backfield. It all works provided Denver’s offensive line stays healthy. So does the schedule with the Broncos facing, by far, the softest strength-of-schedule opponents in 2013 (last year’s foes .430 overall). It’s Super Bowl or bust for the Broncos.
Stat You Will Like: Peyton Manning’s 37 TD passes and his 105.8 QB rating at the end of the season were the 2nd best numbers of his career.
PLAY ON: as a dog at New England (11/24)
IN THE STATS: The SU stat winner was 15-2 SU in Broncos games last season.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Team Theme: ON THE CORNER OF 12TH ST AND VINE
Much like the 2-win Jacksonville Jaguars, the Chiefs are resigned to the fact that there is no place to go but up in 2013. After turning over half the roster, the pieces are in place with Andy Reid, the lone new coach in the league this year with previous NFL head coaching experience. His team sports a downy-soft non-division strength-of-schedule in 2013, with Chiefs’ opponents going 74-90 (.451) last season. In addition, Reid is 140-102-1 overall in his NFL career with five NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl appearance. An upgrade at the quarterback position (Alex Smith in; Matt Cassel out, and pistol-guru Chris Ault on board as a consultant), along with the top pick in this year’s draft (OL Eric Fisher) and offensive weapons Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe indicate certain signs of improvement on that side of the ball. The defense was bolstered by the free agent signings of CBs Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson, plus DE Mike DeVito. Along with talented pass rusher Tamba Hali, LB Derrick Johnson and DB Eric Berry, Andy is feeling just dandy about his move from Philadelphia to Kansas City. Look out Kansas City, here he comes.
Stat You Will Like: The Chiefs had six Pro Bowlers last season.
PLAY ON: at Buffalo (11/3)
IN THE STATS: After going 5-0 ‘ITS’ to start 2012, the Chiefs went 2-9 ‘ITS’ the final 11 games.
Team Theme: BUY A PROGRAM
In a season of makeovers, the Raiders are laying down a new foundation. QB Carson Palmer and his favorite target, TE Brandon Myers, are gone along with WR Darrius Heyward-Bey. On the defensive front, DT Tommy Kelly and S Michael Huff have departed. In fact, only ONE player from the front seven returns. (That’s what happens after tying a franchise low with 25 sacks last season.) It’s likely nine of 11 positions on defense will find players with new names on the back of their jerseys. Meanwhile, free agent QB Matt Flynn replaces Palmer but it should be noted Flynn, after inking a big free agent contract last year, failed to beat out 3rd-round QB Russell Wilson at Seattle. However, don’t be surprised if Flynn isn’t pushed for the starting job by Tyler Wilson (Arkansas) who highly respected QB coach-guru Terry Shea insists, “makes all the throws and will be a good player in this league for a long while.” And if all this isn’t enough, the Raiders signed free agent WR-KR Joshua Cribbs, a three-time Pro Bowler. Finally, in an effort to avoid blackouts, Oakland removed 9,882 seats from the O.co Coliseum, reducing the seating capacity to 53,250 (the lowest in the league).
Stat You Will Like: The Raiders are 15-3 ATS as division road dogs the last six seasons.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Pittsburgh (10/27)
IN THE STATS: The Raiders have allowed over 400 yards in 10 of 16 home games the L2Y.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Team Theme: JUST IMAGINE
When new head coach Mike McCoy, Denver’s former offensive coordinator, interviewed for the San Diego job, he brought along binders full of detailed plans and visualization and won over the Chargers’ top brass. It wasn’t hard, considering San Diego has missed out on the playoffs each of the last three years. Make no mistake: this is as close to a major overhaul as the Chargers have seen in quite a while. Included was a plan to build a fortress around Philip Rivers to better protect the franchise quarterback. Rivers was sacked 49 times last season, trailing only Aaron Rodgers (51) for most takedowns. The Chargers immediately signed two free agent guards and used their first pick in the draft on OT D.J. Fluker of Alabama. Just as important, they named former Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt as the new offensive coordinator to call the plays, a marked difference from former coach Norv Turner who handled both duties. Whisenhunt has coached QBs Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner and figures to revive Rivers’ career. Newest additions to the Chargers defense, which improved 20 YPG in 2012, are Pro Bowl DE Dwight Freeney and Notre Dame LB Manti Te’o, who fills a need at ILB. We can only imagine he will.
Stat You Will Like: The Chargers were 6-13 SU and 7-12 ATS in Eastern Time Zone cities with Norv Turner.
PLAY AGAINST: at Oakland (10/6)
IN THE STATS: The Chargers were outgained in each of their last seven games in 2012
Note: Team write-ups are excerpts from the 2013 PLAYBOOK Football Preview magazine. Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. Potential designated ‘Play On’ and ‘Play Against’ Best Bets follow each team’s preview.