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ATPF Divisional Preview- AFC West

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Denver Broncos- The Broncos have had the entire offseason to think about just how close they were to playing the AFC Championship at home and had they edged that six quarter thriller with the Ravens they must believe that they would have lifted the Lombardi trophy. The good news however is that providing they have gotten over the defeat they look to have leading claims to make amends, indeed their roster is arguably the NFL’s strongest.

Offensively Peyton Manning returned from his no-show in 2011 and took control of the Broncos instantly. He lacked a bit of zip on his throws and the spirals weren’t always tight but his unmatched preparation and ability to read defenses and adjust at the line made up for that and he transformed an average offense to the 4th best in the league. Manning should be better prepared physically this season and his play could improve on 2012. With the huge acquisition of Wes Welker the Broncos now have arguably the best trio of wide receivers in the league. Demaryius Thomas is the most physically gifted; he hauled in 10 touchdowns and over 1400 yards last year as he finally fulfilled his potential under Manning’s tutelage. Eric Decker also had a career year, 1000 yards and 13 touchdowns his return. Throw in Wes Welker who catches 100 balls a season every season in the slot and Peyton must feel like every Sunday is Christmas. Welker’s unmatched ability to get open and find seams will be as missed in Boston as it is welcomed in Denver. Tight ends Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme both saw plenty of the field last year but with Welker’s arrival rarely will they both be out together and it would be a surprise if either had a big year. Rookie tailback Montee Ball will get the start but injury prone Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman who had a decent rookie year will also expect touches in a crowded backfield. Upfront the Broncos line gave up the fewest sacks of any team in 2012, a great help to Manning’s rehab. Pro-Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady, physically gifted right tackle Orlando Franklin and underrated Zane Beadles and J.D. Walton are joined by free agent acquisition Louis Vasquez, a massive road grader who should help in the run game and could be the missing piece to making this the NFL’s best o-line. A healthy Manning is the key and if he remains upright this unit should again be very near the top of the end of season rankings in all categories bar rushing yards.

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Peyton Manning conducting the Broncos offense

The second best defense in football last year will miss all-world pass rusher Von Miller (suspends first six games) early on, especially with Elvis Dumervil gone after a fax debacle forced his release. Former Charger Shaun Phillips should take Dumervil’s place although he is a downgrade while Wesley Woodyard may take Miller’s spot in the first six weeks. Third year pro Nate Irving and oft injured journeyman Stewart Bradley will compete for the inside backer start. Upfront the Broncos have added size, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is reunited with giant Terrance Knighton who he drafted as Jacksonville head coach, Knighton will start alongside draft day faller Sylvester Williams, an excellent pass rushing tackle. Derek Wolfe moves to end where he is oversized rather than undersized as he was at tackle. A bigger stronger line and another strong unit set to be even better in 2013. The secondary sees future hall of fame cornerback Champ Bailey enter his 15th season still near the top at his position. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a talented underachiever can learn from Bailey and should start opposite. Safeties Mike Adams and Rahim Moore, infamous for getting burned by Joe Flacco and Jacoby Jones in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter in the playoffs complete the starters. Defensively the Broncos have been excellent each of the last 2 years but with Miller’s ban and Dumervil’s departure they won’t lead the NFL in sacks as in 2012, this could put pressure on a secondary which looks the potential Achilles heel of the defense, a top 10 unit is by no means a certainty this time around.

2013 Predicted wins13-14

Playoff PredictionHealth permitting a deep run looks certain for the Broncos and we see them winning the AFC and going to the Superbowl.

Kansas City ChiefsThe Chiefs were an awful football team in 2012 but have rung the changes and the sum of their parts should be better than 2-14. Changes upstairs and on the sidelines highlight the moves with former Eagles head coach Andy Reid, a highly respected leader taking over from fired Romeo Crennel, a major upgrade for the Chiefs. Reid is smart enough to know that the Chiefs aren’t in the same stratosphere as their divisional foes Denver so he can concentrate on rebuilding thoroughly and this is year one of a long term project to make the Chiefs competitive again.

New head coaches often mean new quarterbacks and Andy Reid’s man is Alex Smith who controversially lost his job after injury in San Francisco. In his eighth year in San Fran Smith was having his best season until the injury. He has largely been a disappointment and his limitations have long been exposed, as a short to intermediate rhythm passer he is accurate enough but lacks the arm strength to stretch the field. Smith is probably a slight upgrade over Matt Cassel, the departing starter who also lacked arm talent. The running game is the key to Kansas’ offense with Jamaal Charles quietly becoming one of the league’s best running backs. After going down in the 2011 opener he bounced back with a 1500 yard season in 2012, he could be stronger again this year but must be looked after better, thumping rookie Knile Davis can help by taking some of the burden. Pro bowl receiver Dwayne Bowe’s full potential has never quite been realised due to the poor quarterbacks he has suffered in Kansas. Re-signing Bowe was a priority and Reid will hope to get the most from the powerful receiver. A peculiar trade saw A.J. Jenkins, San Francisco’s first round draft choice last year replace Jon Baldwin and he can compete with Donnie Avery, a veteran signed from Indianapolis for the start. Anthony Fasano arrived from Miami and will split time with Tony Moeaki at tight end, both are average players at best and third round draft pick Travis Kelce will hope to win the starting job in 2014. First overall selection Eric Fisher, a hugely talented athlete and Brandon Albert who the Chiefs tried to trade will play tackle. The interior of this line is inexperienced, three former second round picks will be thrown into a sink or swim situation, if a leader emerges the Chiefs could have a promising young line going forward, even if Albert departs. Overall any offense containing Bowe and Charles has potential but with Smith as more of a game manager at quarterback the Chiefs will more be looking to improve on last year’s -24 turnover differential than moving up heavily on their 24th overall in offensive yards.

The Chiefs defense is pretty strong bar the defensive line which has seen a revolving door of high draft picks disappoint. Still there is Tyson Jackson, a former top 10 pick who is just an ok defensive end and he should play opposite free agent signee Mike DeVito who was a forgettable player with the Jets. Giant nose tackle Dontari Poe had his moments in his rookie year, Kansas needs him to become a force to take some of the strain upfront. The Chiefs linebackers are an excellent group, Tamba Hali is one of the league’s best pass rushers but Justin Houston outdid him in his first season in KC as the duo tallied an impressive 19 sacks. Derrick Johnson is a sideline to sideline player inside and a fine player, Akeem Jordan, a man Reid knows well and rookie Nico Johnson will compete for the final linebacker spot. The Chiefs secondary is a good group also; pro bowl safety Eric Berry and near-shutdown corner Brandon Flowers are both elite players. Sean Smith will start opposite Flowers, he was Miami’s best corner last year but the free safety spot is the question mark with rookie Sanders Commings a possible starter. Like the offense the Chiefs defense is diverse in talent, if they can get better play upfront to help stop the run which they couldn’t do last year this unit has the talent to move into the top 16 overall.

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Safety Eric Berry and cornerback Brandon Flowers

2013 Predicted wins6-7

Playoff Prediction- A weak division and friendly schedule favours KC but they look to have too many holes to manage a winning record or to make the playoffs.

San Diego ChargersHead coach Norv Turner flattered to deceive in San Diego and finally outstayed his welcome with a seven win season continuing a four year trend of declining win totals. Mike McCoy takes over after impressing as offensive coordinator in Denver but is an unknown as a head coach. With Philip Rivers no longer looking a superbowl calibre quarterback the window has long closed on San Diego and it looks time to rebuild and start again. The race between them and the Chiefs is on as the Broncos window is only as long as 37 year old Peyton Manning lasts, after that divisional dominance could be there for the taking for one of these two rebuilding franchises.

Rivers’ decline has been pretty dramatic in the last couple of years, from best quarterback without a superbowl ring to struggling, turnover prone liability. In fairness to Rivers he has had little help from the rest of the offense during his prolonged slump; the bad news is that things may not be much better in 2013. Starters at wide receiver are Danario Alexander, who was signed off the street but played well in 2012 and Malcolm Floyd, another big bodied receiver who is just an average starter. Free agent signings last year Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal were both huge disappointments, they are both playing for their jobs this year but past form proves both are capable of more. The one receiver Rivers has been able to rely on most of his career is tight end Antonio Gates, a future hall of fame candidate but injuries have taken a heavy toll on Gates in the last couple of years and relying on him now is a roll of the dice. Another future hall of famer whose absence has been huge is now retired running back LaDainian Tomlinson. His replacement, 2010 first round draft pick Ryan Mathews has at times given cause for optimism but injuries have been the recurring theme and he looks another player who simply must be better and indeed healthier this year if he is to have a future here. Danny Woodhead should be a help to Phil Rivers, the versatile back is particularly dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield. The o-line is still missing retired Marcus McNeill, a pro bowl left tackle whose career was cut short by a neck injury. Former Pittsburgh Steeler Max Starks now mans this crucial spot; he is at least an upgrade over released Jared Gaither if not quote in McNeill’s league. Rookie DJ Fluker a huge mauling blocker will play the right side; expect plenty of run plays behind him. Seventh year vet Jeremey Clary and free agent acquisition Rich Ohrnberger will likely start at guard with center Nick Hardwick probably the Chargers best lineman. The offensive line play has to be better than 2012 to give Rivers a chance. The whole offense is reliant on players bouncing back, Rivers from his slump, Mathews and Gates from injury, Meachem and Royal from no shows last year and a line from substandard play. They may get some success here but overall there just isn’t enough to believe that the offense has improved much from a unit that ranked 31st overall in 2012. If Rivers struggles again things could get really ugly.

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Tight end Antonio Gates and quarterback Philip Rivers

The strength of the defense is the defensive ends, Corey Liuget a 2011 first round pick and Kendall Reyes a second round pick in 2012 are emerging as stars. Nose tackle Cam Thomas should be the new starter between the talented duo and he is a player the Chargers have always liked. The Chargers were eleventh in the league in sacks last year but their leader in that category, Shaun Phillips left and now Larry English and Jarret Johnson are expected to be the main pass rushers, neither are upper echelon talents but are at least experienced pros. Linebacker Donald Butler had a career year in 2012, he is joined inside by Mant Te’o, a player best known for a mystifying incident which saw him grieve for his dead girlfriend, who turned out to be a fictional character. Te’o will be under the spotlight but for the most part was a pretty good college player and on the field there was never an issue. A completely rebuilt secondary will see third year pro Marcus Gilchrist step up to start at corner, opposite him should be Derek Cox, a victim of the car crash in Jacksonville last season. Depth is slim on the ground but at least in free safety Eric Weddle the Chargers have one of the best around. Second year pro Brandon Taylor a huge hitter will play strong side but has to prove himself in coverage. The front three is the strength of the Chargers but with the overall talent pool lacking, a second consecutive top 10 defense looks unlikely, in any case that was probably a false economy considering they had to play Oakland and Kansas City twice each.

2013 Predicted wins– 4-5

Playoff PredictionThe Chargers look could easily be 0-4 when they go to Oakland in early October, a return to the playoffs from there is virtually impossible.

Oakland Raiders– The Raiders are still trying hard to shed their laughing stock tag, former owner Al Davis death has left Reggie McKenzie in charge and the GM is cleaning house, he needs to. Unfortunately for Raiders fans the mess McKenzie was left with will take a lot more than two years to fix, in the meantime results and performance on the field are unlikely to be positive.

Quarterback Carson Palmer departed for Arizona and in came Matt Flynn who was supposed to be the starter in Seattle last year only to lose out to rookie Russell Wilson in the pre season. Unfortunately lightning may strike twice for Flynn with unproven but athletic Terrelle Pryor gaining momentum in his bid to become starter. Pryor is certainly on-trend as a versatile dual threat quarterback but must prove he has the passing ability to be a success. The most talented Raider by far is running back Darren McFadden but he has missed 23 games in five years in the league. The Raiders nonetheless have built around McFadden, changing their blocking scheme to suit McFadden’s between the tackles style. Rashad Jennings leaves the woeful Jaguars for the equally abysmal Raiders as McFadden’s backup. Center Stefen Wisniewski and tackle Jared Veldheer are the team’s best linemen while guard Mike Brisiel simply must be better than 2012 to earn his hefty paycheck. Denarius Moore is sure to start at wide receiver, beyond him a group of unproven youngsters will compete with Jacoby Ford for playing time. Tight ends Richard Gordon and David Ausberry will both get playing time but a combined 12 career catches are further evidence of the weakness of this Raiders roster. A group with questions over every offensive position leaves little optimism and the 18th ranking of a year ago is hard to see being matched unless Pryor comes straight in and lights it up Colin Kaepernick style.

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Raiders running back Darren McFadden

To say the Raiders defense has been revamped would be an understatement, nine new starters and nine new free agent acquisitions in place of eight departures. Free agent signings Vance Walker (Atlanta), Pat Sims (Cincinnati) and Jason Hunter (Denver) will join Lamarr Houston upfront. Three more free agents Kevin Burnett (Miami), Nick Roach (Chicago) and Kaluka Maiava are all likely starters at linebacker and the secondary is also transformed. Former Saint Tracy Porter struggled in Denver and moves on again while Mike Jenkins half hearted attitude saw him out of Dallas, both have ability at least. First round pick D.J. Hayden will compete with the duo for a starting berth and will surely start sooner rather than later regardless. Former Brown Usama Young joins one of two  returnees Tyvon Branch at safety to complete a unit of misfits who need to gel and improve individually and collectively to be competitive, it’s likely McKenzie has some hits and some misses amongst this group but ultimately the Raiders will likely be in the bottom quarter of end of season rankings.

2013 Predicted wins1-2

Playoff PredictionIf the end of season positions were reversed the Raiders would likely have homefield advantage, in the real world they are years away from the playoffs.

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Author: Dave

I have been an NFL fan since my first visit to the USA where I stayed in both Dallas and Houston. I have also visited New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Kentucky. I was hooked the first time I watched a Cowboys game whilst out there although I must confess I had little idea what was going on! Like a lot of British fans I just kept picking more and more up and now follow the NFL news daily and hopefully have a decent level of knowledge myself! I am a Cowboys fan for my sins, I loved the twin cities of Dallas-Fort Worth in my time there and the iconic Cowboys were of instant appeal. First and foremost however I'm a football fan and all my articles will be written impartially. I hope you enjoy our site, feel free to leave us your comments and opinions.

2 thoughts on “ATPF Divisional Preview- AFC West

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