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The Road To The Super Bowl, AFC West
by Wayne Root - 08/07/2012
This is a series of Conference Previews as the 2012 NFL Season is just 2 weeks from the Preseason start. As the season progresses, I will be updating these predictions as upsets and "key" injuries can change the course of action in a nano-second. There have been some off-season trades and the chemistry and the locker-room antics will be closely monitored during the two-a-day practices in the heat of August. This early season guide will allow you to stay updated on last seasons strengths and weakness and what lies ahead for each team this season.
There is not a team that is a heavy favorite to run-away with the Conference title in the AFC West this season. The off-season signing of Peyton Manning will keep the AFC West in all the media and TV reporters sights as additional National televised games are on this years schedule. There will also be added attention and focus on Coach Norv Turners first 4 games and the play of Philip Rivers. The hiring of Coach Crennel for Kansas City puts this team back in the lime-light along with the return of their top 2 offensive weapons and Raider Nation will have to wait one more year and settle for .500.
Denver Broncos: Matters are going to be tight in the AFC West this year, especially with the way that the Denver Broncos have rebuilt themselves. Last season the Broncos ranked 31st in passing (for obvious reasons), but the addition of Peyton Manning will substantially improve on their 152 passing yards per game average. They are clearly the most interesting team in the league this year, as the biggest question that is there for the answering is whether QB Peyton Manning is really healthy and is really ready to come back and be a dominating quarterback. There were signs that perhaps the great Manning was slipping before his neck injury that cost him the entire 2012 season, but after signing with Denver, he is going to have to prove that he can make great strides once again in a new location.The receivers might be more talented now than he had in Indianapolis of late, knowing that WR Demaryius Thomas can fly down the field and WR Eric Decker is the new version of WR Marvin Harrison. Manning will be equipped with young, talented receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, as well as familiar faces Jacob Tamme and Brandon Stokley. The defense carried Head Coach John Fox’s team last year with QB Tim Tebow calling the shots, and with the likes of DL Elvis Dumervil and LB Von Miller leading the way, there’s no reason to think that that won’t be the case once again in 2012. Defensively, the Broncos will have to lean heavily on their front seven led by Von Miller, D.J Williams and a healthier Elvis Dumervil. The secondary will be the Bronco’s biggest question mark with the loss of Brian Dawkins and the aging of Champ Bailey. The key to this team will lie with the defensive secondary more than Peyton Manning. We suspect he will be "just fine".
San Diego Chargers: The team that has a lot of preseason hype about it coming into 2012 is the San Diego Chargers. We just don’t understand what in the heck the oddsmakers are thinking about this one. WR Vincent Jackson is gone, and for whatever reason, Head Coach Norv Turner is still there. Many fans and analysts picked the Chargers to run away with the AFC West last season, but instead they sputtered to 8-8. This has been the biggest underachieving team in the league for years now, and there’s just no reason to believe that that won’t be the case once again. Statistically, the Chargers ranked sixth in the NFL in points per game with 25.4, total yards per game with 393 and passing yards per game with 276, but as many Coaches claim, “stats don’t win football games." This rang true as some weeks the Chargers offense looked anemic, mostly due to injuries in the running game and to TE Antonio Gates. QB Philip Rivers deserves better than this, but we just don’t see it happening. Do watch out for RB Ryan Mathews this year, as he might be in for one of those quite special seasons as he takes over as the team’s primary rusher for the second straight year. Four year lows in touchdowns, completion percentage and QB Rating for Phillip Rivers didn’t help the Chargers cause either. Matters could get worse offensively with key losses on offense in Vincent Jackson and Mike Tolbert.The Chargers were an average unit on defense last season, as the team struggled to pressure QBs and registered only 32 sacks for the season. Former Ravens outside linebacker Jarret Johnson and rookie Melvin Ingram should marginally improve the Chargers pass rush this season. If I was Norv Turner, I would have my Agent start the buy-out paperwork early. It's really incredible that he's still the Head Coach.
Kansas City Chiefs: The interesting team to us is the Kansas City Chiefs The Chiefs really came together at the end of last season after interim coach Romeo Crennel took over. The Chiefs ended the 2011 season on a high note winning two out of their last three, including a win over the Packers at Arrowhead. The Packer victory was enough to convince the Chiefs to retain Romeo Crennel’s services as head coach heading into 2012. The “Patriot Way” still rules in Kansas City, and that’s the way that the Chiefs are going to hope to grow. There aren’t a lot of flashy names on the Kansas City sidelines, but save for QB Tom Brady there haven’t been a lot of flashy names for the Patriots of late either. Matt Cassel's season was ended last year due to a broken hand suffered in week 10. Prior to that, Cassel was having a disappointing season, which led many to question if he should be replaced. He led the Chiefs to being ranked 31st in points per game at 13.2. Contributing to the lack of offensive production was an early season-ending injury to explosive running back Jamaal Charles. Remember that RB Jamaal Charles, who was one of the most electric backs in the league two years ago, basically missed the entire season in 2011, and he’ll be joined by RB Peyton Hillis as well. Charles will be returning from an ACL tear, with a reduced workload due to the addition of smash-mouth runner Peyton Hillis. DT Dontari Poe might be a diamond in the rough as a rookie this year, though the team has failed with a number of young defensive players of late. Note to all: Arrowhead Red is the hardest place to WIN for opposing players and home field ROCKS for the Chiefs...a true 13th Man on the field.
Oakland Raiders: When Matt Leinart is one of your key offseason additions, that should say it all about the state of your franchise. The Oakland Raiders are pulling up the rear in the AFC West this year. New Raiders head coach, Dennis Allen, will have his hands full with a defense that finished in the bottom third of all defensive categories last season. The Raiders defense ranked 29th in total yards with 387 per game and 29th in points allowed with 27.1 per game, and that’s prior to losing two of their top defenders in Kamerion Wimbley and Stanford Routt. We can clearly recognize that this is a talented team, especially with one of the best RB Darren McFadden in the backfield. Raiders running back Darren McFadden has top-five back talent, but injuries have limited him each season he has been in the NFL. Which is why the Raiders letting go perhaps their best and most consistent threat, running back Michael Bush, is mind-boggling. QB Carson Palmer will have a full offseason worth of work in him this year, which could once again see him round into one of the elite signal callers in the league. The question is whether yet another new coaching staff in the post-Al Davis era can really get things together for Raider Nation. There wasn't much of an NFL Draft to work with this year, so rookies are going to be few and far between. We think that it might still be a year away, though we do recognize the fact that Oakland is a team that is heading in the right direction and could threaten the .500 mark once again this year. There are just too many areas of concern and uncertainty for a first year Coach. The obvious keys to this years puzzle are QB Carson Palmer, any injuries to McFadden and total team effort on defensive to collectively move up their defensive stats. And even with that, they still can win when they are suppose to lose and lose games that they should win. Write them down for 7-9.
WAR'S PREDICTION: Remember that this is Kansas City team that is just one full year removed from being the AFC West champs. Denver is a great team, but we think that it is being overplayed, and we just don't think all that much of the Chargers either.