A Totally Biased Way-Too-Big NFL Preview: The AFC West

Editors Note: In a sign of good faith to Kris [and because the Giants take on the Broncos in week 2], I have done him the service of perfect placement of the title for this wonderful article.

If there’s one division I really dislike, it’s the AFC West, but I’ll roll with it…

Since 2000, Each team in the AFC West has been the division champ with Denver claiming the last two titles. Last season it was the Broncos running away with the division at 13-3 and the second place Chargers ending the year at 7-9.

San Diego, Kansas City and Oakland have all made great additions to their teams, but will they be enough to contend with Denver? Will the loss of Von Miller along with the injuries to Champ Bailey and Wes Welker affect the Broncos Super Bowl hopes?

Let’s be real. The Broncos, are again, taking this division with ease. While Denver has Super Bowl expectations, the rest of the West is reaching for the playoffs and when I say “reach” I really mean, they’re probably not getting in.

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Denver Broncos

2012 Recap: On March 20th, 2012, the Broncos acquired All-World Quarterback Peyton Manning, by far the biggest signing of the season. Inking such a great QB immediately put Denver into Super Bowl contention. After a shaky 2-3 start to the year, the Broncos rattled off 11 straight wins and nabbed their second consecutive division title as well as the #1 overall seed in the AFC. With home-field advantage and a first-round bye Denver seemed to be on track to Super Bowl XLVII, right? Not quite. A double-overtime bout with the eventual Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens left the Broncos empty-handed.

Biggest Off-season Move:  Signing Wes Welker. This one hurts for Patriots fans, but that’s life. Tom Brady’s favorite target since ’07 took off to play with his arch-nemesis, Peyton Manning. We’ll deal. Anywho, this signing is great for Denver. The Broncos add the only player to ever have five 100-catch seasons and  recorded 672 grabs in six seasons, the most by far in that span. Along with Welker Denver features Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, all of whom recorded 1,000+ yards last year.

Breakout Player: Derek Wolfe. Wolfe was Denver’s top choice in the 2012 draft and became an instant impact player on the defensive line. Wolfe will look to build off of his 40 tackles and 6 sacks he had in 2012. With Von Miller’s 6-game suspension and Elvis Dumervil’s departure, the Broncos defense will need a player to step up and lead the pack, that player should be Wolfe. If Denver wants to maintain it’s #2 ranked defense, Wolfe needs to perform at the Pro-Bowl level he’s capable of.

Crucial Match-up: @ Houston Texans, Sunday, December 22nd. This game will feature two of last year’s top defenses and offenses. Both teams will be competing for the AFC’s top seed and home-field advantage.

San Diego Chargers

2012 Recap: The Chargers finished their 2012 campaign with a 7-9 record and failed to make the playoffs for the third year in a row. After another dismal season for Powder Blue’s, San Diego decided to part ways with their Head Coach Norv Turner, who had been the man in charge for six seasons. Injuries piled up on the San Diego offense with Ryan Matthews, Vincent Brown and wide-out Malcolm Floyd all ending their seasons on Injured Reserve.

Biggest Off-season Move: Dwight Freeney. The Chargers inked Dwight Freeney 6 days after their future star Melvin Ingram went down with a torn ACL. Freeney brings a veteren pass-rusher capable of recording double-digit sacks.

Breakout Player: Vincent Brown. With San Diego’s huge target, Danario Alexander, going down with torn ACL and Malcolm Floyd’s sprained knee, the Chargers need Vincent Brown to step up. It’s worth noting that this is the fifth time Alexander has shredded his knee, yikes!The Chargers added a few pieces to their offensive line to help protect Philip Rivers. If Rivers get a little more time in the pocket, he and Brown could be in for a big year. Add on third rouch draft choice Keenan Allen and San Diego may still have a salvageable season passing the ball. Unfortunately their in the same division as the Broncos, so at best they should shoot for a Wild Card birth.

Crucial Match-up: vs. Houston Texans, Monday Night Football, September 9th. The Chargers season opener against Houston could be their biggest test of the season.

Kansas City Chiefs

2012 Recap: Injuries, turnovers and even cheering when starting QB Matt Cassel went down, the Chiefs ended 2012 with a 2-14 record. The Chiefs saw their top wide-out, Dwayne Bowe, end up on IR along with starting DE Glenn Dorsey and almost their entire crop of tight ends. How bad was this season for Kansas City? Real bad. So bad that when they rushed for a franchise-record 352 yards against Indy, they still lost.

Biggest Off-season Move: Trading for Alex Smith. Expectations for Kansas City have gotten bigger, and they should. The Chiefs brought in Alex Smith, the former #1 overall draft choice in ’05. Smith brings a veteran presence at one of the Chiefs worst positions in 2012. Add on a healthy Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe, and this season could be big for Kansas City.

Breakout Player: Chiefs Secondary. In March, Kansas City added two great cornerbacks in Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson. Sean Smith, at 6’1″ and 218 pounds is a huge CB that can harass opposing wide receivers and cause turnovers. Robinson brings his nine years experience to an already great Chiefs secondary. Smith and Robinson will join Pro-Bowler Eric Berry and starting CB Brandon Flowers, giving the Chiefs one of the best secondaries in the league.

Crucial Match-up: vs Denver Broncos, Sunday, December 1st. The  Chiefs and Broncos match-up two times in a span of just three weeks. If Kansas City can grab either of those games, they can help their playoff hopes up.

Oakland Raider

2012 Recap: After an 8-8 finish the 2011 season, Oakland looked to improve off their promising year. That wasn’t the case. The Raiders cemented their 10th consecutive non-winning season with a 4-12 record, finishing their last eight games at a putrid 1-7. So Oakland is going to rebuild through the draft, right? Funny! It’s up to DJ Hayden to change this franchise around! Although, that’s probably asking too much.

Biggest Off-season Move: Signing Matt Flynn. The Raiders acquired Matt Flynn on April 2nd from the Seahawks in exchange for a 2014 5th round pick and a conditional 2015 draft pick. After picking up the old Packers back-up, Oakland unloaded Carson Palmer and his ridiculous contract to the Arizona Cardinals, one of their better moves this off-season. The starting QB position is Flynn’s to lose. Barring a great pre-season by Terrell Pryor or rookie Tyler Wilson, #15 should be under center for the Raiders when the season begins.

Breakout Player: Rod Streater. The un-drafted product from Temple is emerging as Oakland’s top target in the passing game. Streater finished the 2012 season with 39 catches on 74 targets, 584 yards and 3 touchdowns. These numbers are pedestrian compared to his potential. If all goes well, expect Streater to double those numbers in 2013. He really started to come on to the scene late in the season, recording 351 yards and a touchdown in his final 5 games.

Crucial Match-up: @ Denver Broncos, Monday Night Football, September 23rd. Oakland’s first division game of the season could be their biggest. And let’s be honest, it’s about time we saw the silver and black back on Monday Night Football. Or, maybe not. there were most likely definitely better games on the September 22nd slate.

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