KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 18: Tamba Hall #91 and Kendrick Lewis #23 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrate after a win against the Green Bay Packers at Arrowhead Stadium on December 18, 2011 in Kansas CIty, Missouri. The Chiefs defeated the Packers 19-14. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
A few months ago, I posted a piece on the AFC West and where each team appeared to be. It was a bit premature considering all of the offseason hadn't taken place, but many of the big players had made their decisions on where to play in 2012 and beyond. Now, with a clear focus, the 2012 AFC West picture:Denver Broncos: Let's just get this out of the way up front; Peyton Manning - if healthy - is the best quarterback in the league along with Tom Brady. Manning will elevate Denver from being a middling team into an entirely different stratosphere offensively. Eric Decker will go from solid to good while Demaryius Thomas could become a sensation.
With that being said, Manning doesn't play defense. The Broncos lost a key piece up front in Brodrick Bunkley and only replaced him with a second round pick in Derek Wolfe. Whether you like Wolfe or not, it's tough to say a first-year defensive lineman will make a huge impact. Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil are terrific, but the secondary is highly suspect.
The Broncos simply don't have a ton of playmakers around Manning. Does anyone really expect Willis McGahee to have another year like he did in 2011? The offensive line is good but certainly not a top tier unit, leaving Manning open to taking some punishment. No matter how good one player is, he's not going to fix all your issues.
Everyone seems to point out how the Indianapolis Colts went 2-14 after making the playoffs with Manning the year before. That's fair but consider this, that was an aging team most people thought needed to be rebuilt even with Manning. The Colts wouldn't have started 0-13 with their future hall-of-fame quarterback at the helm, but they likely would've struggled anyway.
Oakland Raiders: Some experts have been mentioning the Raiders as an underdog pick to make some noise in this division. Frankly, I don't see it.
Oakland has had one of the worst short-term offseasons because of the salary cap position that they've been in for years. While general manager Reggie McKenzie has done a nice job of setting the Raiders up for the future, this team will have major rough patches in the present time.
Carson Palmer is on the downside of his career and the only legitimate weapon he has is Darren McFadden. The Arkansas product is an all-world athlete but can never seem to stay healthy. The line isn't something to write home about, and the wide receivers and tight ends are brutal.
The strong point of the Oakland squad is their front seven on defense, which can get some pressure on the quarterback. Richard Seymour is still excellent and Lamarr Houston appears to be a player. The problem is that they easily have the worst secondary in football sans the Colts. Oakland will be thrown on all day by the likes of Philip Rivers, Manning and yes, even Matt Cassel.
San Diego Chargers: Outside of Rivers, this team is obviously on the back nine. Antonio Gates was a wonderful player and will be enshrined in Canton someday, but his best (and healthiest) years are long gone. He's still someone to circle on a gameplan, but definitely not an elite player anymore. Ryan Mathews is probably their best weapon because of his duel-threat ability, but he's injury prone and fumbles constantly. Don't forget the offensive line is also in a state of flux after losing Kris Dielman to retirement.
The defense is a unit destroyed by age. Outside of Eric Weddle, who has pro bowl talent? Weddle is a terrific safety who can play the run and pass with effectiveness, but who else scares you? Shaun Phillips is a good player but he was a non-factor last year and another older veteran. Not to mention Norv Turner is still coaching the team.
San Diego is consistently overhyped and yet nobody learns from the err in their ways.
I won't go through the Kansas City Chiefs in depth because everyone here already has their opinions and knows the team like the back of their hand. If Cassel is good, Kansas City might be a Super Bowl team. If he's not, the Chiefs will have to win in spite of him. On paper, Kansas City has the best defense in the AFC West by a country mile.
The big keys to the Chiefs are Cassel and the trio of stars returning from injuries. Personally, mark me down as a believer.
Also please just read this for a minute:
In my last few posts, I've been telling you about my new NFL preview magazine that is hitting shelves in the northeast on July 11, entitled Total NFL.
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The magazine is 176 pages with five pages dedicated to each team. I covered every draft pick from the last two seasons in depth, along with a thorough preview of every offense and defense. Also, there are 12 articles in the front of the magazine and maybe most surprisingly not a single advertisement.
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What team will win the AFC West?
Denver Broncos (75 votes)
San Diego Chargers (16 votes)
Oakland Raiders (6 votes)
Kansas City Chiefs (1135 votes)
1232 total votes