Each team in the AFC West took a different path to get there, but they all finished with that 8-8 mark except for the Chiefs.
Today, let's take a look at what happened to the Chiefs last year and point out some of the key elements to the mediocre seasons for their AFC West counterparts:
Kansas City Chiefs (7-9): This promising team lost three young of it's exeptionally talented players to ACL injuries all before the second quarter of week two even started (Tony Moeaki, Eric Berry, Jamaal Charles.)
At one point in the season, the Chiefs were riding a four game winning streak. It even looked as if Coach Todd Haley was going to salvage a disastrous season after knocking off the San Diego Chargers on the Halloween edition of Monday Night Football 23-20. The epic win happened in dramatic overtime fashion when Phillip Rivers "fumbled the snap" attempting to take a knee to seal the victory for the Chargers at the end of regulation.
Then the O-7 Miami Dolphins struck... The Kansas City Chiefs were "Daboll" rushed by a team quarterbacked under the fighting arm of Matt Moore, 31-3. Every last ounce of momentum that Kansas City fans had grew in the thousands of bearded faces around the world mimicking Todd Haley's rally beard, was simply gone in one afternoon. Not even the great Kevin Harlan could say much to take the sting out of that game.
From there, the Chiefs continued on a four game losing streak, which featured Matt Cassel injuring his throwing hand in the Denver loss. This was his last play of the season:
|4th and 2 at KC 23||(Shotgun) M.Cassel sacked at KC 18 for -5 yards (sack split by E.Dumervil and V.Miller).|
Soon after being diagnosed with a chronic case of "Calabaloo Falco" by the fans and potentially Scott Pioli himself for continuing to start QB Tyler Palko. Todd Haley was relieved of his coaching duties, and interim head coach Romeo Crennel stepped in to beat the undefeated Green Bay Packers in week 15, regrouped the team and came within a couple of blocked field goals on Christmas Eve to making the playoffs, yet the the team didn't finish .500.
2012 Chiefs Breaking .500 Outlook:
The Kansas City Chiefs have an exceptional roster from top to bottom on paper, but it is almost impossible to look at the QB position with Matt Cassel at the helm and feel confident that he will have a successful season.
Matt Cassel is the key, if he can take to the teachings of QC Jim Zorn and OC Brian Daboll, perhaps he can live up to the legend of a QB that was drafted without even starting at the position in college. That said, if Matt Cassel is the key, Dwayne Bowe is the lock, he has to report to the Chiefs and get on the field if the team hopes to maximize its potential for 2012.
If Matt Cassel returns to his 2010 form and the "ACL crew" returns to be productive again, the Chiefs could not only break .500, but they might just be looking at the rest of the division in the rear view mirror as they ride Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis into end zone after end zone on their way to the playoffs.
Oakland Raiders (8-8): Darren McFadden is a superstar running back when he is healthy. However, when he only has 113 rushing attempts in a season due to injury, the overall team performance might suffer.
However, even with the lack of Darren McFadden carrying the rock, the Raiders were still a good rushing team, finishing in the Top 10 in the NFL in 2011. Mid-season the Raiders traded for QB Carson Palmer... while this move proved to be expensive for the Raiders in terms of draft picks, it seemed to be a decent move as Palmer was able to move the ball and put up numbers similar to what QB Jason Campbell displayed in the first six game of the season when he went 4-2 before breaking his collarbone Week 6, on this play against the Cleveland Browns:
|3rd and 8 at OAK 27||(Shotgun) J.Campbell scrambles up the middle to OAK 34 for 7 yards (C.Gocong).|
In the end, Carson Palmer was able to complete 60.7% of his passes and did an admirable job tossing 13 TD's in 10 games played (9 starts.) But, it was those last five games in the season where the Raiders couldn't seem to put it together. Outside of their overtime win against Kansas City, the Raiders finished the season 1-4 in that stretch. Those results gave Oakland it's second consecutive 8-8 season. An accomplishment the organization achieved in the 1998-1999 seasons under Jon Gruden.
2012 Raiders Breaking .500 Outlook:
The Raiders are an interesting team, they have speed and elusiveness all over their offense. Standing at the forefront of this is Darren McFadden and Jacoby Ford.
Those two guys are talents and play makers, if new coach Dennis Allen can find away to keep them on the field for 16 games, the Raiders could be special on offense and special teams. While Ford and McFadden are vital to the success of the organization... The true key for the Raiders is Carson Palmer, a lot of fans think he has injury problems, but the guy hasn't missed a start due to injury, since 2008 and he won't even be 33 until December.
If he can continue to build a rapport with Darrius Heyward Bey (975 yards, 4 TD's) and Denarius Moore (618 yards, 5 TD's), as well as finding a new TE to replace Kevin Boss (now a Chief), then Carson Palmer could have a really good season.
Dennis Allen is a defensive minded coach, but he is going to have to overcome a lot of personnel and philosophical changes to the Raiders defense in 2012. Though with leadership like Richard Seymour on defense, the transition may be smoother than we give the Raiders credit for.
Still, any time an organization goes into rebuild mode from the ownership on down the line, it can take some time to regroup.
Denver Broncos (8-8): By week six, the teams season was looking rather grim. The Broncos were only 1-5 and dealing with raucous home crowds that had been chanting for Tim Tebow to replace the incumbent QB Kyle Orton since the seemingly the preseason. After the bye week, they firmly entrenched Tebow as the new starting QB and decided to retool their offense around his crafty running style.
What happened? Well, if you let ESPN tell it, the heavens opened up and out floated Tim Tebow "On A Pale Horse" ...
Okay, this is AP, never mind the entertainment value of Tim Tebow. What happened? The Denver Broncos played old school football, they ran the ball down opposing NFL teams throats as the number one rushing team and played defense well enough to keep them in games in the fourth quarter. All while only passing to keep opposing defenses honest in the box, though it very well could have just seemed that way because Tim Tebow only completed 46.5% of his passes (He did attempt 271 passes in 11 starts, as opposed to Carson Palmer's 328 attempts in 9 starts.) This heavy rushing style of play isn't going to work against every team in the NFL every time, but for eight weeks, it worked very well as the team won seven out of eight games. Denver headed into week 15 with an 8-5 record.
Maybe it took Bill Belichick giving the rest of the NFL the blueprint on how to beat the Broncos, but after the New England Patriots pounded the Broncos 41-23... The Buffalo Bills followed it up by hammering the team 40-14... Even the Kansas City Chiefs were able to squeak in a victory on the team, winning 7-3.
No matter the minute details, the Broncos lost their final three games of the season to finish 8-8 for the third time in the last four seasons.
2012 Broncos Breaking .500 Outlook:
The Broncos gave Peyton Manning a lot of money in the offseason as a free agent to come in and win now. There is a lot of chatter among the media pundits about how good Denver can be with Manning hurling the pigskin in the mountains this fall.
Obviously, if Peyton Manning is healthy the Denver Broncos have an opportunity to be a good football team. In his 13 years with the Indianapolis Colts, Manning only had two seasons where he didn't finish above .500.
No longer running with Tim Tebow, the Broncos probably won't lead the NFL in rushing yards in 2012. However, Manning is giving a team that threw for 316 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers with Tim Tebow at the helm in the Playoffs, a much better option passing the ball.
That definitely has some potential. The outlook for the Broncos contains questions, and the biggest question of all is, can Peyton Manning stay healthy?
208 consecutive starts says probably, but all of those neck surgeries leave question marks for some.
There are other smaller questions:
How much will the defense be affected by suspensions and a new defensive coordinator?
How long will it take Peyton to get acclimated to his offense in Denver and does he have the right linemen (specifically center JD Walton) in place for his scheme?
However, if Manning isn't healthy, that other stuff won't matter. Even at 6'7", Brock Osweiler might not be big enough to fill those shoes.
San Diego Chargers (8-8): After their best start (4-1) since the days of former head coach Marty Schottenheimer in 2006. The team, led by seasoned QB Phillip RIvers, went on a six game losing streak. It was the teams longest skid since 2001.
After losing to the Jets in week seven, 27-21, the Chargers were still sitting pretty at 4-2. However, that Halloween game came about and Phillip Rivers declared it "the worst day ever" after his fumble changed a potential victory against the Chiefs into a two game losing streak, sitting at 4-3.
Rivers seemed didn't seem to be phased by this as he went out the very next week and went toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers. It was a monster game, the two QB's combined for 632 yards and 8 TD's, but in the end, the Chargers walked out of that game with a 4-4 record.
From that point, the losses snowballed until it was too late for the Chargers late season heroics to save them. The team still finished strong in December, as they typically do (Phillip Rivers is 23-4 in December), but it was a little bit too late.
Even with the 28 point loss to the Detroit Lions in week 16, the Chargers still outscored their opponents 157-102 in their final five games and went 4-1 though that stretch. Just enough to get them out of that 4-7 hole to 8-8, but not enough to have them break .500 for the third consecutive season. The Chargers haven't had a record worse than 8-8 since 2003
2012 Chargers Breaking .500 Outlook:
With Phillip Rivers the Chargers are almost always going to have a top 10 offense. While Rivers is certainly not the best QB in the NFL. He is certainly a QB that can win in this league, as his 63-33 record proudly puts on display for him.
The Chargers definitely have an opportunity to break .500 this season. Their questions are in their offense though, questions outside of Phillip Rivers:
If Jared Gaither (who has had health issues in camp) can't stay healthy... who will protect the QB?
Can Ryan Matthews carry the load for an entire season, after only starting 22 games in two seasons?
If he can't, they may have to rely on Kansas City's backfield from the 2011 season. RB Jackie Battle and FB LeRon McClain, both of whom were signed by San Diego in the offseason. LeRon is a talented back that may have lots of value to a QB like Rivers that could get him the ball on the move, he is an intriguing weapon.
The biggest concern is the defense, when Ron Rivera was there in 2010, it was a top five unit in the league. Last season those numbers dipped under Greg Munusky... who was fired shortly after the season.
Former LB's coach John Pagano was promptly promoted to defensive coordinator in January, can he get the Chargers defense back on track?