AFC West PredictionsSeptember 7th, 2012 by Lee Eldridge
Every year there are surprises in the NFL. A team that had struggled to a 5-11 record the year before goes 11-5 and wins their division. Teams lose key players to injury, like the Colts losing Peyton Manning, and end up with the number one overall pick in the draft. The league is unpredictable. Except that it’s not. While NFL fans always seem to have hope at the beginning of the season, most teams end up in that middle ground winning somewhere between 7-9 games. Bad teams typically remain bad teams. And despite all of the parity in the league, the best organizations, like the Steelers and the Patriots, seem to find ways to win year after year.
The AFC West appears to be an interesting division again this year. The division has a low ceiling, and a high floor. Whichever team wins the division, may be the worst division winner in the league. And whichever team ends up last, will probably be better than the last place team in every other division. Look at last year’s records: division winner Denver (8-8), San Diego (8-8), Oakland (8-8), and Kansas City (7-9). Nobody was really good. And nobody was really bad. I doubt it will be much different this year. Every team has a legitimate chance of winning the division. Though it’s not likely that they’ll all finish within one game of each other again.
Denver Broncos: It pains me to write this, but the Broncos have the best head coach and the best quarterback in the division. They have a decent supporting cast. And they likely have the highest ceiling of any of the teams in the division. But they’ve also installed a new offensive system with Peyton Manning, and they’ve had to replace their defensive coordinator, Dennis Allen, who moved onto Oakland to become their head coach. If everything clicks quickly for the Broncos, they could win 12 games. If the team struggles and Manning isn’t quite the Manning of old, they could win six. I have a lot of faith in Manning’s ability to overcome adversity. Prediction: 10-6 and Peyton Manning starts all 16 games.
Kansas City Chiefs: On paper, the Chiefs have the most talent in the division. But I have big questions about this team that I wrote about a few days ago. Is Romeo Crennel a good head coach? I don’t know. Can offensive coordinator Brian Daboll hit the ground running? That’ tough. Most teams take some time to adjust to new coordinators. Can the Chiefs overcome Cassel’s weaknesses? If everything goes right, the Chiefs could win ten games. And last year, when just about everything went wrong, they still won seven. Prediction: 8-8 and that Brady Quinn starts at least two games.
San Diego Chargers: These are not Marty Schottenheimer’s San Diego Chargers. Marty had built a team that was deep and talented. Other than Phillip Rivers, the stars are gone from San Diego. And who is their head coach? Norv Turner. A fine man, and a very good offensive coordinator. But he’s not an effective head coach. They have issues with their offensive line. A running back and tight end who can’t stay healthy. They lost their best wide receiver. And have struggled to replace their best players on defense. The last two years, the Chargers have finished 9-7 and 8-8. I don’t see anything that leads me to believe that this team can get back to winning 10+ games. And I think it’s possible that this is the year they fall off the cliff, go 4-12, and fire Norv Turner. Prediction: 7-9 and they fire Norv Turner.
Oakland Raiders: I like the direction of the Raiders under new general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen. I’m not making any long-term predictions for how this team will develop over the next few years. But often a team has to take a step back before it can take two steps forward. The Raiders have some talent. If he can stay healthy, Darren McFadden has the potential to be one of the most dominating players in the league. If everything goes right they could win 8-9 games. It’s more likely they’ll have some struggles this year as they try to rebuild the franchise. Prediction: 6-10 and that Carson Palmer gets benched before the end of the season.