Last season, the AFC West was one of the least-compelling divisions in the NFL. The Broncos blew away the competition and essentially had the division title wrapped up by Thanksgiving. There has been a lot of change around the division since, including two new head coaches, but will the results on the field be any different?
Most prognosticators have the Broncos winning the division, and it's easy to see why. Still, the Chiefs are just two years removed from a division title and have a new head coach. San Diego also has a new head man on the sidelines and its run of four straight division titles wasn't that long ago. The Raiders ... well they also play in the division.
Here's a closer look at the AFC West heading into the 2013 regular season.
Denver is one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl, so it should come as no surprise the Broncos are the favorite to win their third straight AFC West title. After a strong free agency period and a solid draft class, Denver was in the discussion for the most-talented team in the NFL.
Von Miller's six-game suspension and a few nagging injuries have hurt Denver recently, but there is no question the Broncos are the class of the AFC West. Even without Miller, Denver's defense is still the best in the division and there is little question the Broncos have the AFC West's best offense. Denver finished second in scoring offense last season and added Wes Welker. With tight end Julius Thomas also looking like a weapon, to go along with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, it's hard to see many teams slowing down Peyton Manning and Co.
The Broncos will be tested this season, especially on the road. They'll have to cope with not having their best defensive player for the first six games, yet it's still hard to not see Denver winning the division. The Broncos have a favorable home schedule, with Baltimore and Washington the two biggest tests on paper. Denver was great at home during the regular season last year, finishing 7-1. Another 7-1 or even 8-0 home record seems possible. Even if the Broncos went 4-4 on the road, that would still give them at least 11 wins. It's hard to see any of the other AFC West teams topping that.
Now, the above three paragraphs are reliant on Manning staying healthy. He didn't have any issues last year, but is still 37 years old. The Broncos can survive without Miller, they cannot survive without Manning.
The Chiefs won two games last year and wound up with the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. Despite the record, however, there is a lot of talent on Kansas City's roster. A whopping six Chiefs made the Pro Bowl last season and that didn't even include Dwayne Bowe, Brandon Flowers, Jon Asamoah or Branden Albert, four of the best players on the roster.
Whatever issues the Chiefs had last season -- and there were plenty of them -- were not entirely because of a lack of talent. Kansas City added to its roster with Eric Fisher, Alex Smith, Sean Smith and others coming in. A glance at the depth chart and you would be hard pressed to find a way this team could have lost 14 games a year ago.
This is all without mentioning Andy Reid, who took over as Kansas City's head coach after 14 seasons in Philadelphia. Reid never delivered a championship to the Eagles, and Philadelphia was a disappointment the last two seasons, but it's hard to argue he's not an above-average head coach. Eleven winning seasons and a career .583 winning percentage don't happen by accident.
Kansas City had talent last season and was certainly more talented than its record indicated. The Chiefs upgraded the coaching staff and at quarterback -- two of the biggest issues from a year ago -- all while improving through the draft and in free agency. The Chiefs are still a notch below the Broncos, but the gap is closer than you may think.
At worst the Chiefs should take a considerable step forward and could contend for a wild card spot while putting pressure on the Broncos.
When it comes to the Raiders, where do we even begin? It would probably be easier to list the areas that aren't issues than the ones that are. The offensive line was a weakness heading into training camp and that was before left tackle Jared Veldheer -- Oakland's best overall player -- was lost for the majority of the season because of a triceps injury. Matt Flynn and Terrelle Pryor both have issues at quarterback. Pryor at least has a shot to develop, but there is a good chance neither is in the long-term plans.
Defensively, things aren't much better. Oakland finished 28th in points allowed a year ago and lost five of the best players from that unit. Desmond Bryant and Philip Wheeler, two bright spots last season, both cashed in with big free agent contracts. The Raiders made a few moves during free agency, but most of their acquisitions were just stop gap solutions to provide a temporary band-aid.
D.J. Hayden should help at cornerback, assuming he can stay healthy, and Sio Moore looks like a steal in the third round. Even with both, there are too many holes for Oakland to fill to compete for anything other than the No. 1 pick this season.
The Chargers have some talent, but nowhere near enough to compare to Denver or even Kansas City. Philip Rivers declined dramatically two straight seasons. He completed 64.1 percent of his passes and threw 26 touchdowns last season, but averaged just 6.8 yards per attempt, his lowest YPA since 2007. Mike McCoy may be able to get more out of him this year, but with an injury-plagued receiving corps it's hard to see San Diego putting up numbers to compete for the playoffs.
New GM Tom Telesco signed one of his former Colts connections, Dwight Freeney, to give the team some much-needed pass rushing help. Freeney spent most of his career with his hand in the dirt, a defensive end in a four-man front. He moved to outside linebacker with the Colts last season, and his play fell off. Perhaps another year in that same role will benefit.
Middle linebacker Manti Te'o has been sheltered from the expected media frenzy so far. His past will eventually fade to footnote status, but his play on the field will be closely linked to the overall success of this unit.