AFC West 2015 Preview
By Cyndi Darlington @hailmaryblog
As preseason winds down, we turn our attention to the AFC West. This division has been the Broncosâ€™ to lose over the past few years, but this year it feels like a shakeup could be in the works. All four teams, even the Raiders â€“ yes, even the Raiders! â€“ could be poised for a playoff run in this highly competitive group.
With two new head coaches, and a variety of new schemes on both sides of the ball, there will be lots to keep up with for both players and fans. However, as is usually the case in football, the key to success for all four teams is staying healthy, something that a few have already struggled with.
Letâ€™s look at these four teams in the order I am expecting them to finishâ€¦margin of error small on this one though!
So, what will become of the powerhouse of the AFC West this year? By most accounts, this will be Peyton Manningâ€™s last year before he rides off into the sunset in a Papa Johnâ€™s delivery vehicle.
With a new coach and new philosophy, the time is now for this team to win. Gary Kubiakâ€™s goal is to save Peytonâ€™s arm, which in the past had been unthinkable. Look for Peyton to rest late into games, and rely on the running game more than in the past. The ground game featuring C.J. Anderson should provide some balance to the passing game, which may suffer with the loss of Julius Thomas at tight end.
However, the biggest question for the Broncos will be how they do at offensive line.
Losing tackle Ryan Clady to a torn ACL was major, and even with Pro Bowler Evan Mathis signing last week, this is a young line with a valuable prize to protect, so they best get it together fast.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Andy Reid Experiment (also a good name for a band) seems to be working well in Kansas City, but the common theme of injuries has really hurt them.
Still, defense rules the roost here and even with key personnel out last year they allowed the second least points in the league. Dontari Poeâ€™s health is still in question, but if he is even close to 100%, they are poised to be stout this year.
On offense, Jeremy Maclin from the Eagles should be an improvement over Dwayne Bowe and add to Alex Smithâ€™s success. With Jamaal Charles as a top tier running back and Travis Kelce at tight end, the Chiefs offense should also be strong and they could be one of the most balanced teams in the NFL. Interestingly, they could flip flop their â€œgame managementâ€ reputation with that of the Broncosâ€™ explosive offense.
We continue our look at this most intriguing of divisions, the AFC West. Although the Broncos and Chiefs are poised to come out on top, it’s really wide open depending on the big “I” factor – injuries.
San Diego Chargers
While they may be moving up the I-5 to Los Angeles after this season, the Chargers have locked down Philip Rivers at least until one of his 28 kids is old enough to be drafted, and there are high hopes for rookie running back Melvin Gordon. Oh, and for the first time in years, theyâ€™re not suffering from key preseason injuries.
However, not all is rosy in Americaâ€™s Finest City. Gordon has looked over his head in preseason, lacking the patience that makes a great running back. Coach McCoy favors a committee running back system, so Gordon will be sharing touches with Danny Woodhead and Branden Oliver, and it remains to be seen if he will truly shine in the running game. Rivers typically works out of the shotgun, but if the running game gets going, there will be a whole other flexible option of him under center.
Antonio Gates will miss the first four games, but Ladarius Green can hopefully step up in the tight end position. However, he is not a great blocker and will likely not match the great partnership that Rivers and Gates share. The receiving corps is dependable, but not that exciting. Keenan Allen is coming back from a sophomore slump â€“ heâ€™s sure-handed but it still remains to be seen if he has the true speed to beat the leagueâ€™s best defenses.
The Charger defense has the potential to be one of the best in the league. However, the unit does not have a lot of depth and injuries could quickly decimate them.
All things being equal, this team has all the pieces in place to make a deep run into the playoffsâ€¦or flame out late in the season. It will all depend on staying healthy. Notice a theme here?
Iâ€™ve said it before, and Iâ€™ll say it again – this is the year that the Raiders will be, well, sort of not terrible.
In fact, the young team is poised to play division spoiler. I love love love Jack Del Rio and am so glad to see him with another head coaching job. As defensive coordinator in Denver, he built a strong and steady unit, and is now tasked with turning around a defense that has been ranked 20th or more in points allowed by NFL defenses for the last nine years. And heâ€™s just the guy to do it.
If you donâ€™t remember the â€œchopping woodâ€ incident, youâ€™ll be impressed by his intensity, and a little frightened by his lack of judgment. Seems just perfect for a Raiders coach!
Young QB Derek Carr and rookie â€˜Bama receiver Amari Cooper (fresh off training from offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, which is a whole circle of life thing) should hook up for some long TDs, and 49ers vet Michael Crabtree will be a steady underneath receiver. And although the third time was definitely NOT the charm for RB Trent Richardson, Latavius Murray should be a steady second year back. Expect a fast offense playing a lot of no huddle.
The key to the Raidersâ€™ success will be the strong game planning and coaching brought by their experienced coordinators. This is a young team, but they could play above expectations and break out of that slump that has plagued them sinceâ€¦wellâ€¦Super Bowl 2002.
The AFC West will be one of the most closely competitive divisions in 2015, so be sure to watch every game, every injury and every play call this season, as this will truly be a game of inches.