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Predicting the 2012 NFL Season: the AFC West

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bill-swift - September 9, 2012

Are you starting to get a little giddy sports fans? I know I am! The NFL season is so close to kicking off its first full slate of games that I can taste the beer and hot wings already! (Oh wait...that's what I had for dinner...)

Before I can get to that there is some unfinished business to get to; the remaining divisions of the AFC need to be analyzed and predictions made. So with a rub of my crystal football, a short prayer to Vince Lombardi, and a long pull on my beer here's my prediction for the AFC West:

Denver Broncos:

Everyone is going to look for the Broncos to win the division this year because of this one guy that John Elway added to the team during the off-season. It's not tight end Joel Dreesen or Jacob Tamme. It wasn't wide receiver Andre Caldwell or one of the three new defensive starters (safety Mike Adams, corner back Tracy Porter, or tackle Justin Bannan).

Those guys will all contribute to the success of the Denver Broncos this season, but the fate of the team rests in the hands of one man and one man alone--Peyton Manning.

If Peyton Manning can stay healthy and play like the Peyton of old the Broncos will cruise through the division. Manning can cover for any and all short comings that the team's offense has which aren't many. He has a solid group of players to throw the ball to (Demaryius Thomas has a world of potential) including a couple of familiar faces (Tamme and wide receiver Brandon Stokley).

He will also have a couple of things he is not accustomed to, a solid running game and a pretty good defense. Yea, Edgerin James was pretty good when he was in Indy, but now he has two solid backs in Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno.

The defensive side of the ball is chock full of play makers too. Von Miller is one of the best linebackers in the game, and along with Elvis Dumervil opposing quarterbacks will be running for their lives. Champ Bailey is still one of the best cover corners in the league and will get some much-needed help from the aforementioned additions to the D.

San Diego Chargers:

The Dallas Cowboys have been talking about windows of opportunity, but if there is a team that should be talking about them it is the San Diego Chargers.

Phillip Rivers is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but he is 30 and will soon be facing the downside of his career. Last season was his worst since his first season under head coach Norv Turner (rating of 88.7; career high 20 interceptions). He could also be facing the loss of his head coach if this season doesn't go well. Norv Turner started his tenure out well with three straight post season trips, but has missed the last two. Tack on inconsistent play from the team ever since he got to San Diego and you have the recipe for one real hot seat.

Rivers will have some talented players to throw to in long time tight end Antonio Gates and two new comers to the team in Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal. After being one of many in New Orleans, Meachem will be the focus of the passing game in San Diego. Eddie Royal will eventually take over the No. 2 spot, and look for the offense to make use of some two tight end sets so they can get Randy McMichael.

The defense is--eh, okay. Takeo Spikes is a solid linebacker and he has a great secondary behind him in Atari Bigby, Eric Weddle, Quentin Jammer, and Antoine Cason. They may have a little trouble stopping the run--something that is important in the AFC West. With Rivers and the offense running up the score the defense will only need to slow people down anyway so that could be enough.

Kansas City Chiefs:

Kansas City looks pretty good on paper, just like they have on paper the last few seasons. Their problem has been in getting that talent to look as good on the field as it does on paper. New head coach Romeo Crennel should go along way towards making that happen. His cool, calm approach has worked well in the past and the players really seemed to buy into it when he took over on an interim basis last season.

The team really needs quarterback Matt Cassel to step up and play better for the team to have success. He is not going to throw for 300+ yards on a regular basis; he's more of an efficient passer and game manager than gunslinger. When he does throw he will have some solid receivers to catch the ball. Dwayne Bowe is one of the best in the league and Steve Breaston isn't half bad either.

He will need to connect when he does throw in order to keep the defense from stopping the team's real threat--their running game. Jamaal Charles will lead the way and will get helped out a lot by Peyton Hillis. The key will be getting Dexter McCluster more involved. Last season he was the team's second best runner (516 yards)even though he is listed as a wide out and third best receiver (328 yards). He is fast, shifty, and knows how to make people miss.

Losing Brandon Carr will hurt the defense, but corner back Brandon Flowers and safety Eric Berry are more than capable of holding down the fort. Overall the defense ranked 11th last season, but with Crennel calling the shots for them this year it would not be shocking for the team to do even better no matter who lines up on the field.

Oakland Raiders:

The Raiders have long been the door mate of the division, but after back to back 8-8 seasons it might finally be time for the franchise to turn the corner in its first full season without Al Davis.

Potential is definitely there for the Raiders. Carson Palmer hasn't exactly looked like the Palmer of old, but maybe after a full off-season of work with the team he'll be better. It will help that he'll have one of the better backfields in the league to fall back on. Darren McFadden appeared to finally be coming into his own before getting injured last season. He'll be expected to carry the load this year now that Michael Bush is gone. Back up running back Tawain Jones is unproven and it is unclear how much of a role the team will ask him to take.

The trouble will be in the passing game. Palmer has to cut down on the interceptions. In 10 games he threw 16 while only throwing 13 touchdowns. Part of the problem is his lack of talent to throw to. Darius Heward-Bey has yet to live up to being a first round draft pick. Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford are average which leaves unproven rookie Juron Criner.

If they are going to win anything this season they will need to hope that new head coach Dennis Allen's defensive background can improve the No. 29 defensive unit from last season (27th against the pass and run). The team did bring in some help in outside linebacker Phillip Wheeler and corner backs Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer.

Prediction:

This is not the most talented division in the conference. Denver will win it pretty easily thanks to the boost that Peyton Manning brings. The Chiefs, Chargers, and Raiders are all decent teams, but they have too many holes to come even close to competing with the Broncos.

Division Winner: Denver

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