For a comprehensive look at the AFC, please check out the already-posted previews for the East, North and South. If you like what you read, please "Like" the Facebook link on the right to see all content from Sick and Tired of the World's Fair, including tomorrow's NFC Previews.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
Every year in the NFL, a team goes from worst to first in its division. Washington made the leap with RG3, Denver with Tebow, and Kansas City before that. In 2013, with upgrades at quarterback, coach, and most importantly, health, the Kansas City Chiefs look poised to make the leap again.
Alex Smith is steady, not by any means a superstar, but in comparison to the Matt Cassel/Brady Quinn combo, he looks like a Hall of Famer. Kansas City would have been better off if Romeo Crennel quarterbacked. The KC quarterbacks were last in the league in interception percentage (INTs/attempts), third worst in yards per attempt, sixth worst in completion percentage, and second to last in passer rating. Smith doesn’t have to be a superstar. His 70.2 percent completion percentage led the league in 2012 and he has thrown an interception on just 1.5 percent of passes since 2011 (2nd best to Aaron Rogers). Now he teams up with QB savant Andy Reid, the man who made Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, and, miraculously, Kevin “Corn on My” Kolb successful.
I’ve seen the same comical flubs by Andy Reid that everybody else has: the flubbed time outs, the poor clock management, the confused postgame interviews. But I’ve also seen the Eagles go to 4 straight NFC Championship games, and somehow remain relevant for over a decade. I’ve seen a West Coast Offense that made superstars out of nobodies (James Thrash anyone?). I also know that in his penultimate year with Philadelphia, he lost his son to an overdose before the season started. When you see Michael Jordan cry into the NBA Trophy or Brett Favre launch touchdowns on Monday Night Football, it’s easy to forget just how crushing a weight that loss must be. I’m rooting for Andy Reid, and I think with a talented defense (3 Pro Bowlers in 2012 and Tyson Jackson and Dontari Poe emerging as studs), a massive improvement at quarterback and head coach, the Kansas City Chiefs will make a surprising run atop the AFC West.
2. Denver Broncos (10-6)
I’m picking the Broncos second, even though I still consider them the best team in this division. Last year, the defense climbed from 24th in 2011 to 4th in 2012 in scoring defense. Peyton Manning showed no signs of the neck injury and would have won MVP if Adrian Peterson would have replaced his knees with the knees of a Clydesdale. The offense adds Wes Welker, who finds so many open spots, Peyton can’t help but salivate like an Oreo Commercial. On the defensive side, Dominique Rogers-Cromartie came from Philadelphia to lock down the side opposite Champ Bailey. All signs point toward this team being better suited for a playoff run than last years.
The choice for standings has less to do with talent and more to do with bad luck and timing. Bad timing is something the Broncos will have to suffer with all year after accidentally missing the deadline to file the appropriate paperwork to sign Elvis Dumervil (maybe because the entire front office was out driving drunk). Losing one of the premier pass rushers in the league hurts, losing both is catastrophic. Vonn Miller is set to miss the Broncos’ first six games after testing positive for marijuana and amphetamines after the 2011 lockout. Another linebacker was lost with Stewart Bradley who suffered a wrist injury forcing him to undergo surgery instead of compete for a starting job on the inside. Finally, Champ Bailey sprained a foot that will keep him out for several weeks. The defense will round into shape by playoff time, but it will be a rough patchwork project to start the year.
But this team has Peyton Manning. And when Peyton Manning isn’t making silly commercials, he’s making the playoffs. The real Denver team will be back when it counts.
3. San Diego Chargers (6-10)
People seem to be sick of the Chargers. They were in the playoffs for so many years and teased us every time for thinking they could go to the next level. Then Ladanian Tomlinson left town, and we all gave up on them.
Ownership did too. Norv Turner and A.J. Smith are gone. So are many of the starters, and the front office hasn’t splurged like Miami or Jacksonville (in the past) to fill the void. Their patience will result in a big step back this year, though. The team has a lot invested in Phillip Rivers who has repaid them with multiple trips to mediocrity. Rounding out the offense are the underwhelming Malcolm Floyd, the aging Antonio Gates, the hobbled Ryan Matthews, journeyman Eddie Royal and the homeless man’s Darren Sproles, Danny Woodhead.
The defense may get a boost. Dwight Freeney will be an added bonus rusher from the outside and Eric Weddle returns some playmaking to the defensive secondary. The sustainability of the defense, though, depends on if their first draft pick turns out to be Manti Te’o or Lennay Kekua. I’m expecting a down year for the Chargers, who should be aiming at a high draft pick to fill in one of their growing holes.
4. Oakland (3-13)
Oakland is learning the lesson the hard way, don’t pay multiple millions to retired quarterbacks and one game flashes. Matt Flynn and the departed Carson Palmer are clogged up $16.4M in salary cap, cost a combination of a 1st, 2nd, 5th and conditional draft pick, and neither will be starting this season for Oakland.
The moves with the quarterbacks were a microcosm of the front office mistakes made by Oakland. When they didn’t trade their picks for unsuccessful quarterbacks, they drafted Darrius Heyward-Bey (over Crabtree, Maclin, Harvin, Hakeem Nicks and Kenny Britt) who is still costing them millions of dollars even after being departed to Indianapolis. Rolando McClain had more arrests than QB sacks in his short-lived career, a career ending well before linebackers taken behind him Sean Weatherspoon, Sean Lee, and Daryl Washington. Darren McFadden is, by a landslide, their best first round pick since 2004 and he’s only eclipsed 750 yards once and admitted this summer he is “tired” of football.
Now they have one silver lining in the promise of another player with a controversial past, Terrelle Pryor. Pryor exploded onto the scene in college before the great Ohio St. tattoo scandal. He has NFL-level talent, and the scrambling ability to cause a few headaches over the season, but this looks like a team that could be competing for Clowney.