2013 NFL Projections: The AFC WestBREAKING NEWS, News, NFL Monday, August 5th, 2013
While the Broncos will try to build off of their success from a year ago and the Raiders will give Dennis Allen another year to figure things out, the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers are starting over with new head coaches that will bring fresh approaches to a couple of franchises that have been stuck in underachieving mediocrity for the last five years.
Following a 4-12 finish, the Raiders decided to make a quarterback change in the off-season, shipping Carson Palmer out to Arizona and trading for former Seattle Seahawk Matt Flynn.
I just don’t see the Raiders improving much from last season. Matt Flynn is more likely to be another disaster for this franchise rather than its savior. Flynn, a former sixth-round pick of Green Bay, got himself a big contract from the Seahawks a year ago after spending his career serving as Aaron Rodgers’ understudy and putting together a handful of impressive performances with the embarrassment of riches that Green Bay had in their receiving corp.
Darren McFadden is their one legitimate home-run threat, but he’s a guy who has struggled with injury problems throughout his career. Darius Heyward-Bey, the team’s top receiver two years ago is no longer with the team and Denarius Moore is nothing more than an average threat.
Defensively the Raiders have let a lot of veteran guys (Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, Rolando McClain, Aaron Curry, Michael Huff) go, and they’ll be going with a lot of young guys with the exception of cornerback Charles Woodson, who returns to finish his career with the team that originally drafted him in the first-round of 1998. The team hopes that Woodson will help install a positive attitude and winning mentality in the young players.
There really isn’t much to like about the Raiders. They don’t have great coaching. Matt Flynn seems destined to be the next guy up in a long line of this franchise’s unsuccessful attempts to find a replacement for Rich Gannon at quarterback. The defense is filled with young, inexperienced players. There’s just no upside to this roster, and I can’t imagine a scenario in which they’re relevant in 2013.
Projected Finish: 3-13, 4th place.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers have finally moved on from Norv Turner. After suffering through year after year of underachievement, a move that was overdue by two years finally went down at the end of the season, and the team has turned itself over to former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.
Quarterback Phillip Rivers should benefit greatly from the presence of McCoy. McCoy’s claim to fame has been his ability to get the most out of his quarterbacks no matter where he’s been.
Peyton Manning has attributed a lot of his success during his comeback last year to McCoy. After the Jay Cutler trade, McCoy received a great deal of credit for the successful seasons that Kyle Orton had with the team. Orton became a 3,000-yard passer once he arrived in Denver after years of mediocre play with the Bears. McCoy also played a big part in coaching up Tim Tebow enough to enjoy the successful run that the Broncos went on in 2011, including an overtime playoff win over the Steelers. McCoy also was involved with the Carolina Panthers where he got Jake Delhomme to have his best years as a pro.
Now McCoy will get a chance to work with Rivers, a guy with enormous talent, but who also has turned the ball over at alarming rates over the last couple of seasons. If his track record is any indication, McCoy should be able to help Rivers to his best season in years.
While a strong season from Rivers would greatly help this team, the Chargers still lack a good running game. Ryan Mathews is trying to prove that he was worth a top draft pick in 2010, but he just can’t stay healthy. The team did add Danny Woodhead in free agency, giving Rivers a versatile weapon to work with, but he’s no featured back.
The Chargers defense is still nothing special. They’re going to rely on the development of guys like defensive end Corey Liuget and Melvin Ingram to give them a stronger pass rush to help cover for their poor secondary. They also added linebacker Manti Teo through the draft, taking a chance that he’ll be able to harness his potential.
The arrow is pointing up for San Diego, and McCoy will take them in the right direction, but they need another year to add additional talent before they can really compete.
Projected Finish: 8-8, 3rd Place
Kansas City Chiefs
For years, we in Philadelphia have always heard Andy Reid say after losses that hes got to “put players in the best possible position” in order to win. Andy failed miserably at that during his last two years with the Eagles and left the franchise in ruins, but he certainly put himself in a great position to succeed when he signed on to be the new head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Reid took over a young roster that already had a handful of Pro Bowlers on it, and added to it. He secured a top offensive line prospect through the draft in Eric Fisher, bolstered his defense with the signings of Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith in free agency, and (perhaps most important of all) addressed the team’s most glaring weakness by trading for Alex Smith to bring some desperately needed stability to Kansas City’s quarterback situation.
The 2012 Chiefs reminded me a lot of the 2011 Washington Redskins. The 2011 Redskins were a tough team with some nice talent, but any chance that they had of consistently winning was destroyed by the black hole that was their quarterback position, which was manned primarily by Rex Grossman and John Beck. They were a quality quarterback away from becoming a factor in the NFC, and last year’s addition of Robert Griffin III made them a playoff team.
The same is true for the Chiefs. Their offense has some explosive talent, with guys like running backs Jamaal Charles and Dexter McCluster, and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe. Unfortunately, the talents of these guys were made null and void by the fact that they were quarterbacked by the likes of Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn, and Ricky Stanzi. If Alex Smith can come in and play like he did over the last two years for the 49ers, he has a chance to be the engine that powers the Chiefs back to relevancy within the division and the AFC playoff picture.
That being said, I wouldn’t consider Smith to be a sure thing. The former top draft pick was considered a bust until Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman began coaching him two years ago. They were able to get Smith to cut down on his mistakes, and finally perform at an above average level. But despite his success, Smith was never overwhelmingly good. Once he went down with a concussion last season and gave way to Colin Kaepernik, the 49ers turned things over to the untested starter and never went back to Smith in spite of what he had achieved a year ago.
Smith certainly comes with his question marks, but Andy Reid has reputation for being able to get the most out of his quarterbacks, and the offensive talent that Smith has around him should set the Chiefs up for a fun and exciting first year of a new era.
Projected Finish: 9-7, 2nd Place.
Peyton Manning proved that he still has some good football left in him, throwing for over 4,600 yards and 37 touchdowns last season.
Manning really helped some of Denver’s young talent (Demarius Thomas, Eric Decker) enjoy a couple of breakout seasons, and made his teammates around him better. Now Manning will benefit from the addition of former New England star Wes Welker, who brings a different dimension to this offense as a slot receiver.
Rookie running back Montee Ball figures to get the majority of the carries, with former first-round bust Knowshon Moreno getting some of the load as well.
The loss of Elvis Dumervill will hurt the defense. Dumervil has been the team’s most consistent pass rusher, and it will be difficult to replace his playmaking ability. Further complications arose for the team several weeks ago when Von Miller was suspended for the first four games of the year.
Champ Bailey remains the anchor of the Denver secondary. He’s still playing remarkably well for a man who has been in the league for 15 years. Denver also signed former Eagle Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to a one-year deal. The team hopes that DRC will benefit from playing with a veteran like Bailey, who could finally help him harness his undeniable ability.
The biggest question for the Broncos is simply how much longer can Manning play at a high level? As great as he was last year, he’s been in the league for over 15 years now, and sooner or later his run has got to come to an end.
I think Manning has at least one more big year left in him, and this will be Denver’s best opportunity to win with him. The Broncos are still the best in an improving division, but Kansas City and San Diego are quickly closing the gap.
Projected Finish: 11-5, 1st Place
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