2012 NFL Preview: AFC West

The AFC West is another division that gets very little respect despite the great history among the three teams. With four teams that have all done great at one point there are plenty of fans of the AFC West but many have not been treated to a great season by any of the teams for long. Yet without much of a season or a race of good teams to hold the west together there is still more than enough drama to go around. Almost every year sees to find another story to latch on to. 2011 was no different as the AFC West saw two big stories that changed everything about the division. The first one was the tragic passing of longtime Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis. His passing rocked the football world as he was one of the originators of the AFL and one of the few people in football willing to fight the NFL brass. His legacy will forever remain as long as the black and silver carry on their pursuit of excellence. Another story that dominated the West in 2011 was the introduction of a new QB into the fold that took over the AFC West and the NFL. Tim Tebow came to the Denver Broncos after the draft and immediately had an impact as Tebow Mania took over the USA. Denver rode that into the playoffs with the most popular and controversial QB in the NFL. This year the division has seen a similar path to the 2011 season as a tragic death and the introduction of a new QB have once again grabbed the headlines. The first story came when longtime San Diego Charger and fan favorite Junior Seau passed away tragically. It was a suicide that ended the life of one of the best linebackers to ever play the game and it shocked everyone. The death also launched a massive concussion debate never seen before in the NFL. The second story was the signing of one of the best QBs in the game as the Denver Broncos moved on from Tebow Mania to Manning Mania when they signed Peyton Manning. Two more stories from the west dominated the league but now the stories are over and it is time to play football as the West looks to bring the focus of the offseason into the regular season and begin to be competitive.

 

Denver Broncos

 

 

 

 

 

The Denver Broncos had one of the most watched seasons in the NFL last year as they had one of the biggest circuses of the NFL season. In the 2010 draft the Denver Broncos took one of the best College QBs in the NCAA. Tim Tebow was drafted but did not play much in 2010 aside from the odd run. In 2011 that changed as the fans began falling in love with the young QB and after a 1-4 start under Kyle Orton the chants of Tebow began. With the Broncos struggling the team decided that Tebow would take over the offence for the team. It was a popular decision among the fans who had launched Tebowmania that swept across the US. Out of nowhere people were talking about Tebow and the debate raged on throughout the rest of the season. He did not have the best statistical year or the best form in the pocket. Still the Broncos began to win and turned the season around. Tebow helped the Broncos to a 7-4 record the rest of the way as his legend grew. Of course it wasn’t just him as the defence did a great job of keeping games in reach while Tebow made a few good plays to just get ahead. Still Tebow grabbed the headlines as he helped guide the Broncos to an 8-8 and to the division title. That is where the circus ended though as the Broncos flamed out in the first round of the playoffs and for Denver that was not good enough. So in the offseason the Broncos decided to move on from the Tebow world and instead entered another circus in the offseason. This was the circus of Peyton Manning who for the first time was up for grabs in the free agent market. The Broncos entered the Peyton Manning Sweepstakes and entered the circus of media that came along with it. After winning the sweepstakes and landing Manning the circus will continue as the Broncos enter 2012 with another QB that is sure to be the focus of many for the rest of the season.

With his experience Manning will look to lead an offence that may not have the weapons he is used to. The major issue with Manning will be his recovery from his neck surgeries that kept him out of the 2011 season. These surgeries had many people doubting if Manning could stretch the field and still be a legitimate deep threat. To help him Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker will lead the receiving corps with a renewed love of the game under the new pivot. Still they are not considered elite receivers in the NFL and will need to step up their games to help Manning. The one part of the offence that should be dependable is the running game as the Broncos have built a solid backfield. Willis McGahee is coming off of a career year and will be pushed by newcomer Ronnie Hillman. All running backs will also begin to see more action in the passing game as well with a new focus on the passing game. On defence the Broncos will benefit from a rough 2011 season where they played from behind most of the year. Last year two players were the main reason as to why the Broncos were good on defence as Elvis Dumervil and defensive rookie of the year Von Miller led the charge for Denver. Both Miller and Dumervil will give the Broncos the pressure that is needed to stop opposing QBs but the defence outside of the pressure may need some work. The run defence will be up to a number of new players including second round draft pick Derek Wolfe and Ty Warren, who missed all of last season with an injury. Meanwhile the linebacking corps in the middle will be sparse with D.J. Williams suspended for using PEDs and Joe Mays taking over with little experience. In the secondary the defence will be will be a mix of good and bad this year with Brian Dawkins leaving to retirement but Champ Bailey still going strong. The Challenges for this defence will be replacing Dawkins with a good safety, of which Mike Adams is not, and finally finding someone to cover the opposite side of the field as Bailey. In the latter the Broncos may have found the answer with Tracy Porter singing in the offseason. The Broncos will be the focus of the season once again for their QB and they may even have a chance at the playoffs again. The true test is whether or not manning can be his old self because if he can’t the Broncos will go nowhere but if he can the Broncos will be fighting for the division.

 

Strength:
Defence
– There are some holes but the Broncos have proven to have a good defence that can win games and with Jack del Rio at the helm this year and Von Miller in his second year the Broncos will lean on them once again

 

Weakness:
Passing Offence
– The addition of Peyton Manning makes this part of the offence completely difference but the fact is that Manning needs to prove he is back to his old self and the wide receivers need to have career years for this to become a strength, although it is very possible

 

Biggest Addition:
Peyton Manning, QB (Free Agent, Ind)
– There is no question that Manning was the biggest addition as the Broncos landed the biggest player on the free agent market as the future hall of fame QB will enter his second team and look to turn the team into a winner instead of the .500 team they have become

 

Biggest Loss:
Brian Dawkins, S (Retired)
– The retirement of Dawkins leaves a big hole in the secondary for the Broncos as he was one of the best safeties in the game but also one of the best leaders in the game as the Broncos will miss him as much off the field as on

 

Kansas City Chiefs

 

 

 

 

The Chiefs disappointed many fans last year as they were unable to build on a very surprising and promising 2010 campaign. The Chiefs have struggled to repeat their winning ways of the past as they have been basement dwellers as of late. 2011 was no difference as they sat at the bottom of the division with a 7-9 record. What made 2011 so much stranger though was the 2010 season that they were coming off of. In 2010 the Chiefs surprised everyone as they came out to a great start and never gave up. They were not supposed to achieve anything in 2010 and yet they won the division with a 10-6 record. The hopes were heightened going into the 2011 seasons as the chiefs were expected to repeat as division champions and make it further into the playoffs. It was not to be for them though as they began the season with a three game losing streak and a rash of injuries to key players including Jamaal Charles. The hope came back in week four after two straight wins before the bye week and two wins after the bye week. Then reality struck with the four straight losses followed by a win against the Bears. At that point Todd Haley lost his job as Romeo Crennel took over the team. At the point when Crennel took over the Chiefs seemed to change though as seemed like they were a brand new team. Ending the season with a 2-2 record was little consolation to the fans but it did show that things may be changing in KC. The 2011 season was a bad one as star players were lost and the head coach was fired and all the while Matt Cassel was being questioned. It is the typical path for a struggling team as everyone is questioned on the team and the brunt of the criticism usually falls on the most visible members, the coach and QB. Now with a new coach and the same QB, although with a little more pressure, the Chiefs look to get back to the season they had in 2010.

In 2011 Romeo Crennel took over the team after a bad start to the season and seemed to change the attitude of the team. After a strong end to the season the Chiefs decided that their best option for a new head coach was right in front of them and so they hired Crennel to head up the team. The focus, as in many places this year, is at QB where Matt Cassel will continue to lead the offence. Cassel has shown some great potential but has struggled lately to find his place among NFL starters. The signing of Brady Quinn may be able to push Cassel more this year as he may feel the pressure and perform much better. In the passing game Cassel will still have Dwayne Bowe, despite a short holdout in training camp, but will also have new addition Kevin Boss as a good outlet alongside Tony Moeaki in the tight end position. In the running game the Chiefs will hope that Jamaal Charles will return to his 2010 form after an injury in the beginning of the 2011season. The Chiefs will also look to new addition Peyton Hillis to change the pace as a north-south option after the east-west style of Charles. Meanwhile on defence the Chiefs will be looking to a solid linebacking corps to lead a defence that will have a few questions. Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson are the leaders of a solid linebacking corps. On the line the Chiefs will look to rookie Dontari Poe who did amazing in the combine but did not have a great college career. On either side of Poe will be Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson, two high draft picks that have not lived up to expectations. The defensive secondary is a good one but one that was exposed last year largely thanks to the injury of Eric Berry. The injury really hurt the secondary but Berry will be back alongside cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Stanford Routt. The secondary could be a strength if Berry can stay healthy and improve in his coverage while Flowers and Routt are great parts to the corps of defensive backs. The Chiefs special teams are solid with Ryan Succop handling kicking duties and a host of returners ready to be the next threat. Overall the Chiefs are looking good and if they can avoid injuries this year the returnees and new additions should make a better team than 2011. Look for the Chiefs to improve this year although there is too much unknown to say if they will be in the fight for the division but it could happen if everything goes right although without a division win they will likely miss the playoffs.

 

Strengths:
Speed
– The Chiefs have one of the fastest teams in the NFL but last year it didn’t show with most of their fastest players getting injured at the beginning of the season as the Chiefs will need to be fast again if they hope to be successful

 

Weakness:
Injuries
– Last year the team was devastated by injuries with Jamaal Charles, Tony Moeaki, and Eric Berry all going down early in the season taking away three of the best players on the field and the big question will be if they will be the same after injury in 2012

 

Biggest Addition:
Peyton Hillis, RB (Free Agent, Cle.)
– Jamaal Charles is a great running back who loves to move side to side and find a hole but the Chiefs added a different wrinkle to the running game with Hillis who looks to make his own hole through the line and will provide a good change of pace for the offence

 

Biggest Loss:
Le’Ron McClain, FB (Free Agent, SD)
– McClain was a constant force in the backfield as a blocker and a leader and his loss will definitely have an impact as Jamaal Charles, Peyton Hillis, and Dexter McCluster were all better off with McClain running in front of them

 

Oakland Raiders

 

 

 

 

 

The Oakland Raiders are rarely without drama and in 2011 nothing changed as the Raiders were once again in the news. The Raiders began the season with Jason Campbell at the helm of the offence. Campbell was not the best QB and the Raiders continued to look for another option to run the offence. During the Supplemental draft in August the Raiders took a controversial figure from College in Terrell Pryor. Pryor had been implicated in a Ohio State Scandal where players accepted free tattoos for merchandise. For this Pryor was suspended for the 2011 College season and decided to enter the NFL. It was too late to enter the entry draft and so he moved to the supplemental draft where the Raiders picked him up. Immediately the QB controversy began but in the end Campbell won out. Then only one month into the season the Raiders were struck with tragedy as team owner Al Davis passed away. Davis was the only owner the Raiders have ever known and he played a massive role in the development of the league. It was a tragedy for Oakland that they looked to overcome and get past the .500 mark for Al. the stories didn’t stop there though as the Raiders took headlines later in October after they signed a new QB. With Jason Campbell injured the Raiders looked for someone to take over the offence. Meanwhile in Cincinnati longtime QB Carson Palmer had been disgruntled all season and was sitting out while rookie QB Andy Dalton took over the team. The Raiders made an offer to the Bengals as they were able to trade for Palmer. With the addition of Palmer the Raiders were hoping to get into the playoffs. It wasn’t to be though as Palmer struggled with the new offence and the Raiders finished in a tie for first place but missed the playoffs. This year the Raiders hope to stay out of the news and just simply play their game as they look to make the playoffs and get above .500.

The 2012 season will mark the first season without the longtime owner Al Davis and as tragic as his death was this could be a good thing for the team. Without Davis ruling over the team new head coach Dennis Allen will receive some freedom that previous coaches never enjoyed. On offence the team will look to Carson Palmer who will have a full offseason to learn a new system. In 2011 Palmer had a challenging year as he went from sitting out to starting in no time as he struggled to learn on the fly. He will still struggle to find someone to pass to though as the Raiders receiving corps has a lot of speed but little experience. Darius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford, and Denarius Moore are all potential game-breakers but their lack of experience may hurt the passing game. The running game is still the heart of the Oakland offence as Darren McFadden leads the offence with his amazing ability. The question with McFadden though is whether or not he can stay healthy long enough to play a full season. If McFadden goes down there is not the dependable Michael Bush to back him up as Bush left in the offseason. In his place will be Mike Goodson and Taiwan Jones who could be good backups but are not as dependable as Bush was. On defence the Raiders will look to a brand new system that should bring the Raiders to the 21st century. The strength of the defence is the defensive line with Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly holding down the middle and Lamarr Houston and Matt Shaughnessy on the ends. The Raiders linebacking corps is full of projects like Aaron Curry and Rolando McClain both have yet to meet their potential. The secondary is almost the opposite of the linebacking corps as they are full of veteran defensive backs. Tyvon Branch, Michael Huff, Ron Bartell, and Shawntae Spencer are all experienced backs that provide a solid last line of defence. The Special teams for the Raiders had always been a focus for Al Davis and could be his lasting legacy on the 2012 team. Sebastian Janikowski Shane Lechler represent the best tandem in the NFL. The return game is a bit of a question though as Jacoby Ford is a great returner but could be left off the team if he starts at wide receiver. The Raiders are a stable team this year but they still have a number of key holes that must be filled before they can be a true threat. The Raiders might put everything together and fight for a playoff spot but they will likely be out once again with a better base to build on for upcoming years.

 

Strength:
Rushing offence
– Darren McFadden is clearly the best player on the Raiders team and has been the focus of the Raiders offence for years as he looks to stay healthy and continue to be featured while Carson Palmer learns the passing offence

 

Weakness:
Inconsistency
– The Raiders have been a very inconsistent team over the past few years with part of the problem lying in ownership as the Raiders enter the 2012 season with yet another coaching staff making it very hard for any player to get into a groove

 

Biggest Addition:
Shawntea Spencer, CB (Free Agent, SF)
– The veteran cornerback will be added to a veteran defensive secondary as Spencer will take his experience from a great year in San Francisco during the 2011 season to bring it across the bay to the Raiders

 

Biggest Loss:
Kevin Boss, TE (Free Agent, KC)
– With so much speed yet very little experience in the passing game Kevin Boss could have been the outlet for Carson Palmer when something goes wrong but after he left for Kansas City the Raiders are left with almost no experience in the passing game

 

San Diego Chargers

 

 

 

The Chargers always seemed to be the one team that could make something out of their season while the rest of the west was left behind. The Chargers were always the team that made it out of the West division as they continued to take advantage of a weak schedule to earn division titles. Teams in the West have gotten better every year and the Chargers are no longer able to sit back and win the division as they have to get better along with the rest of the teams. In 2011 the Chargers had a very disappointing year as they were expected to be a playoff team and move far in the playoffs. Instead the Charger struggled out of the gate as they could not seem to get in a groove. The Chargers finished with an 8-8 record as they sat outside of the playoffs once again. As fans got angry at the organization for not replacing Norv Turner or A.J. Smith something much more important came up during the offseason. Longtime Charger and fan favorite Junior Seau was always a happy man who loved to play football and inspire other generations. This is what made him such a fan favorite as he not only loved the fans but also played the game as a hard-nosed and disciplined linebacker. This offseason though the news surrounding Seau was anything but positive as he was found dead in his house. The police determined that it was a suicide and immediately the talk of concussions began as with many players before that had killed themselves due to complications caused by concussions. It was determined later that there was no evidence of brain injury and no signs of drugs meaning that the death would still remain a mystery. Although the reason for the death will be unknown one thing is for sure and that is that the Chargers will be playing the 2012 season in honour of their fallen hero as they look to make Junior Seau proud with a good season.

The Chargers go into the 2012 with a heavy heart and a determination to get back to their winning ways. Still the offseason was not the best for the Chargers with a number of losses filled with stopgap signings. On offence the Chargers will see a number of changes as a few key contributors will no longer be around. Philip Rivers will be back to lead the offence and will be looking to redeem himself after a rough 2011. Last season Rivers was more of the problem than the solution in the offence with a career worst turnovers including 20 interceptions. This year he will try to move on but will be without his best target as Vincent Jackson left San Diego for Tampa Bay leaving a massive hole in the receiving corps. The Chargers tried to address this hole by signing Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem to join Malcolm Floyd and Vincent Brown. It was a good effort to fill the hole left by Jackson but it really did not add anyone that could break open a game like Jackson could. With Jackson gone and new receivers in the fold Rivers will likely look to Antonio Gates more than ever if he can stay healthy. The Chargers will still have some hope in the running game that has been one of their traditional strengths. While Ryan Matthews recovers from a preseason injury the chargers will look to Ronnie Brown to lead the ground game and probably be a part of the offence for the rest of the season. On defence the Chargers lacked any true impact players in 2011 and they went about trying to fix this in the draft. In the first round the Chargers selected linebacker Melvin Ingram out of the University of Alabama. Ingram may not become an immediate starter but he will likely see action alongside Shaun Philips and NFL veteran Takeo Spikes. In the second round the Chargers continued to look at defence taking defensive end Kendell Reyes who again may not become an every down player but will see some action switching off with Vaughn Martin. Finally in the third round the Chargers took strong safety Brandon Taylor who will fight with offseason signing Atari Bigby for the starting role. Whoever wins that battle will join the best part of the offence in the secondary with Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason at the corners. Aside from Jammer though the Chargers still lack gamebreakers on the defence and although their draft picks could turn out to be gamebreakers they could struggle to find their place in their first year. The Chargers special teams were a shadow of themselves after kicker Nate Kaeding broke his leg on the opening kickoff in 2011. He will return and get his job back bringing back a dependable player for the Chargers. The return game will be nothing special though with Eddie Royal likely to take over and do a good enough job but not able to open up a game. The Chargers are a team that will be struggling to find an identity with a lack of playmakers on a team that seems to be rebuilding without admitting it. San Diego will likely miss the playoffs again this year as they have not improved enough to keep up with the rest of the teams in the division.

 

Strength:
Kicking
– It would have been the offence if they did not lose Vincent Jackson and with so many questions one dependable part of the Chargers team will be Nate Kaeding who will hope to stay healthy and remain the NFL’s most accurate kicker

 

Weakness:
Defence
– The defence lacks a true gamebreaker and although the Chargers attempted to add this in the draft it may take some time for any of the draft picks to make their presence known as they will struggle to find an identity this year

 

Biggest Addition:
Melvin Ingram, LB (Draft)
– Ingram is the biggest addition despite a position that may see him get limited time as he represents the future of the defence in San Diego and could turn out to be a true gamebreaker for the defence

 

Biggest Loss:
Kris Dielman, G (Retired)
– The Chargers offence have always been a power but this year the team has lost an impact player and when Dielman left the Chargers also lost an essential part to the offensive line that could prove to be an issue this year

 

Prediction:
1. Denver Broncos
2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. Oakland Raiders
4. San Diego Chargers

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