Posted by Jack Tumen
It’s time to wrap up the AFC by analyzing the division that was the best in the conference last year by producing three playoff teams; the AFC West.
We start from the bottom up. Listen, I want to be able to root for the Raiders but their brass just makes terrible decision after terrible decision, like signing Matt Schaub to be their starter after the worst season of his career or publicly considering a move to San Antonio. Listen up Mark Davis; if your father was still alive he’d fucking kill you if you tried moving his perennial Golden State franchise to Texas. By the way, you have the worst haircut in the history of haircuts.
About football, though. Last year’s Raiders look very different from this year’s Raiders. They added a number of big names through free agency on both sides of the ball. The only problem is that everyone they signed is past their prime; Justin Tuck, Maurice Jones-Drew, Carlos Rogers, Antonio Smith, Kevin Boothe, Donald Penn, James Jones, Tarell Brown, LaMarr Woodley and of course, Matt Schaub. Seven of those guys are 30 or older and the other three are 29, one of which will turn 30 during the season. That’s not to say these guys have nothing left in the tank – that’s a solid crew right there – but it doesn’t help this franchise improve in the long-term. It’s another quick-fix for a team that needs to be investing in its future, like the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns- two franchises that recognize they’re in a downswing and are gradually and patiently acquiring young talent the way it should be done.
It also doesn’t help that the Raiders absolutely suck at drafting. This year, however, Khalil Mack was considered a no-brainer at no. 5. Then again, so was Aaron Curry for the Seahawks at no. 4 so time will tell. Without much of a choice, they used another high draft pick on a hopeful quarterback-of-the-future in Derek Carr; my favorite QB in this draft class. Again, time will tell. I’m also a fan of third-round guard, Gabe Jackson.
Looking at this roster, the talent level is fairly even across the board between youngsters and vets alike. There’s an obvious running back battle between MJD and DMC. In all honesty, Oakland should have held on to Rashad Jennings, who admirably filled in for McFadden by setting career-highs in rushing yards and receptions. Instead, they went after the guy Jennings used to back up in Jacksonville. At this point in time, though, Jennings seems to have surpassed MJD on the running back totem pole. They’re virtually the same age – both 29 and born three days apart from one another – but Jennings’ body is much more preserved from being a career backup and playing four-fewer years of professional football than Jones-Drew’s; that’s why he’s the clear-cut starter for the New York Giants.
On defense, Chimdi Chekwa has reportedly been standing out in the secondary. Chimdi Chekwa. He’s playing back there with a 37-year-old version of Charles Woodson and Tyvvon Branch, who missed all but two games in 2013 after breaking his leg. Nick Roach unquestionably had his best season ever as the starting middle linebacker and he’ll get some help from the Mack Truck.
Other Notables: Matt Schaub will be the 18th quarterback to start a game for the Raiders since 2003 (Derek Carr will soon be the 19th;) Tackle, Austin Howard was a solid free agent pickup; James Jones headlines a WR group with Rod Streater and Andre Holmes; Tight ends, Mychal Rivera and David Ausberry, are battling it out at training camp for the starting job; QB Matt McGloin could find a way to reunite with college coach, Bill O’Brien.
The Chargers offense experienced a revival in 2013 under new Head Coach, Mike McCoy. Philip Rivers completed a career-high 69.5% of his passes while Ryan Matthews rushed for a career-high 1,255 yards while starting all 16 games for the first time ever. Rookie wideout, Keenan Allen, burst on the scene to lead the Chargers in receiving yards and tie for first in touchdowns as the squad finished 9-7 and earned themselves a wild-card berth.
It was a close call, though. San Diego’s defense was awful, particularly in the secondary where they allowed 255.8 pass YPG, good for 28th in the league. With their priorities in order, the Chargers used their first round pick on TCU standout, Jason Verrett. They followed that up by scooping Brandon Flowers off the market when the Chiefs surprisingly cut him loose after a pro-bowl season. The two will join safeties Marcus Gilchrist and Eric Weddle on the back side.
Elsewhere on defense, San Diego’s front office chose to pull the plug on former first-round OLB, Larry English, while drafting Gerogia Tech’s Jeremiah Attaochu in the second round as his replacement. Dwight Freeny will try to rebound after missing much of last year with a torn quad muscle. Donald Butler was yet again solid for this linebacking corps, finishing second on the team with 84 tackles behind Eric Weddle.
The Chargers’ offense has a nice mix of players. Danny Woodhead has been a great compliment to Ryan Matthews, catching 76 balls last year behind only Antonio Gates. Speaking of Gates, he might be a bit underrated at this point in his career. However, keep an eye on the athletic freak behind him named Ladarius Green, who’s waiting to be unleashed in this high-flying passing attack. Malcolm Floyd will return from a scary neck injury to start once again for this offense opposite Keenan Allen while Eddie Royal mans the slot.
Other Notables: WR Vincent Brown has failed to produce when given opportunities; the offensive line is looking rather strong again; remember the name Manti Te’o?
The most impressive team turnaround in the NFL last year was the Kansas City Chiefs under new Head Coach, Andy Reid. With a new starting quarterback in Alex Smith, KC took the field with newfound confidence, winning its first nine games on the way to an 11-5 record.
Jamaal Charles was one of the most impactful players in the NFL in 2013, single-handedly carrying the Chiefs’ offense by leading them in rushing and receiving while scoring 20 total touchdowns – just three fewer than Alex Smith threw for. It was quite a feat for a player that’s dealt with his fair share of injuries throughout his career.
The only problem was that it made Kansas City incredibly one-dimensional; and even though everyone knew they’d make the playoffs, everyone also knew that they wouldn’t get too far once they got there. Regardless of the moderate upgrade of Alex Smith at QB, they had no depth at wideout or tight end. This year, the problem is much of the same. They had the opportunity to select a number of big name wideouts early in the draft and passed on each chance they got, leaving their wideout corps consisting of 29-year-old Dwayne Bowe and 30-year-old Donnie Avery.
The Chiefs’ defense was 70% of the reason they were as good as they were in 2013, allowing under 20 PPG. They seemed to be returning fumbles and interceptions for touchdowns on nearly every other play (they were a fun fantasy defense to own last year.) With marquee players like Derrick Johnson, Eric Berry, Tamba Hali, Dontari Poe, Sean Smith and Justin Houston, KC had veteran experience everywhere. Even unheralded players like Husain Abdullah and Marcus Cooper – who lead the defense in passes defended – made big plays in the secondary on numerous occasions. However, two of their top defensive backs, Kendrick Lewis and team interceptions leader Quentin Demps, left via free agency. So KC went out and drafted CB Phillip Gaines out of Rice and signed safety, Steve Gregory, to fill those holes.
Other Notables: First-round rookie defensive end, Dee Ford, will keep this defense mean; WR Junior Hemingway has the opportunity to make a name for himself this year; Last year’s number one overall pick, Eric Fisher, will need to make a huge leap this season; Rookie QB, Aaron Murray, fits very well in this offense and has an Alex Smith-like style of play; Second-year TE, Travis Kelce, needs to stand out from a thin position group; Rookie RB, De’Anthony Thomas, adds much-needed speed in both the running and passing game.
The 2013 Broncos rode to the Super Bowl with the best offense of all time, led by the best quarterback of all time (yep, I said it.) They set all kinds of records while emulating a better version of any Madden offense you’ve ever played with. Yet, when super offense met super defense – well, we all know how that ended.
So Denver went into the offseason with the goal in mind of beefing up it’s own defense – and boy did they ever, signing big-time free agents Demarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and TJ Ward. They add much needed experience and veteran leadership to a defense that could’ve used more of it last year. Will it be enough to get them back to the big one and then some? We’ll just have to wait and see.
One thing’s for certain; this defense is certainly a deep unit now with players like Derek Wolfe, Terrance Knighton, Von Miller and Danny Trevathan. First-round rookie CB, Bradley Roby, will look to make an impact early and often for this secondary with Chris Harris returning from injury.
The cast will be much of the same for Denver’s offense – key players like Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas will continue to put up big numbers. However, some new faces will contribute in key roles. Montee Ball takes over as the starting running back following the release of Knowshon Moreno and Emmanuel Sanders will fill the third receiver role now that Eric Decker is on the Jets. Another name to watch will be rookie wideout, Cody Latimer, who’s reportedly had a great camp and will be the team’s fourth wide receiver.
Will this be Peyton Manning’s last season? That’s the biggest question surrounding the Broncos this year. One thing’s for certain, he doesn’t have many left – and with that, the Super Bowl window for this franchise continues to close ever-so-quickly. It’s as much a “win now” situation as any script-writer could conjure up.
Other Notables: RBs Ronnie Hillman and CJ Anderson are battling it out in camp for the number two spot; Rookie WR, Bennie Fowler was one of my underrated wideouts in the 2014 draft class; Will the baton eventually be handed to Brock Osweiler or will Denver look to draft another young quarterback next year?
Kansas City: 8-8
San Diego: 8-8
It’s gonna be tough sledding for this division in 2014 as they play the AFC East and the dominant NFC West. It’s no secret this is the Broncos’ division; San Diego will essentially be the exact same team as last year, gutting out some tough wins but not talented enough all around to excel where they should. .500 should be attainable but it might not be enough to earn a wild card berth; With no major improvements to its roster, Kansas City will regress in 2014. Jamaal Charles needs help carrying this offense and without any new playmakers at wideout or tight end, it won’t be hard to key in on what the Chiefs want to do on offense in 2014. Their schedule was also epically easy last year; Oakland needed to get younger and ended up getting older – and while they gained a great deal of veteran leadership, winning the free agent game off the field doesn’t always translate to wins on the field. The future could be brighter with Derek Carr lying in wait – but for now the Raiders get sucked deeper into the black hole.
Next up: NFC East