AFC West 2015 Division Preview

Denver Broncos

Veteran Losses: S Rahim Moore (signed with HOU), G Orlando Franklin (signed with SD), DT Terrance Knighton (signed with WAS), TE Julius Thomas (signed with JAX)

Veteran Additions: TE Owen Daniels, S Darian Stewart, G Shelley Smith, DL Vance Walker, G Evan Mathis (signed Aug. 26th)

2015 Draft Picks: DE/OLB Shane Rey- 1st Rd, OL Ty Sambrailo- 2nd Rd, TE Jeff Heuerman- 3rd, OL Max Garcia- 4th, CB Lorenzo Doss- 5th, NT Darius Kilgo- 6th, QB Trevor Siemian- 7th, CB Tauren Nixon- 7th, S Josh Furman 7th

2014 Record: 12-4 (lost to IND in Divisional Round)

Towards the end of the 2014 campaign, you could clearly tell Peyton Manning wasn’t at his best. It was later revealed that he had been playing with a torn right quad, which likely led to poor performances down the stretch. Despite another record-breaking season statistically, many questioned if the legend should keep playing because of how bad he looked. Heading into 2015, he is reportedly fully healthy and ready to make another playoff run. Denver signed TE Owen Daniels to replace Julius Thomas, who I believe will be a better fit in this offense and recently signed All-Pro guard Evan Mathis to help an injury riddled offensive line. For the most part Manning has most of his weapons in tact and 2014 revelation, CJ Anderson will look to be the “bell cow” in Gary Kubiak’s new zone blocking, run-based offense. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are one of the most formidable receiver tandems in the league and we don’t expect that to change this season. Peyton Manning and the Broncos will have a few hurdles adjusting to the new scheme and injury to left tackle Ryan Clady, but they should remain one of the NFL’s best offenses.

The Broncos boasted the league’s number 1 ranked defense according to Pro Football Focus. They will be switching from a 4-3 to 3-4 base, which could possibly take the Broncos defense to another level. Von Miller will be right at home rushing the passer a majority of the time and DeMarcus Ware played a majority of his Hall of Fame career in this defense. I can see Miller getting close to 20 sacks in this scheme. This also bodes well for 1st rounder Shane Ray who has two of best guys to learn from as he looks to find a role early in the defense early on. Chris Harris remains the most criminally underrated player in the NFL, even though he’s as good of a shutdown corner as there is; I mean allowing a QB rating of 46.7 to your side is self explanatory. Across from him is another very good corner in Aqib Talib who has had his ups and downs and will look to be more consistent in 2015. The defense will miss Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton in run defense, but 2013 1st round pick Sly Williams will look to fill that void along with Vance Walker who put together a solid season for the Chiefs last season. TJ Ward will now be paired with another hard-hitting safety in Darian Stewart who managed to turn in a positive grade on PFF. The young duo of Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall will start at MLB, both whom had impressive stretches last season where they flashed potential.

2015 projection: 10-6 (2nd in AFC West)

The playoffs are not a sure thing for the Broncos this season. Hell they aren’t even a lock to win the AFC West this year. Peyton Manning is a year older and even though he isn’t typically impacted by offensive line play, but I can see that group being an issue this season especially with the void left by Clady. The Chargers, Raiders and Chiefs particularly, all took steps to improve. Regardless, their offense should still be a handful to deal with and the defense will be stout so I expect them to remain in playoff contention, but beware of Kansas City.

San Diego Chargers

Veteran Losses: RB Ryan Mathews, WR Eddie Royal, G Chad Rinehart, C Nick Hardwick, DE/OLB Dwight Freeney, ILB Reggie Walker, ILB Andrew Gachkar, CB Shareece Wright, S Marcus Gilchrist.

Veteran Additions: WR Stevie Johnson, OT Joseph Barksdale, OT Chris Hairston, G Orlando Franklin, DE/DT Mitch Unrein, CB Jimmy Wilson, CB Patrick Robinson, KR Jacoby Jones.

2015 Draft Picks: RB Melivn Gordon 1st Rd, LB Denzel Perryman 2nd Rd, CB Craig Mager 3rd Rd, DE Kyle Emanuel 5th Rd, DT Darius Philon 6th Rd

2014 Record: 9-7

If the Chargers want to be successful, they have to protect Phillip Rivers and also give him a running game to take the pressure off. Rivers took a step back in 2014. but that was largely due to the fact his offense just wasn’t healthy around him. King Dunlap will be the only player that remains in his same spot from 2014. Former first round pick DJ Fluker will move to right guard and hopefully he’ll be able to secure that spot and improve on his play. They added Orlando Franklin in free agency to man the left guard spot. There will be a new center and right tackle as well. These guys will be blocking for 2015 first round pick Melvin Gordon, who is here to replace the often injured Ryan Mathews, who is now on Philly. Danny Woodhead will be returning from injury so Phillip Rivers has his checkdown target back. But he’ll be without his favorite target Antonio Gates for the first 4 games while he serves his suspension. We’ve been waiting on Ladarius Green to step up, is this the year? Keenan Allen dealt with injuries in 2014 and that caused a regression for him, but with Eddie Royal no longer in SD, Allen will see snaps in the slot so his production will increase. I’m extremely excited about the addition of Stevie Johnson, who has never had a QB of this caliber.

The success of this defense will hinge largely on the play of Melvin Ingram, who is very capable but has dealt with injuries since being drafted in the first round a few years ago. Jeremiah Attaochu will play opposite from him and he has some potential as well, but not as much as Ingram. This defense will also need to see improved play from LB Donald Butler, or he’ll lose his spot to 2015 second round pick Denzel Perryman. Defensive end Corey Liuget inked a contract extension this offseason so he’ll need to live up to that contract although I feel he got a little overpaid. He’s a good player though, can’t say the same for Kendall Reyes who wasn’t very good last year. The strength of this defense comes from the secondary. Brandon Flowers was a great addition last season and he elected to stay with the Chargers which was a good move for him. Jason Verrett, 2014 first round pick, is the best corner on this team but he’ll need to stay healthy. This secondary is also backed by safety Eric Weddle, who is among the elite defensive players in the league.

2015 Projection: 9-7 (3rd in AFC West)

We know what Phillip Rivers is going to do, but what is this run game going to give him? Will the offensive line protect him? Who will step up when Antonio Gates is gone? I mean there are questions for days. Phillip Rivers can get them to 9-7, it’s up to the rest of the team from there.

Kansas City Chiefs

Veteran Losses: WR Dwayne Bowe, TE Anthony Fasano, C Rodney Hudson, DE/DT Vance Walker, DE/DT Kevin Vickerson, ILB Joe Mays, CB Chris Owens.

Veteran Additions: WR Jeremy Maclin, G Ben Grubbs, S Tyvon Branch

2015 Draft Picks: CB Marcus Peters 1st Rd, G Mitch Morse 2nd Rd, WR Chris Conley 3rd Rd, CB Steven Nelson 3rd Rd, LB Ramik Wilson 4th Rd, LB DJ Alexander 5th Rd, TE James O’Shaughnessy 5th Rd, DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches 6th Rd, WR Daron Brown 7th Rd

2014 Record: 9-7

I stick up for Alex Smith a lot not because I think he’s a great quarterback, but because I think you can win with him. I’m excited to see what him and Jeremy Maclin, who they added in free agency, will do this year. He’ll be another piece in an offense that also has some of the top guys at their position in RB Jamaal Charles and TE Travis “Baby Gronk” Kelce. They have a capable back up running back in Knile Davis, but he isn’t the talent that Charles is. This offensive line is the Achilles Heel of this offense, and it definitely doesn’t help they lost their best lineman Rodney Hudson, who just so happens to be the guy that touches the ball every snap.

The calling card of this team is their defense, which I think has the potential to be one of the elite units in the NFL. They’ll have to improve on their run defense, which despite only giving up 4 rushing touchdowns last year, they gave up over 2000 yards on the ground. It doesn’t help that 3 of their better run defenders in DE Mike DeVito, LB Derrick Johnson and S Eric Berry all missed major time in 2014. But they’ll be back this year, including Eric Berry who was diagnosed with cancer and has managed to make a full recovery. The addition of the often injured Tyvon Branch can help assuming he isn’t often injured this year. But I think the Chiefs will have a nice group of safeties in Berry, Branch, Ron Parker, Kurt Coleman and Husain Abdullah. The latter three were above average in coverage last year and that can be attributed to this pass rush. The star of this defense, Justin Houston, had a stellar 2014 campaign totaling 22 sacks. He got paid this offseason and we know what he’s capable of. Tamba Hali is still serviceable although you can tell age is catching up with. Hopefully they’ll get something out of their 2014 first round pick Dee Ford, who hasn’t done much at all. They spent their 2015 first round draft pick on Marcus Peters, who I felt was the best corner in this past draft and a top 8 player in that draft as well. He’ll fill in for Sean Smith while he serves his suspension, but this defense will take off once he comes back.

2015 Projection: 11-5 (1st in AFC West)

This is the year that the Chiefs are able to overcome the hump that’s been the Denver Broncos. This is a talented roster and Andy Reid knows what he’s doing.

Oakland Raiders

Veteran Losses: QB Matt Schaub, RB Darren McFadden, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, WR James Jones, WR Denarius Moore, G Kevin Boothe, C Stefen Wisniewski, DE/DT Antonio Smith, DT Pat Sims, DE/OLB LaMarr Woodley, CB Tarell Brown, CB Carlos Rogers, CB Chimdi Chekwa, S Tyvon Branch.

Veteran Additions: QB Christian Ponder, RB Roy Helu, WR Michael Crabtree, C Rodney Hudson, DT Dan Williams, OLB Malcom Smith, ILB Curtis Lofton, S Nate Allen, KR Trindon Holliday.

2015 Draft Picks: WR Amari Cooper 1st Rd, DE Mario Edwards Jr. 2nd Rd, TE Clive Walford 3rd Rd, G Jonathan Felciano 4th Rd, LB Ben Heeney 5th Rd, OLB Neiron Bell 5th Rd, DE Max Valles 6th Rd, OT Anthony Morris 7th Rd, WR Andre Dubose 7th Rd, CB Dexter McDonald 7th Rd

2014 Record: 3-13

Not that Derek Carr was setting the world on fire last season, but he did look like the best QB this franchise has had in years. We knew the coaching staff would be fired but there was a hope OC Greg Olson would be retained since you could tell Carr was improving each week in his system. But Olson is in Jacksonville so it’s worth wondering how will Carr now fare in a new scheme led by Bill Musgrave? Musgrave will be the one calling the shots on offense and offense’s under Musgrave have been predominately run oriented. I think they have a stud at running back in Latavius Murray. Murray started 2014 as the 3rd string back and he had his coming out party week 12 against the Chiefs, carrying the ball 4 times for 112 yards a touchdown before the leaving the game with an injury. Overall he averaged 5.2 YPC on only 82 carries so it’ll be interesting to see how he does over a full season. At 6’3 230lbs, Murray runs a 4.38 40 and is a dynamic athlete. They’ll have another dynamic athlete on the perimeter in Amari Cooper, who I’ve heard is already the best WR in the state of California. Cooper will join Michael Crabtree on the outside and give Carr two new weapons to target. The Raiders were able to sign center Rodney Hudson away from the Chiefs and he’ll be another good piece on a line that contains Donald Penn and Gabe Jackson. This line will be improved from 2014.

We all knew Khalil Mack was going to great, but nobody anticipating him becoming one of the best defensive players in the league right away. He was the best 4-3 OLB in 2014 but in 2015, he’ll be playing defensive end. He’ll be the centerpiece of a defense that looks to be better in 2015. I loved the addition of Dan Williams because if they want Mack to play DE, they’ll need someone on the interior to help open things up for him and Williams is capable of that. Old man Justin Tuck is still a solid contributor but I’m sure they are hoping Mario Edwards Jr. will be able to eventually take over his spot. The linebacker group is still a question and I don’t think Curtis Lofton will be the answer at all. To be honest, this back seven is full of questions, especially the secondary. Nate Allen has looked good in the preseason, but it is just the preseason. I think CB TJ Carrie will take over the #1 CB duties this season. I don’t think DJ Hayden is a horrible player, he’s just alright. But as long as this team can get a pass rush, they’ll look better on the back end.

2015 Projection: 5-11 (4th in AFC West)

I’m still not sold on Derek Carr, but I look forward to seeing him improve in 2015. He’s got some better pieces around him and I think the Raiders will be more competitive in games, I just don’t think they’ll be able to put teams away. This defense will be the strength of the team this season. I think they are another draft away from being competitive in their own division.

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