One thing is for certain, the AFC West is going to look drastically different in 2013. The Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers have completely overhauled their operations both in the front office and on the sideline. Only time will tell if that will be a good thing for their franchises. But it’s not going to take much for the rest of the division to improve on their poor performance in 2012.
Including the Oakland Raiders, the other three teams in the West combined to win only 13 games. San Diego was the runner-up in the final standings yet still had a losing record. Kansas City and Oakland were complete embarrassments. The stellar play of the Denver Broncos coupled with the incompetence of these other teams allowed Denver to dominate with a 6-0 divisional record. It certainly won’t be quite that easy next season, but make no mistake; the Broncos will own the AFC West for the foreseeable future.
The biggest reason for this boils down to one man, and he is Peyton Manning. People can analyze, debate, and make judgments based on every aspect of a franchise. But winning or losing in the modern day NFL typically comes down to the quarterbacks, especially over a 16-game season. So regardless of what else happens during the offseason the West will come down to Denver and San Diego in 2013. Manning and Philip Rivers are the best quarterbacks in the division, and until that changes the title will come down to these two. New Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith could be a wild card this year, but he has a lot of work to do to be mentioned in this group. Even if he puts together a good year there is no doubt that Manning is at the head of this class.
The Broncos also own the best roster in the division from top to bottom. They had a top ranked defense last year and the key components are all returning. The duo of Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas is one of the best in the league and they should continue putting up monster numbers. And this team is going to get better! Surprisingly, at the start of the offseason it was the Broncos who had the most cap space available in the West. That puts them in great position to make improvements to the roster.
Now that they’ve used the franchise tag on Ryan Clady the Broncos have roughly $8 million of cap space, and that could go up with contract restructuring and/or player cuts. It is being reported that much maligned linebacker D.J. Williams will finally see his time with the Broncos end. That move alone would give Denver about another $6 million to play with.
The Broncos are going to have a great chance to land the free agents they desire. Playing with Manning, and for John Elway, on a team that is going to be a serious Super Bowl contender is not a very tough sell. The Chiefs’ Dwayne Bowe practically admitted he wanted to play with Manning when he was falling all over himself to get a picture with him last season. This all bodes well for Denver’s offseason plans.
The NFL free agency period officially begins on March 12th and the draft is about six weeks later. We will know very soon just how much the teams in the division improve, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Denver wins the offseason as well. Just another reason why the Broncos own the AFC West.