This post comes from Justin Becker of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more Fantasy Football Rankings visit Fantasy Football Overdose, a fantasy football blog.
The Denver Broncos reached their goal of the Super Bowl in 2013, but came up more than just a little short in a rough 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. While the Seahawks were beyond a tough test in every facet of the game, the Broncos at least know they can handle the AFC conference.
In the past two seasons, Peyton Manning and Co. have lit up the league for a ridiculous 92 passing touchdowns during the regular season, en route to two straight AFC West division titles. With key free agency additions and Manning back to air it out again, there’s little reason to doubt it will happen again.
With that being said, the Broncos still have competition within their own division. The Kansas City Chiefs started the 2013 season 9-0 and gave Denver two hard-fought games. The San Diego Chargers can say the same to the latter, but even at a higher level, as they stole one of three meetings last year (including playoffs),
To get a better idea as to just how tough the AFC West should be in 2014, let’s break down and rank the four teams in the division:
1. Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning set records for passing yardage and touchdowns in a single season last year. He won’t break the records he set, but he’s not suddenly going to drop off to some mediocre quarterback, either. To be blunt, the Broncos need two things to happen to get the job done in 2014: they need to be tougher than they showed in last year’s Super Bowl, and their new additions for their defense need to pay off.
The Broncos added some big names to the mix, signing on DeMarcus Ware to boost the pass rush, along with safety T.J. Ward and lockdown cornerback Aqib Talib to shore up the secondary. With Von Miller returning from knee surgery, Denver’s defense could really be a tough unit to face in 2014.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
Forget about Kansas City’s insane 9-0 start. Forget about their 4-5 slide to end the year, too. Neither runs show who they truly were in 2013 or who they could still become in 2014. The Chiefs are actually probably somewhere in the middle. They’re not quite good enough on offense to blow you out on a weekly basis, while their defense isn’t consistent enough to truly be considered elite.
But they’re getting closer to both. Alex Smith has proven numerous times (specifically against the Colts in the playoffs last year) that he’s more than just a game manager. If KC actually presents him a weapon beyond Dwayne Bowe (who is regressing) in the passing game, we might actually see it.
On the defensive side, the Chiefs have a stud safety and some real terrors on the outside of their pass rush. The good news is they are extremely talented and young on defense, so as they grow together they should only get better.
Of course, KC “getting better” still might not be good enough to upend an explosive bunch in Denver. Smith knows how to win and it comes down to one game of airing it out, he might be able to get the Chiefs past Denver. But if he ends up having to do that all season, he and his Chiefs could be in trouble.
3. San Diego Chargers
Philip Rivers is still alive, it appears. A gone and forgotten man that had drowned in a sea of turnovers the past couple of years, Rivers was revived in 2014 in new head coach Mike McCoy’s dink and dunk passing offense. San Diego also boasted a healthy and suddenly effective Ryan Mathews, as well, spawning a balanced offensive attack.
It’s the defense that truly held the Bolts back overall in 2013. However, with more talent added to an ailing secondary, San Diego should only improve in 2014. How much they improve, however, will be the difference between finishing 9-7 again or rivaling the Broncos for the top spot in the AFC West.
4. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders are such a mess that they thought trading for the regressing Matt Schaub was a good idea. True, Schaub is an upgrade over Terrelle Pryor (traded to Seattle) and Matt McGloin, but after seeing him implode as the poster boy for pick sixes in 2013, Raiders fans can’t be too thrilled.
Still, Schaub is at least a step in the right direction, while the Raiders brass is sure to add a franchise passer in the draft like Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel. None of those options are going to save the Raiders in 2014, though. The always injured Darren McFadden and a rapidly aging Maurice Jones-Drew make up the rushing offense.
If the Raiders jumped in a time machine to 2-3 years ago, their offense might be really scary. In the here and now, it’s shaping up to be abysmal. Unless a rookie Oakland drafts helps change that, it’s likely to play out exactly that way this season.
Oakland has a rising defense mixed with good, young talent and some seasoned veterans. They won’t be able to shoulder a predictable passing attack and lethargic ground game, however. It’s looking very much like another year at the bottom of the AFC West for the Silver and Black.
On paper, the division sorts out just like it did a year ago. Denver is still the cream of the crop and KC and San Diego should pose as worth opponents. One or both could vie for a playoff spot once again, while either one absolutely can beat Denver and even make a run for the division crown. However, there is little to suggest either the Chiefs or Chargers will actually unseat the Broncos.
The Broncos simply have the best quarterback, the most complete offense and have more star power on defense. Considering they’re also coming off of a bad Super Bowl loss they’ll want to avenge, Denver should once again claim the AFC West and put themselves in a good spot to make another deep playoff run.