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SNAP CENTRAL | PREVIEWS: NCAA Top 25 | NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West | AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
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NFL Pro Football 2014 AFC West Preview

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Fearless Rick's NFL Preview - AFC West

Rick Gagliano | July 21, 2014

AFC West

Denver Broncos

2013 Record: 13-3

2014 Expected Finish: 12-4

Doing everything expected of them except winning the Super Bowl, Denver returns after that ignominious, 43-8, defeat at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks.

That the Broncos went 13-3 during the regular season, clinched home field in the AFC and went to the Super Bowl pays tribute to the coaching of John Fox and the all-around superlative play of QB Peyton Manning, both of whom return for the 2014 season.

There is plenty of reason for optimism in Denver. because all of the key players from last year return, including RB Montee Ball (and backup Ronnie Hillman), wideouts Demaryius Thomas, Emmanual Sanders, slot receiver Wes Welker, and tight end Julius Thomas. This offense ranked first in the NFL in points, yards, pass completions and first downs. Manning was sacked just 20 times in 2013, and the front line comes back even better.

Defensively, Denver was adequate, spending an inordinate amount of time on the field, due to the quick-strike nature of the offense, but they will be improved with the additions of DE DeMarcus Ware, CB Aqib Talib and the return of LB Von Miller, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL.

The Broncos scored 34 points or more in 11 of their 13 wins, and two of their losses were on the road (Indy, New England). Their lone home setback was a brilliantly-played, must-win game by the Chargers (27-20).

Though the schedule is among the most rigorous in the league, the Broncos are almost a sure thing to capture the AFC West. Denver will be looking for a repeat trip to the Super Bowl, this time with a better outcome.

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San Diego Chargers

2013 Record: 9-7

2014 Expected Finish: 10-6

Following disappointing seasons in 2011 (8-8) and 2012 (7-9), the Chargers finally rid themselves of stubborn head coach Norv Turner and turned back to prominence - and the playoffs - under Mike McCoy, who recast the offense into more of a quick-hitch design and rotated running backs for maximum efficiency.

Phillip Rivers was the main beneficiary of the changes on offense, throwing for 4478 yards, 32 TDs and just 11 interceptions. RB Ryan Matthews missed much of the season due to injuries, but Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown filled in admirably and both can be used in passing situations as well as running out of the backfield.

When the backs aren't plugging the middle or the seams, Rivers can look to Malcolm Floyd, Eddie Royal, Antonio Gates, Ledarius Green, Keenan Allen and Vincent Brown, as fine a group of receivers as there is in the league.

Improvement will have to come on defense if the Chargers wish to reach the playoffs again. While they were 11th in points allowed (21.8), they were 23rd in yards (366.5), though some of that may have to do with playing Denver and Kansas City twice during the season. They were 30th in turnovers with a -4 differential and few changes have been made. Defensive coordinator Joe Pagano feels confident in the group he has.

As with the Chiefs and Broncos, the key games will be within the division. Should San Diego split or sweep those games, their playoff chances improve. Look for the Chargers to exceed their 9-7 mark from 2013.


Kansas City Chiefs

2013 Record: 11-5

2014 Expected Finish: 9-7

The surprise team of 2013, the Chiefs won their first nine games, slumped to a 2-5 mark down the stretch to finish up 11-5, but easily qualified for the playoffs as the #1 wild card, along with Denver and San Diego from the same division.

Led by an offense that featured the running of Jamaal Charles and the passing of Alex Smith, the Chiefs also sported one of the stingiest defense in the NFL, tied for fifth in points allowed, at 19.1 per game.

The D gave up lots of yards (367.8, 24th), but were resolute in the red zone and thrived on turnovers, with a +18 margin, 36 total, second-best overall. The defensive unit returns mostly intact and will have an impact on opposing offenses.

A willingness to run the ball behind a huge, mobile offensive line with Charles toting the pigskin is key to success for the Chiefs. Once the defense begins to bring seven or eight men into the box, Smith goes to work on the outside, hooking up with Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery and tight end Anthony Fasano.

It's a consistently good offense which tied for 6th in points (26.9) last season and were fifth in yards per rush, at 4.65. Smith was also one of the more efficient QBs in the league, hitting at a 61% clip with 23 TDs and a mere 8 picks.

The schedule gets a little tougher, with AFC West teams meeting NFC West teams, and KCs fine record pushing them up the parity list. Late-season road games at Arizona and Pittsburgh could be make-or-break scenarios for the Chiefs' playoff hopes.


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Oakland Raiders

2013 Record: 4-12

2014 Expected Finish: 6-10

Back-to-back 4-12 seasons is about as bad as it gets in the NFL, so to say that the Raiders can only be hopeful entering the 2014 season is likely an understatement.

A carousel at quarterback, running back and a variety of injuries and incidents on defense last year all contributed to a dismal showing for the Raiders, but they made a number of key moves in the off-season which may begin to turn things around.

Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin took most of the snaps from center and neither were distinguished. Oakland finished tied for 24th in passing yards per game(208.8), and 27th in both completion percentage (57.4) and completions per game (18.6). These two will compete for the sarting position.

Maurice Jones-Drew come over healthy from Jacksonville and will vye with Darren McFadden for the starting job. On defense, which finished 29th in scoring and 22nd in yards allowed, Oakland welcomes veterans DE LaMarr Woodley, DT Antonio Smith, CBs Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers to the fold.

The new faces will help, but getting by the tougher teams in the AFC West should prove to be to big a chore for the guys from the wrong side of the bay.

Copyright 2014, 2015, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.

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