NFL Season Preview: AFC West

Sports Mole previews the 2014 NFL season for teams in the AFC West.

The Denver Broncos powered their way to the AFC West title last season with the highest-scoring offense in the history of the NFL.

John Fox's side secured the crown with a 13-3 record before they were humbled in the Super Bowl by the Seattle Seahawks.

The Kansas City Chiefs bounced back under Andy Reid to go from worst to a very good 11-5.

The San Diego Chargers showed that they are back on the NFL map with a 9-7 record and a playoff appearance, while the Oakland Raiders kept up their status quo by continuing to struggle.

Here, Sports Mole breaks down the prospects for the AFC West teams heading into the 2014 season.


Denver Broncos

Jacob Tamme #84 celebrates his second quarter touchdown with Eric Decker #87 as Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos looks on during their AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 19, 201© Getty Images

Last season: 13-3 – Super Bowl loss

Notable ins: DeMarcus Ware (Dallas Cowboys), TJ Ward (Cleveland Browns), Emmanuel Sanders (Pittsburgh Steelers), Aqib Talib (New England Patriots), Bradley Roby (Draft)

Notable outs: Champ Bailey (Free agent), Knowshon Moreno (Miami Dolphins), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (New York Giants), Eric Decker (New York Jets), Zane Beadles (Jacksonville Jaguars)

Outlook: The Broncos thrashed all comers more or less in the 2013 season as Peyton Manning broke two NFL records for passing touchdowns and yardage in a single season, when he guided the club to become the highest-scoring offense in the history of the NFL. However, it was to end in humiliation in the Super Bowl as the club were trounced by the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium.

John Fox's side reacted to their loss by spending big in free agency to upgrade their defense as Aqib Talib, TJ Ward and DeMarcus Ware arrived at the club to give them a formidable unit and one that could be one of the most dominant in the NFL. Their weakness could be at linebacker as Von Miller returns from a torn ACL, and outside of him there is a lack of quality in that position.

Manning will continue to have success in the passing in 2014, but will have to start without Wes Welker, who has been suspended for four games. The 38-year-old won't have another 50-touchdown season, but he will still put up some of the best statistics this year with Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and new weapon Emmanuel Sanders.

Prediction: 12-4 –AFC championship loss – The Broncos manage to get back to the AFC title game for the second year in a row, but may have to travel to face the New England Patriots due to their tougher schedule this year. The trip to Gillette Stadium will be the one that ends their season.


San Diego Chargers

Wide receiver Malcom Floyd #80 of the San Diego Chargers catches a pass past cornerback Brandon Hughes #27 of the Philadelphia Eagles in the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field on September 15, 2013© Getty Images

Last season: 9-7 – Divisional-round loss

Notable ins: Donald Brown (Indianapolis Colts), Brandon Flowers (Kansas City Chiefs), Jason Verrett (Draft), Jeremiah Attaochu (Draft)

Notable outs: Cam Thomas (Pittsburgh Steelers), Vincent Brown (Free agent), Le'Ron McClain (Free agent), Thomas Keiser (Arizona Cardinals)

Outlook: The Chargers were a surprise package towards the end of the 2013 season as they defeated the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field to sneak their way into the playoffs. They then went to the Cincinnati Bengals and knocked them out in the wildcard round, but didn't have enough to defeat the Broncos again in the divisional round.

Mike McCoy has been able to keep the majority of his roster from the 2013 campaign and their offensive production will once again flow through quarterback Philip Rivers. His backfield has been bolstered by the arrival of Donald Brown, who should compliment Danny Woodhead and Ryan Mathews well, while Keenan Allen will look to breakout as a top wideout following his excellent rookie year.

Defensively they could face problems especially against the better teams in the conference. Their cornerback situation has been improved with the selection of Jason Verrett in the Draft and the free-agent signing of Brandon Flowers. Their defensive line has question marks, but there is talent there and the same could be said about their linebacking corps as well.

Prediction: 10-6 – Wildcard-round loss – The Chargers will post a better record than the 2013 season, but they will crash out of the playoffs in the first round rather than at the second this time of asking. There are just more talented teams in the AFC than McCoy's side at the moment, but they could be an emerging threat.


Kansas City Chiefs

Derrick Johnson #56 of the Kansas City Chiefs in action against Houston Texans on October 20, 2013© Getty Images

Last season: 11-5 – Wildcard-round loss

Notable ins: Vance Walker (Oakland Raiders), Kurt Coleman (Philadelphia Eagles), Jeff Linkenbach (Indianapolis Colts), Dee Ford (Draft)

Notable outs: Branden Albert (Miami Dolphins), Geoff Schwartz (New York Giants), Dexter McCluster (Tennessee Titans), Jerrell Powe (Houston Texans)

Outlook: The Chiefs were another surprise package in the 2013 season as they went from having one of the worst records in the NFL to one of the best. Andy Reid and new quarterback Alex Smith transformed the club into a steady if unspectacular outfit, while their defense showed promise early in the season.

Reid has managed to keep the majority of his roster intact, but once again the team's success will hinge on the performances of All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles. The back is capable of winning games single handedly and did so on many occasions last year for the Chiefs. Smith will be tested early in the campaign as his options have been depleted by a suspension for Dwayne Bowe and the loss of Dexter McCluster in free agency.

Pass-rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston's health will be key as well for the Chiefs, as when the duo suffered injuries last season their defense struggled immensely. The drafting of Dee Ford should ease the burden, but the departure of Brandon Flowers could cause problems in the secondary.

Prediction: 8-8– Miss playoffs – The Chiefs may take a step back from their 2013 season as their schedule appears to be tougher and teams are more aware of the threat that they pose now. It will be close, but they just don't make the grade for the post-season.


Oakland Raiders

Mychal Rivera of the Oakland Raiders scores a touchdown on a seventeen yard pass play during the first quarter against the Washington Redskins on September 29, 2013© Getty Images

Last season: 4-12 – Missed playoffs

Notable ins: Matt Schaub (Houston Texans), Justin Tuck (New York Giants), Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville Jaguars), James Jones (Green Bay Packers), LaMarr Woodley (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Notable outs: Rashad Jennings (New York Giants), Jared Veldheer (Arizona Cardinals), Lamarr Houston (Chicago Bears), Vance Walker (Kansas City Chiefs)

Outlook: The Raiders would have had an excellent off-season if the year was 2008, unfortunately for the club it's 2014 and the majority of the players they have signed have produced their best football already in their careers. General manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen are under pressure to turn the fortunes of the franchise around and splashed the cash to sign some wily veterans.

Quarterback Matt Schaub has already lost his job to rookie Derek Carr, who has impressed during pre-season after being drafted in the second round out of Fresno State. However, the Raiders could be in for a struggle as the talent around the youngster in the receiving corps is thin on the ground, while running backs Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden's better days may be behind them.

On the defensive side of the ball, there are just as many question marks as the club bolstered their pass-rush with the additions of Justin Tuck and Lamarr Woodley, along with Khalil Mack in the Draft. Mack looks be a real star for the future and he could cause offenses a lot of problems, but Tuck and Woodley need to prove that they are still viable options on the line. The linebacking corps is inexperienced, while the secondary looks quite the opposite, and could be easily exposed by dynamic passing attacks.

Prediction: 3-13 - Miss playoffs – It will be a tough ride for the rookie Carr in his first season in the NFL due to the lack of talent around in the skill positions. Their defense could be ok, but not good enough to get them anywhere near where they need to be to challenge for the a playoff place.

San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy on the sidelines during the match against Seattle Seahawks on August 8, 2013
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