When you go 2-14, the numbers have to change. Making AFC West Division calculations at this point may be a bit of a long shot, given that even the draft is still a month away, but the numbers are looking good for the Kansas City Chiefs right now.
The Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers have gone through some significant changes this off season, but the 2012 division champ Denver Broncos have only added to their already lethal offense. So, let’s preview just what it might take for the Chiefs to change the math, compete for the division crown, and possibly make the playoffs for the first time since since 2010.
At 4-12, the Raiders could hardly be called a better team than the Chiefs, though their overall record indicates otherwise. Two victories over the Chiefs plus a win over Jacksonville and a big home victory over the Steelers sealed their win total.
Losing 7 time Pro Bowl punter Shane Lechler to the Houston Texans should impact Raiders games as much as any move they have made this off season. Negatively. It’s difficult to replace perhaps the best punter in the NFL over the past ten years. Lechler could pin teams inside the 10 with regularity and it’s taken 8 years for the Chiefs own star punter, Dustin Colquitt, to knock Lechler off his perch as the best in the AFC.
Scott Carasik of the Bleacher Report has written that the “Raiders Short-Term Pain, Offseason Inactivity, Will Equal Long Term Gain.” According to Sportrac, the Raiders are currently having to swallow more than $23 mil of Dead Money (see bottom of the chart) because of poor decisions made by the dearly departed Al Davis.
What this means for 2013 is that they will not be improving over last season and in all likelihood will be competing for the first pick in the 2014 draft. Bill Williamson claims they are still in need of anywhere from six to nine starters.
While the 2-14 KC Chiefs were represented in the Pro Bowl by 6 players, the Oakland Raiders sent only one, fullback Marcel Reece.
QB Carson Palmer will turn 34 before next season is over. Palmer threw for over 4,000 yards for the third time in his career in 2012 so he still appears to be a viable answer to lead the team. However, his 22/14 TD/INT ratio must improve for the Raiders to have any chance at all.
Since it looks like the Raiders aren’t going anywhere right away, the question in Oakland then becomes, who will be their QB of the future? Back-ups Matt Leinart and Terrelle Pryor are probably not going to provide the answer to that question so the future may have to come through the draft. Geno Smith anyone?
Now, the debate in Northern California is whether or not the San Francisco Giants, or 49ers, are the most popular team in the area? The Raiders aren’t even in the conversation and likely haven’t been for quite some time. Does this mean another move to L.A. is on the horizon? I wouldn’t put anything past an owner who has DNA alleles from Al Davis. However, what it means for now is that the team probably isn’t going to be competitive anytime in the near future. Not even in its own hometown.
2013 Prediction for the Raiders: 4-12
The Chargers’ 7-9 record was an underachievement and consequently both coach Norv Turner and GM A.J. Smith were left seeking other employment. Enter GM Tom Telesco and head coach Mike McCoy. Telesco came over from Indy after years in their scouting system and Mike McCoy was the offensive coordinator for the Denver Mannings. If Ray Lewis can make a defensive coordinator… I guess Peyton can do the same for an OC.
In 2012 the Chargers were 9th in total defense and with a sixth ranked rushing defense that possessed a very strong front seven. While their passing defense was only ranked 18th, they managed to sign 6-1 CB Derek Cox who had 60 tackles, 4 INTs and a forced fumble last year. The defense appears to be set; while they may need to pick up a Safety, all indications are that they’ll be even better than last year defensively.
The real questions for the Chargers come on the offensive side of the ball. The biggest question is their offensive line. They signed 6-9, 330lb OT King Dunlap, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles. While he should be better than Jared Gaither at staying on the field and pass blocking, his deficiencies in run blocking may present a liability.
This is what truly ails the Chargers: an inconsistent offensive front. The pressure that teams were able to place on Philip Rivers last year—and the way Rivers dealt with that pressure—is the main reason the team didn’t succeed.
Although TE Antonio Gates is turning 33 this June he’s still near the top of his game and the only thing holding him back in recent years has been injuries. Malcolm Floyd is not Vincent Jackson but, is more than sufficient to make the passing game a real threat. However, with the leading rusher being Ryan Matthews at 707 yards, the Chargers will struggle to create a balanced attack and teams will continue to tee-off on Rivers unless the rushing game is addressed this off season.
In fact, the Chargers have had a problem generating yards on the ground ever since LaDainian Tomlinson left town. Only one back has been able to rush for more than 1,000 yards since LT was shown the door by ex-GM A.J. Smith.
Aside from the challenges that most clubs face on the field of play, the Chargers face stadium issues. Mainly that they’ve been having trouble selling out their games. Fan interest can be tricky, but in Southern California, where there are just a few other attractions to entertain one’s self with, it is even more of a challenge. In November of 2012, the Chargers had a game blacked out with the eventual Super Bowl Champion Ravens. Playing four of their last six game at home, the problem only worsened. You may even recall our own Patrick Allen exposing what became called “Ticket-Gate” when the Chargers began emailing opponents’ blogs asking them to buy tickets. San Diego has problems that run deeper than figuring out who might be their next left tackle.
2013 Prediction for the Chargers: 8-8
At 13-3, the Broncos were the AFC Champions and the only team in the division that looked good at all. To find a chink in the Broncos armor is difficult, but I’ll give it a try: Peyton Manning’s yards per carry is only .26. That’s point-two-six. Unfortunately for the rest of the division he’s not one of their running backs. His 4,659 yards passing was only surpassed by four other QBs in 2012.
Resigning Pro Bowl LT Ryan Clady and the re-emergence of RB Knowshon Moreno should help anchor the passing and running attacks for several years to come.
By adding Wes Welker this off season, the Broncos have made themselves even more difficult to stop offensively. With Welker on board, it’s hard to even imagine the Ravens 2012 defense stopping them.
The larger questions come on defense, although the Broncos don’t really have any huge question marks. Yes, Elvis has left the building. However, the Broncos should be able to sign either Dwight Freeney or John Abraham so there should not be any drop-off in the Broncos’ ability to pressure the QB. In the long run Dumervil will probably be happier in Baltimore because QB Joe Flacco should have a much longer career ahead of him than Peyton Manning does in Denver.
This will be a bit of a do-or-die year for the Broncos. Manning will play this season at the ripe young age of 37. If he plays another year he’ll obviously be 38. We haven’t seen very many 38-year-old QBs in this league play at a high level, but you’d assume if anyone could do it, it should be Manning. The point is, his career is winding down and it’s difficult to see him going beyond next season.
Consequently, it places a bit of extra burden on players like… Manning and CB Champ Bailey, who’ll step on the field at 35 years of age this season… to play like it’s now or never.
The Broncos defense could use a Safety but I’m guessing GM John Elway will get that done in the draft since this is a strong defensive backfield draft class.
The Denver Broncos only played five teams who had winning records last season and they lost three of them. The other two were Cincinnati and Baltimore, who they later lost to in the playoffs at home. AFC West teams have some of the most difficult schedules in the league next year so the Broncos will likely not win near as many games.
2013 Prediction for the Broncos: 10-6
The musical chairs have been in full force in Kansas City since the season ended. New coach Andy Reid now reports directly to owner Clark Hunt and the chain of command has forever been altered in fountain town. Enter new GM John Dorsey and his promise to make the teams better has only been matched by his tireless effort to get that done. The final analysis on whether or not all these changes will make the team better will come after the season begins but, its clear, the team will look different.
Almost as soon as Dorsey hit town, he and his sidekick Reid were making plans to change the Chiefs biggest weakness in 2012: the quarterback. The early reports and then eventual signing of Alex Smith may not have been globally accepted as the best move for the franchise, but surely was the follow through on their promise.
Alex Smith has shown he’s much improved in the past two years, and with Andy Reid’s guidance Smith should make the Chiefs competitive in every game they play this season.
The first week of Free Agency was one long thunderstorm in the middle of what seemed like a drought for KC fans. Signings included: a top TE, two strong CBs, the release of an OT and the signing of an OT, a backup QB with area ties.. .and the list goes on.
Bill Williamson of ESPN says he likes the changes they’ve made in the defensive backfield,
They were already good at linebacker; now they are strong in the secondary after adding cornerbacks Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson. Along with Brandon Flowers, this might be the best group of cornerbacks in the NFL. Throw in young safety Eric Berry and this is a powerhouse.
While the Chiefs are needing to find an ILB and perhaps big bruising RB as well as depth at several positions, the most glaring needs are now on the offensive line.
Holding the number one pick in the draft, the Chiefs have the luxury of either taking the best OT available or trading out and picking up multiple players who could make an impact this season.
No one can be sure that K.C. is ready to compete with the Broncos yet, but 4 Pro Bowlers and two new physical defensive backs on defense may indicate the Chiefs could be closer than you would think.
2012 Prediction for the Chiefs: 9-7
With all the positive changes the Chiefs have made this off season it’s difficult not to project them as a competitive and winning team. If the Kansas City Chiefs can keep the division battle close until the end of the season, there’s no telling what might happen. Especially if there’s only one game separating the division leaders by then.
Well Addicts… you want to give it a shot and make your own Long Division Calculations… or… predictions?