The Kansas City Chiefs had a great draft. Unfortunately, they weren’t the only ones selecting players last week. At least two of our divisional rivals also got a lot better.
What does that mean for the AFC West? The past four years of divisional rivalries have been, shall we say, unbalanced, for the Chiefs:
Four Year Total
The road to the Super Bowl always begins within the division. If you can dominate your division – three-eighths of your total games – then you increase your chances for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Chiefs have done exactly the opposite over the past four years. In 2012, the Chiefs’ dismal 0-6 divisional record helped the Broncos to a 13-3 record, the number one seed and homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. In 2011, the Chiefs performed the best in this four year cycle, finishing 3-3 in the division and keeping the division-winning Broncos to an 8-8 record and a fourth seed. Even in 2010, when the Chiefs won the division with a 10-6 record, we were 2-4 in the division and ended up as the fourth seed out of four. Finally, in 2009, the Chiefs were 2-4, assisting the Chargers to 13-3 record and a second seed (the Colts had an incredible 14-2 season that year).
Let’s see just how well our AFC West competition improved in the Draft.
The San Diego Chargers had one of the top drafts in the NFL. The Bolts added D.J. Fluker, a right tackle from Alabama, and really found gems in the second and third rounds, stealing linebacker Manti Te’o and then wide receiver Keenan Allen. Because new Head Coach Mike McCoy is an offense and quarterback guru, he instantly makes quarterback Philip Rivers better. The Chargers will be back in top form this year, led by a rejuvenated Rivers, a strengthened offensive line and receiver corps and a much improved defense, patrolled by Te’o.
Across the mountains, John Elway continues to haunt us, but now as Executive Vice President of Football Operations (whatever that means). The Denver Broncos had a smart draft, picking up defensive tackle Sylvester Williams in the first round to help anchor their 4-3 defense, and then getting a great running back in Montee Ball in the second round. I had thought the Broncos would go after Eddie Lacy in the first round, but ended up choosing Ball instead (Lacy went three picks later to the Packers), which may well turn out to be the smarter choice. Ball is a smart and patient runner, a better-than-average blocker and a great receiver out of the backfield.
As for the Oakland Raiders, well, you can tell there is a new regime in place because late night comedians aren’t making jokes about the Raiders this week. New General Manager Reggie McKenzie had a solid draft, recouping their lost second round pick from the horrible Carson Palmer trade. The Raiders selected strong cornerback D.J. Hayden in the first round and a potential star in offensive tackle Menelic Watson in the second round. But the Raiders just have too many holes to fill. McKenzie has the Raiders on the road to respectability though, which does not bode well for the Chiefs in the coming years, but we’ll deal with that in 2015 and 2016.
For the Chargers and Broncos, offense will rule the day, and they will both be high powered units. The Chiefs may have the most balance between the offense and defense among these three teams. But talent-wise, the Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos will be quite similar, with few gaps in their starting lineups and depth across the board.
What does that all mean? For the AFC West, parity is coming this year and that’s a good thing. A return to the highly contested, knock-down, drag-out divisional games of the 1990’s will be a welcome sight for the Chiefs, compared to recent history. This year, the Chiefs will blend old and new talent on both sides of the ball with superb coaching from new Head Coach Andy Reid. There’s no way the Broncos run away with the division title again, because we and the Chargers will be right in the thick of things.
With the new and improved Chiefs, I can easily imagine a 10-6 or even 9-7 team winning the division. In fact, that’s what I hope for. That means we’ve kept the Broncos in check and we’ll have the last three games of the season really matter – of the type where you’re glued to your flatscreen TV, checking other scores on your phone, and praying for teams you’ve never thought twice about to win games against our divisional opponents. You know what I mean, Addicts!!!
Who will win the AFC West? Will it be us? We may not know until the last game. But wouldn’t that be a great change, Addicts?! What do you think, Addicts? What will the AFC West look like this year?!!