The AFC West got a whole lot tougher


For the 2015 Kansas City Chiefs to compete for a Super Bowl, they kind of have to win their first playoff game in 21 years. A good way to improve the chances of that happening? Ending the Denver Broncos four-year reign as AFC West champions. As the saying goes, easier said than done, especially when you consider the Chiefs have been division champs only twice in the new millennium, lowest amongst the division.

The numbers will lead you to believe that a division title is a daunting task, and it is. And although the Chiefs improved this offseason (they did, OK!), so did the rest of the division. Some moves our rivals made in particular can especially hurt the Chiefs.

San Diego: Drafting RB Melvin Gordon 

When it comes to the San Diego Chargers, there are two things you could bank on since LaDanian Tomlinson left: Philip Rivers’ constant rambling; and their running backs having zero fantasy value. This was most apparent last season, when San Diego’s leading rusher was Brandon Oliver, an undrafted free agent, with just 582 yards. Fortunately for the Chiefs, though, the absence of a credible backfield threat allowed them to hone in on stopping Rivers last season, leading to nine sacks and two wins.  But now the Chargers have hope.  

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When Roger Goodell Adam Schefter announced the Chargers traded up to the 15th spot, selecting Melvin Gordon, I cringed. Gordon was impressive in college, setting the record for rushing yards in a game with 408, and has all the physical tools you’d want in a workhorse back. A San Diego team that isn’t overly-reliant on Rivers is awful news for the Chiefs defense. Just as worrying is whether the comebacks of DJ and Devito will drastically turn around our 28th-ranked rushing defense. Throw in the fact that Dontari Poe is dealing with back problems, and you have a Chargers offense ready to potentially exploit our defense.

Denver: Replacing John Fox With Gary Kubiak 

While watching Broncos games these past few seasons (kind of hard to avoid since they are seemingly on primetime every week), it was easy to see that former head coach John Fox was an overly-conservative decision maker. For example, remember that 2013 Ravens-Broncos playoff game? Oh, you don’t? I’ll gladly refresh your memory. With just over two minutes in the game, the Broncos were up by a touchdown and facing a third-and-seven.

Predictably, Fox elected to run the ball rather than let his future Hall of Fame quarterback throw for the first down. The Broncos failed to convert. The Ravens quickly tied up the game and Manning threw that now infamous noodle-arm interception in overtime – all because of John Fox and his conservative tendencies.

With respect to the Chiefs last season, that conservative mindset led to the Broncos frequently forgoing makeable fourth downs and punting, rather than letting Peyton out-think the defense – good for us, bad for the Broncos. These kind of minor missteps allowed us to hang around in those games (even though our offense had other intentions), which is why I’m sad to see Fox go. I’m nervous just thinking about the key fourth downs that will go from being punts under John Fox, to first downs under Kubiak.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Oakland Raiders: Signing DT Dan Williams

If the Oakland Raiders had only stolen Rodney Hudson, and then made their usual weird Raider offseason moves I could have lived with that. But also signing an elite player, who fills a team weakness as well, that’s not Raider-like at all!

The Arizona Cardinals have had one of the better run defenses in the league the last couple of years, allowing the lowest yards per game in 2013, and ranking thirteenth in the category last season.  A big reason why was Dan Williams and his 327-pound frame clogging up the middle. Pro Football Focus gave Dan Williams a +13.7 grade against the run in 2014, while Terrance Knighton – a consensus elite run stuffer – received a grade of +13.0. Suffice to say the man eats his Wheaties, and knows how to stop the run.

In contrast to the Cardinals’ stiff rush defense, is the Raiders’ paltry run defense, ranking 22nd in rush defense last season while giving up 119.4 yards per game.  With the Chiefs being a run first team (most of the time), Williams can now cause us problems on offense by freeing-up Khalil Mack and Sio Moore to wreak havoc. We Chiefs fans know the difference a big-man can make for a defense, unfortunately Reggie McKenzie recognized this as well.

If the Chiefs are to reach what we believe to be their full-potential, winning the AFC West is a must. While the division undoubtedly got tougher this offseason, if the Chiefs stay healthy, not off to a great start, they have the talent to come out on top.