The AFC West has given us its fair share of ups and downs this season. Peyton Manning has struggled for much of the year, the Raiders are finally relevant once again, the Chiefs lost Jamaal Charles, and San Diego look to be struggling ahead of a possibly move to L.A.
So who can win the division? Four of our contributors make the case for each team.
by Remy Cabache
Since Peyton Manning joined Denver, the Broncos have not only dominated the AFC West, they’ve dominated much of the AFC too, and the former is happening again. The Broncos are 7-1 and have already beaten the Chiefs and Raiders. Furthermore, the Chargers – with all of their injuries and an inability to hold an offense to less than 20 points – do not seem to pose a threat to the Broncos.
Peyton Manning and this offense, granted, are not the same as they have been. Manning can no longer push the ball down the field very effectively and the ground game has generally struggled to get going. But they have a lot of playmakers, and as Emmanuel Sanders showed against the Colts, the Broncos offense is a big play just waiting to happen.
The defense though, despite underperforming against the Colts, is seriously good. They have the best secondary in the league and their front seven is a force against the run and they can rush the passer with multiple players incredibly well. This defense is built to carry a struggling offense. With the overall talent gap between the Broncos and the rest of the division obvious, the closest team is the Raiders, who are three games behind. Even if the Broncos lose 3 more games, the Raiders would have to win out to overtake the Broncos. Not going to happen.
by Edd Hodsdon
The Raiders are perhaps the most surprising team this year. Expected to be at least another year or two away from being a competitor, Oakland have ridden an unexpected leap from second-year quarterback Derek Carr into the thick of the AFC wild card race.
Oakland have one of the league’s most exciting young offenses in the NFL. Behind the young trio of Carr, first-round receiver Amari Cooper and running back Latavius Murray, as well as free-agent bargain Michael Crabtree, the Raiders rank 8th in total offense. The unsung heroes of the team, though, are the revamped offensive line, which looks like a cobbled together squad of free agent signings, but the Raiders have allowed just 10 sacks, 3rd least in the league.
The Raiders also have a very good run defense anchored by emerging star Khalil Mack. Although they haven’t put up the numbers, Oakland’s pass rush is threatening behind both Mack and Aldon Smith. Charles Woodson is having a Pro Bowl season despite being 39, leading the league with five interceptions. Oakland have already beaten the Chargers, but also lost narrowly to the Broncos. However, if Denver struggles with injuries and Manning falters again, the Raiders might have a chance to beat them and take the division. They have yet to play the Chiefs, but Kansas City don’t look like competitors without Jamaal Charles. Oakland’s remaining schedule isn’t easy, but if they can win five or six games they will give Denver a run for the division.
Kansas City Chiefs
by Tom Parry-Jones
Okay, let’s be fair, the AFC West is a pretty tough division to win right now – if you’re not the Denver Broncos, that is. But of the other three teams, the Kansas City Chiefs are the best placed to surmount Peyton and co. Although they may not be setting the league alight in any one category, they’ve got enough in the tank to pose a threat to anyone on their day.
Since star running back Jamaal Charles was ruled out for the season with a torn ACL, the pressure on the offense has mounted, but they’ve won their last two, including putting 45 points on the Lions at Wembley in Week 8. In that game, quarterback Alex Smith showed he could run as well as throw, albeit against the 1–6 Lions.
But the biggest positive for the Chiefs is their defense, with big names like OLB Tamba Hali, SS Eric Berry, CB Marcus Peters, DT Dontari Poe and ILB Derrick Johnson, all first-round draft picks. With quality in all those areas, the Chiefs defense is able to create pressure up front that leads to plays being made in the secondary.
Finally, the Chiefs actually have a pretty favourable second half to their schedule. Their game against the Broncos in week 10 is their only matchup against a team with a current winning record. It’s true that the absence of Jamaal Charles is a huge loss, but the presence of talented players all over the field should see them challenging at the top of the AFC West come the end of the season.
San Diego Chargers
by David Venables
I know all you doubters are probably going “Ha! The Chargers! Like THEY’RE going to win the AFC West”. Well, have you thought about this scenario?
The Denver Broncos, who seemingly have the division in their control, start to unravel when Aqib Talib decides to poke Roger Goodell in the eye following his one game suspension for a similar incident against the Colts. Goodell, in a blind (pun intended) rage, suspends Talib for the season. Meanwhile, DeMarcus Ware’s back injury is hampered when he trips over his doorstep after trying to hunt down the visiting mailman.
Meanwhile, Peyton Manning decides to give the finger to the NFL community by retiring once he breaks Brett Favre’s all-time passing yards record, in response to the calls for Brock Osweiler to replace him as Denver’s starter. The NFL community is left stunned further when the Broncos lose their remaining games to finish 7-9. Meanwhile, the Raiders decide to play like it’s 2014 all over again, even tempting running back Maurice Jones-Drew out of retirement to carry the load. Sorry Latavius Murray, but the Raiders would rather have someone immobile than a fumbler.
In Kansas City, the Chiefs fail to get over their jetlag from the trip to London, resulting in Alex Smith falling asleep at random intervals mid-game, while head coach Andy Reid’s press conferences are just mumblings of him asking for ‘five more minutes’. That leaves the Chargers, banged up as they are, to sweep the division off the back of Philip Rivers’ record breaking 5,500 passing yard season, while the running game receives a boost when none other than LADAINIAN TOMLINSON returns for the Chargers last hurrah in San Diego…
Well, one can dream, anyway.
Who do you think will win the AFC West? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!