In some NFL divisions, improving your team doesn’t necessarily mean improving your rankings. Sometimes you just have to wait out the other teams for another season before taking over the division yourself.
The AFC West is one of those divisions. It’s hard to not predict whatever team has Peyton Manning under center at the top of a division, but remember: there are two wildcard teams. This means that three teams in the same division could make it to the playoffs, and then anything is possible.
It’s not crazy. Just look at the past two seasons. In 2013, the Chargers and Chiefs followed the Broncos into the playoffs. Last season, the Ravens and Bengals followed the Steelers in. Maybe it’s the AFC West’s turn again?
Asinine Analysis continues its critical summary of the good moves, bad moves and hopeful moves for each and every team this offseason, leading into the 2015 NFL Draft.
Our next targets: the teams of the AFC West.
The Good: Denver’s not quite white knight, quarterback Peyton Manning, hasn’t retired yet. He even took a pay cut of $4 million for 2015, which is like taking the profits of four million Papa John’s pizzas right out of his pocket. Unfortunately, this also leads to yet another comparison to Tom Brady, who took a pay cut for about three times that much to go along with having more than three times as many Super Bowl victories as Manning.
This also means that the Denver Broncos get to keep their offensive coordinator. Sure, Adam Gase holds a clipboard like a champ but, at the end of the play, all offensive calls go through Peyton Manning.
The Bad: Peyton Manning can throw a football, but who is he going to throw to? Julius Thomas ran off to the sandy beaches of Jacksonville; Jacob Tamme went to Atlanta; Wes Welker can’t take a hit from a pillow and Demaryius Thomas isn’t playing catch during the offseason while he negotiates a new contract. Emmanuel Sanders is still around, but how many catches will he get in quadruple coverage?
Denver also lost offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who went to Chicago to cast his fortunes in a Bear market. At the end of the day, all offensive calls still go through Peyton Manning. But Gase could hold a clipboard like a champ.
The Hopeful: For the fourth year since Peyton Manning became a free agent, the Denver Broncos and their fans will be looking for a Super Bowl win. Yes, that is the aim of all teams and the hope of all fans of those teams, but this is boom or bust for Denver, if that ship hasn’t sailed already.
Maybe the Broncos can trade away some of their 2015 draft picks and get some bionic legs for free agent wide receiver Reggie Wayne and rebuilt knees for retired center Jeff Saturday, and sign them to a “last hurrah” year deal.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Good: You can’t say that head coach Andy Reid doesn’t know what works for his team. While everyone was screaming about how Alex Smith is a game manager quarterback and Jamaal Charles can’t do everything and “same old Chiefs.” Reid went ahead and picked up a player that can only help Captain Checkdown: Jeremy Maclin. Just think how confused the secondary would be if they are bumping into defensive ends because no receiver has crossed the line.
The Bad: As good as they should have been, the Chiefs just couldn’t put together enough wins to get them to another playoff loss. A 9-7 record isn’t horrible, but this team knocked out nine wins in a row last year without anyone for Alex Smith to throw to beyond the five-yard line. They had a solid tight end in Travis Kelce to lighten the “give it to Charles” approach and ended up doing worse! Jamaal Charles doesn’t deserve this sort of disappointment again.
The Hopeful: The real hope is that Jamaal Charles stays healthy, because this offense goes as he goes. When an offense is basically giving up a down because their running back needs to take a break before his legs fall off, you have a franchise player right there. You want him to play forever, or at least the whole season.
To do that, the Chiefs should be looking to shore up their offensive line with the best prospects available, and lay off reaching for a center if someone like D.J. Humphries is available.
The Good: The thing about the Raiders is… hm.
Well, at least the Raiders have good, uh…
You know, I was really surprised by how well the Raiders… did… stuff?
Okay, so things did quite pan out for the Raiders last year, but there are a few positives for the team coning into this season. For one, Derek Carr was a good enough quarterback for everyone to forget that Matt Schaub was on the team. Latavius Murray looked like an improvement over veteran line-pusher Maurice Jones-Drew. Lastly, the rest of the AFC West is just getting old. The stars are fading. A young team like the Raiders could be primed to refine themselves and take on this division, especially with Jack Del Rio at the helm.
The Bad: A young team could do that, provided that they don’t continue to make the NFL blooper reel every week. Last year, the Oakland Raiders had not one, but three plays that I played on repeat for what must have been two hours straight. EACH.
Play #1: James Jones matches a catch, fumbles, recovers, runs for almost a touchdown only to fumble again.
Play #2: Matt Schaub throws an interception in his first attempt of the season, which was a fake field goal. It makes sense. What defense would have thought Matt Schaub would try to throw a football again?
Play #3: An Oakland Raider tackles his own teammate during a punt return. Like, “smackdown” tackles him.
The Hopeful: Hopes for the Raiders are different, depending who you ask. I’m sure owner Mark Davis is hoping to move the Raiders to Los Angeles for next season. I’m sure Jack Del Rio hopes he looks as good in silver and black as he did in blue and black when he was with the Jaguars. I’m sure that Raiders fans hope the team can one day win more games in a season than they lose.
San Diego Chargers
The Good: Philip Rivers is still your quarterback. I know it sounds simple but, considering how many teams are playing hot potato with quarterbacks these days, having a steady quarterback is a victory in itself and gives you a fighting chance to make it into the playoffs.
Antonio Gates may not play every snap these days, but he still has talent and a nice up-and-coming tight end waiting in the wings in Ladarius Green. Keenan Allen seemed to take a step back, but that was because defenses were paying attention to him. The addition of Jacoby Jones and Stevie Johnson could help with that.
The Bad: Can the Chargers please get a running back that can last the season? It seemed like the entire backfield of the Chargers was on IR by the end of the season. Ryan Matthews may be gone, but that just means that Branden Oliver is primed for a Matthews-esque injury in the first game. Hopefully not, but when you don’t have a back over 210 pounds who can carry the rock to the hole, the lighter backs can get hurt.
The Hopeful: Is Todd Gurley an accident waiting to happen after ending his college career with a knee injury? With the Chargers track record, you’d think this would be the case. On the other hand, Gurley could be that big, fast back the Chargers have been trying to splice together for the past few years. If something is available at the 17th pick without the need for a mad scientist, why not take it?
Patrick Emmel is a sports humorist who once punted a soccer ball fifty yards to his teammate, who then scored the only goal for his college intramural soccer team’s season. Seriously, that kick was placed PERFECTLY. He is also still a believer that Colt McCoy is going to break out as an NFL quarterback. You can read more of his obnoxious commentary at This Jeer In Sports and heckle him on Twitter @Patrick_AE.