Based off their incredible run last season and the rest of the division having a terrible year, the Denver Broncos are once again favored to capture the AFC West for a third straight season. The division has four of the five easiest schedules in the league this year, with the Broncos having the path of least resistance to the Super Bowl.
The real question in the AFC West revolves around if any other team can secure a Wild Card spot. Each still has one sticking point that could either make them a playoff team or top 10 draft pick. Chemistry will be an issue in Kansas City as the Chiefs have a new head coach, Philip Rivers is quickly losing targets in San Diego, and Oakland’s offense has a new quarterback.
Denver Broncos (2012 Record: 13-3)
Key Games: At Giants 9/15; Philadelphia 9/29; At Dallas 10/6; At Indianapolis 10/20; Washington 10/27; At New England 11/24; At Houston 12/22
Assuming Peyton Manning stays healthy, the Bronco offense should thrive. Denver has the easiest schedule in the league this season with their opponents having a combined .430 winning percentage.
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The pass rush may, however, be of concern. The defensive frontline will miss Elvis Dumervil. Von Miller will have to stay out of trouble off the field. But expect Wesley Woodyard, Mike Adams and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to hold down the secondary for another successful year.
Prediction: 13-3, division winner
Super Bowl Odds: 6-to-1 (Best in the NFL)
Kansas City Chiefs (2012 Record: 2-14)
Key Games: At Philadelphia 9/19; Houston 10/20; At Buffalo 11/3; At Denver 11/17; At Washington 12/8; Indianapolis 12/22
It doesn’t matter what they say to the media, Alex Smith and Andy Reid are out for revenge. Smith lost his job in San Francisco after abiding by the league’s concussion rules, and Reid supposedly lost control of a Philadelphia Eagles locker room with way too many egos.
Smith was one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the league last year, and with an improving offensive line and a healthy Jamaal Charles (fingers-crossed) the Chiefs could have a top 10 offense.
The rush defense needs significant help, but the Chiefs don’t face a playoff team from last season until Week Seven against Houston, which is at home. The final five weeks of the season will be difficult but a Wild Card spot is possible.
Super Bowl Odds: 65-1
Oakland Raiders (2012 Record: 4-12)
Key Games: At Denver 9/23; At Kansas City 10/13; Pittsburgh 10/27; At New York 11/10; At Houston 11/17; At Dallas 11/28
Matt Flynn could make Seattle regret they traded him away, and should get the starting job he thought was his last year with the Seahawks. He has a few solid targets, but needs a healthy Darren McFadden to make anything else work.
The team, and specifically the defense, have responded more to second-year head coach Dennis Allen. Their toughest stretch, if Oakland is still in striking distance by then, is Weeks 10 to 14, when they are on the road for four of five games.
Super Bowl: 200-1
San Diego Chargers (2012 Record: 7-9)
Key Games: At Philadelphia 9/15; At Washington 11/3; Denver 11/10; At Miami 11/17; Cincinnati 12/1; At Denver 12/12
Season-ending injuries to Malcom Floyd and Danario Alexander leave quarterback Philips Rivers without a proven target, and put more pressure on rookie receiver Keenan Allen. In three seasons, running back Ryan Matthews still hasn’t played all 16 games, and there’s very little depth behind him. Ronnie Brown's injury history is worriesome, and Danny Woodhead has never been an every-down back.
Manti Te’o could improve the Chargers 18th ranked pass defense, and make a run for Defensive Rookie of the Year. However, looking at their schedule, no game could be called a probable victory until Week Seven at Jacksonville.
Super Bowl Odds: 75-1