Despite the fact that the Broncos were the AFC’s top seed in 2013, finishing with a 13-3 record, the AFC West race was actually the tightest of the four in the conference. The Chiefs and Chargers both joined Denver as playoff teams out of the West, in what was arguably the NFL’s second-best division behind the NFC West.
The Broncos head into the 2014 season as the favorites to repeat as division champs, and could be even stronger on the defensive side of the ball than they were a year ago. Aqib Talib replaces departed cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in a secondary that also added playmaking safety T.J. Ward. Meanwhile, DeMarcus Ware will join Von Miller to lead one of the league’s more dangerous pass rushes. Denver lost some key contributors, including wideout Eric Decker and guard Zane Beadles, but the Broncos are still deep and talented enough to go as far as Peyton Manning can lead them. Coming off a record-setting MVP season, Manning should be in line for another big year assuming he stays healthy, which is no given at age 38.
While Denver may be the frontrunner in the AFC West, the Chiefs and Chargers shouldn’t be overlooked. Neither club made the sort of big splashes that the Broncos did in the offseason, and Kansas City’s offensive line exodus is a cause for concern, with Branden Albert, Geoff Schwartz, and Jon Asamoah all moving on in free agency. However, these are still talented clubs that will be looking to return to the postseason in 2014. San Diego, in particular, could be a dark horse to make some noise in the regular season and the playoffs, having added cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett to a secondary that struggled a year ago.
As for the Raiders, they were an afterthought at 4-12 in 2013, and will be a long shot in the West again in 2014 — betting site Bovada.lv gives Oakland 18:1 odds at winning the division. But Matt Schaub could provide some stability at the quarterback position if he benefits from a change of scenery in Oakland. First-round linebacker Khalil Mack should have an immediate impact. And the Raiders brought in a number of interesting veterans in free agency, including Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, James Jones, Austin Howard, and Maurice Jones-Drew. A lot would have to break right for the Raiders to have a chance at the division title, but it’s not a totally inconceivable scenario.
What do you think? Which team will win the AFC West in 2014?
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