AFC West preview: New look Chiefs will compete for crown

Andrew Mount Sports Editor

Football is back. Enough said.

With its return, fans can look forward to a clean slate. Nobody is terrible; nobody is good. The hopes for the season are sky high and anything is possible. All teams begin with the same record of 0-0 and all share the same dream of hoisting up the Lombardi Trophy come season end.

Being in Brookings, it’s a general assumption that many students in the area are fans of Minnesota teams, or possibly Colorado teams. However there are still those students who are fans of other teams around the league, and I personally am one of those people.

I have a strong love for the Kansas City Chiefs. Yes, also known as the worst team in the league during the 2012-2013 season. The same team who selected first overall in the 2013 draft. However, I still have very high hopes for my squad, as would any fan for their particular team coming into the season, regardless of how last season may have turned out.

The Chiefs compete in the AFC West, along with the Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers. That being said, it seems appropriate to provide some sort of preseason analysis on the division as a whole.

To kick it off, why not start with the likely second most popular team in Brookings: the Denver Broncos.

Coming off of a strong 2012-2013 campaign, the Broncos look to be – and are mostly regarded as – the AFC West favorites heading into the season. 

After acquiring quarterback Peyton Manning during the 2012 offseason, the team took a big step forward in becoming Super Bowl contenders for many years to come, or at least until Manning retires.

With their fourth ranked passing offense of 2012, the Broncos should climb even higher with free agent addition Wes Welker, who is known for his strong contributions to the New England Patriots over the years. 

A concern, however, is the rushing attack Denver will have for the season. The Broncos’ leading rusher of 2012, Willis McGahee, is no longer with the team, and rushing duties have been thrust upon rookie second round draft pick Monte Ball. Being ranked 16th in the league last season in rushing, it will be interesting to see how well a rookie such as Ball can run the ball being thrust into the starting position.

The biggest concern in Denver, however, sits on the other side of the ball on defense. Now I’m not suggesting that Denver doesn’t have a strong defense, while that is the furthest thing from the truth with them ranking second in the league in total defense a year ago. 

The concern is that of a pass rush. With Elvis Dumervil now a Baltimore Raven and Von Miller suspended for the first six games of the season, there’s a big question mark in the linebacker corps for Denver. No pass rush can make it much more difficult on the rest of the defense to do their jobs. With that being said, it’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the defense adjusts to less of a pass rush, at least for the first six weeks of the season.

I predict a strong season nonetheless and give Denver at least 11 wins.

Moving on to the Oakland Raiders, I can’t seem to think that there’s much to talk about. While I’m not aiming to offend, the Raiders are, well, just bad.

Once again trying to fix their everlasting quarterback problems, the Raiders acquired Matt Flynn this offseason from the Seattle Seahawks. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Matt Flynn, and I think this will be a minor upgrade – if that’s even what you want to call it – compared to Carson Palmer.

First round draft pick D.J. Hayden should provide an upgrade to Oakland’s defense, that ranked just 18th overall last season, but I wouldn’t get my hopes higher than four wins if I were a Raiders fan, and that’s being generous.

The San Diego Chargers made some offseason additions as well such as defensive end Dwight Freeney, but they’re another team I can’t picture winning a lot of games. So I’ll keep this section short as well. 

The Chargers aren’t a very good team, and going through a coaching and general manager shift coming into the season, it’s hard to predict they’ll win very many games. So far in preseason, the team hasn’t looked very threatening, and quarterback Phillip Rivers – whom I’ve always felt was overrated – hasn’t looked very poised to have a big season.

I’m giving the Chargers six wins this season.

Now onto the Kansas City Chiefs, a team I have huge hopes for.

Starting with the biggest story of the offseason, the Chiefs brought in former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid, a huge upgrade from anything the team has had in recent years. Along with Reid came former first overall pick and 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, also an upgrade from what Kansas City has seen in recent years.

Other offensive additions to the team came as well with Anthony Fasano at tight end and Donnie Avery at wide receiver. The team also made a recent trade with San Francisco sending away former first round pick wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin for A.J. Jenkins at the same position.

On the defensive side of the ball, the team picked up a couple nice additions to the secondary with cornerbacks Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson.

The team hasn’t looked outstanding by any means thus far into the preseason, but the definite improvement is seen throughout the squad. I find it easy to believe with Reid – a coach experienced with winning – at the helm, the team can look forward to a bright future. 

With six pro bowlers just a season ago, and all of them returning, it’s no doubt that the Chiefs have talent. Finding ways to utilize that talent successfully is the key for Kansas City, and I believe Reid will find those ways. Add a moderately difficult schedule, and I think you’re looking at the only team who can form any sort of competition against the Denver Broncos.

I’m giving Kansas City a hopeful ten wins this season.

It’s without question that the AFC West is not one of the stronger divisions in all of football, but it should provide some good entertainment throughout the season, and who knows, maybe there will be some good surprises along the way.