Broncos Leave The AFC West Wide Open Despite Winning The Super Bowl
Usually after having a Super Bowl-winning season the Denver Broncos would have to be the favorite to again win the AFC West and make it back to the postseason. However this will not be a typical year for the Denver Broncos even though they managed to hoist the Lombardy in Super Bowl XL against the favorite Carolina Panthers and 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton.
First, future hall of fame quarterback Payton Manning decided to retire after a 18-year career and left the Broncos with unproven options at the position. To complicate matters, the widely assumed replacement Brock Osweiler, who was 5-2 starting in place of the injured Manning last season; decided to reject the Broncos’ offers and sign instead with the Houston Texans.
Now the Broncos have to try and pick between Mark Sanchez, whom they acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason; second year player Trevor Siemian, whose entire regular-season experience boils down to a kneel down against the Steelers and rookie Paxton Lynch, who was drafted in the first round this year.
Second the AFC West, a division that for recent seasons has been among the weakest in the league, is giving signs of life with two teams that seem to be heading in the right direction: the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders.
The Chiefs already proved that they will be more than worthy competitors and are the early favorites to win the division. The Chiefs turnaround started in 2013 when they hired Andy Reid as head coach and acquired Alex Smith from the San Francisco 49ers. Last year the Chiefs finished the season with an 11-5 record (for the second time since 2013) and only one game behind the division-winning Broncos.
Even though the Oakland Raiders finished with a 7-9 record and missed the playoffs for a 13th straight year they finally showed signs of respectability. Yes, they finished with a losing record for the fifth straight year and haven’t had a winning season since 2002 when they lost Super Bowl xx to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; but the Raiders seem to have found the pieces to start winning again and shall compete for the division should the Chiefs hit a few bumps down the road.
The main cause for optimism is quarterback Derek Carr, whom the team drafted in 2014 and seems poised to have a breakthrough year in his third season as the main signal caller. Carr benefitted greatly from the addition of wide receivers Amari Cooper via the 2015 draft and free agent Michael Crabtree from the San Francisco 49ers.
Most importantly, the Raiders seem to have found the right man for the job in head coach Jack Del Rio. He looks like a coach they can keep for several seasons, after having shuffled through eight men since 2002 prior to hiring him.
As for the San Diego Chargers, the expectations seem to be lower than usual after ending 2015 with a 4-12 record and in sole possession of last place in the AFC West and tied for the third worst record in the NFL.
A key concern for the Chargers is the performance of quarterback Philip Rivers. He is still a very good passer, but his stats kept declining for the third straight year and his age is becoming a factor as he turned 34.
The Chargers most definitely improved (especially at WR and offensive line) during the offseason with the movements they made in both free agency and the draft, but have too many problems to contend within the division.
All-in-all it should prove to be a very interesting year in the AFC West as the Chiefs, Broncos and Raiders, in that order, slug it out and try to end 2016 atop the division.
Odds to Win the 2017 AFC West
Kansas City Chiefs +160
Denver Broncos +160
Oakland Raiders +190
San Diego Charger +500