Tuesday we wrapped up the preview of the NFC. Today we will begin looking at the divisions in the AFC beginning with the AFC West and AFC South.
This was a very top heavy division last season that saw the Denver Broncos run away with the division crown. Many of us are still getting used to seeing Peyton Manning in a Bronco jersey, but any doubts about his ability to perform after his neck surgeries were answered last season. With the new addition of Wes Welker, the Broncos offense may be more dangerous than ever. The suspension of Von Miller will hurt a defense that gave up fewer points than any team in the AFC last season, but the offense will be able to outscore every opponent it faces. Look for another AFC West crown in Denver this year.
The San Diego Chargers are a team that has had so much potential in the last decade having players such as Drew Brees, LaDainian Tomlinson, Shawne Merriman (when he was good), Philip Rivers, Vincent Jackson, and Antonio Gates come through their locker room. And they don’t have much to show for it. Norv Turner was given chance after chance to do something with this team. His time finally ran out with the team last season. The Chargers hired Broncos Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy, hoping that he brings some of the fire power Denver had last year to San Diego. Philip Rivers, however, is no Peyton Manning. This is a year of transition for the Chargers and they probably have a slim chance of beating the Broncos.
The Oakland Raiders hired head coach Dennis Allen away from the Denver Broncos before last season to help improve a struggling defense. Unfortunately, for the Raiders, they still finished dead last in the division in points allowed. On offense, the Carson Palmer experiment did not work out. The quarterback with the most experience on the roster is Matt Flynn, not a good thing. RB Darren McFadden can be dangerous on the ground when he’s on the field. However, he’s only played 19 games in the last 2 seasons. The Raiders signed Rashad Jennings in the offseason hoping to take some of the load off McFadden. The Raiders were 4-12 last season and may be worse this season if their running game does not carry them.
The Kansas City Chiefs were the worst team in the NFL last season. Led by Matt Cassel (even if he did just play 9 games), the Chiefs were the worst team in the league on offense. KC was among the worst in the league in defense as well. The Chiefs acquired Alex Smith in the offseason, hoping to build some kind of foundation on offense. They are also hoping that Eric Fisher, the tackle they used with their first overall pick, will help protect Alex Smith from missing any games due to injury. Regardless, the Chiefs are in rebuilding mode and have almost no chance of contending for the NFC West crown this season.
Since the divisions realigned in 2002, the AFC South had been ruled by the Indianapolis Colts. The injury to Peyton Manning that ultimately led to his excommunication to Denver led to a shift in power to the Houston Texans. The Texans are loaded on offense with Matt Schuab, Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, and Owen Daniels. They have been pretty successful on offense for years but were one of the league’s worst teams on defense until they hired defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Phillips has helped turn Houston into one of the most dangerous defenses in the AFC; they gave up fewer points than any team in the division in 2012. The Colts, however, are not far behind.
The Indy Colts used their first pick in 2012 on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck after releasing longtime quarterback Peyton Manning. Many wondered if it was the right move. In Luck’s first season at quarterback, he led the Colts to an 11-5 record and a wild card playoff berth. The team rallied around head coach Chuck Pagano when he was diagnosed with leukemia early in the season. While Pagano was gone, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was the interim head coach. Arians was hired by the Arizona Cardinals to be their head coach this past offseason which led to a coaching vacancy at the offensive coordinator position. The Colts upper management feared that a new offensive coach in only Luck’s 2nd year could lead to the dreaded sophomore slump. Hoping to avoid this, the Colts hired Andrew Luck’s offensive coordinator at Stanford, Pep Hamilton. Defensively, Pagano is known to be a great coach so it’s possible that the Texans may have a short stint at the top of the AFC South.
The Tennessee Titans certainly have some weapons on offense. Kenny Britt and Chris Johnson both have the potential to be dangerous. But the Titans have struggled getting the ball to their playmakers. With their first round pick in 2011, the Titans selected Jake Locker. After two years, they decided to bring in former Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick perhaps as a security blanket. Head coach Mike Munchak, who was one of the best offensive guards as a player in the 1980’s, hopes to have found a fellow pro bowl guard in Chris Warmack, who the team drafted with their first overall pick in this year’s draft. But the team, who finished last in points allowed, needs to improve defensively if they hope to contend for a division crown.
The Jacksonville Jaguars were in complete rebuild mode last year. The team ranked last in the division in points scored despite having a few decent playmakers in Justin Blackmon and Marcedes Lewis. The jury is still out on Blaine Gabbert, as this may be his last chance to prove he can be a starting quarterback in the NFL. The Jags drafted Luke Joeckel, a tackle, with their first pick hoping to give Gabbert some much-needed help. New head coach Gus Bradley hopes to improve the Jaguars defense that among the AFC’s worst. Having said that, it will probably be another year or two before the Jaguars can compete for a division title.
This concludes my previews of the AFC West and AFC South. Look for my previews of the AFC East and AFC North next week. Also soon after, look for my predictions for the upcoming season. If you missed my previews of the NFC, be sure to check those out!
Be sure to follow me on Twitter: @GabePride