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2015 Division Preview: AFC West

The AFC West stops and starts with Peyton Manning's health. If healthy, this is still the Broncos division. If not, can the Chiefs and or Chargers take the crown?

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The AFC West still goes through Peyton Manning and the Broncos. That being said, there are plenty of questions in the AFC West, including whether or not Manning is healthy and can he return to his dominant self? Can Kansas City take the next step and challenge the Broncos or at least make it back to the playoffs? Can the Chargers put together a 16 game season? And, can Oakland win more than three or four games?

*NOTE: All division previews were constructed prior to any games and therefore any injuries which occurred in Week 1 were not accounted for in these previews.

1) Denver Broncos

2015 Prediction: 13-3

2014 Record: 12-4, 1st Place

Confidence in Pick: 75%

Why they win the division:

Peyton Manning - If you listen to most of the media, Peyton Manning has basically washed up on the shore and his eulogy has already been read. I have a hard time that the game's all-time leading passer has fallen off the proverbial cliff in just four games. Remember, this is a guy that just set the NFL record for yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55 TDs) just two years ago while completing 68.3% of his passes and compiling a 115.1 passer rating and only tossing 10 interceptions. And prior to tearing his right quad, Manning had 36 touchdowns and 9 interceptions, on pace for 48 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and nearly 5,000 yards. That hardly seems like a guy that has "lost it." Yes, he struggled down the stretch, as would any quarterback with a torn quad. Once healthy, I see no reason we won't see the same Manning.

Offensive weapons - The loss of Julius Thomas and Wes Welker hurts, but Manning has made a career of sending tight ends to the Pro Bowl and he will develop a great connection with Owen Daniels. Damaryius Thomas is still a top wideout and Emmanuel Sanders is one of the best No. 2's in the league. With the loss of Welker, we should see more of the big second year wideout, Cody Latimer and this offense will carry on like business as usual.

Good Defense - Because Denver's offense has been so good the last few years, most do not realize they also have a good defense. In 2014, the Broncos ranked in the top 10 in terms of yards per game, including second in terms of rushing yards per game.

Reasons they may not win the division:

Manning's Age/Health - As I mentioned above, Manning was his normal self averaging three touchdowns per game prior to his quad injury late in 2014 and there isn't a team in the league that wouldn't love to have a quarterback tossing 39 touchdowns. However, at 39 years old, you have to wonder if Manning can regain full health. Anytime you have an older player drop so quick and so drastically, you have to wonder if they can return to form. This team is probably good enough to make the playoffs even if Manning's play drop significantly, but they would not be a threat for the Super Bowl without the dominant Manning.

Gary Kubiak - I was never impressed with Kubiak in Houston and didn't like this hiring. I feel his teams in Houston under performed and in his 7+ seasons in Houston, he had just three winning seasons, two playoff appearances (2-2) and a career record of 61-64 (.488). Peyton will help pad his winning percentage, but I don't think Kubiak can help improve Manning's Super Bowl chances.


Overall, I still think Denver is one of the top two or three teams in the AFC and as long as Peyton Manning is standing, I consider his team a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

2) Kansas City Chiefs

2015 Prediction: 10-6

2014 Record: 9-7, 2nd Place

Confidence in Pick: 50%

How they win the division:

Jamaal Charles - Charles is one of the best dual threat running backs in the NFL and in 2014 had 14 total touchdowns, about 1,300 yards and averaged 5.0 yards per attempt. The addition of Jeremy Maclin and the emergence of Travis Kelce should open things up for Charles in 2015.

The Defense - The Chiefs were a top 10 defense in 2014 and feature Justin Houston, the 2014 sack champion (22). Because of Houston and a plethora of other first round talent on the defensive side of the ball, the Chiefs ranked 2nd in both passing yards per game and points per game. With this defense and what should be an improved offense, the Chiefs have a slight chance at dethroning Manning and the Broncos, but a pretty good chance of returning to the playoffs.

Andy Reid - His last few years in Philadelphia were disappointing to say the least, but Andy Reid is still one of the best head coaches in the NFL and he took the 2-14 2012 Chiefs and turned them into an 11-5 wildcard team that was a second half collapse away from advancing in the playoffs. They took a bit of a step back in 2014, but I see Reid bringing this team back in 2015.

Why they won't win the division:

Lack of Play-Makers at the wide receiver position - I like the addition of Jeremy Maclin and for the first time in a while, Alex Smith has a true No. 1 wide receiver. However, outside of Maclin, the Chiefs really have nothing at the wide receiver position. Maclin, Kelce and Charles are the Chiefs top receiving threats, and while that is a formidable trio, if Maclin or Kelce would go down, the Chiefs have no other pass catchers to pick up the slack.


I like the Chiefs, but I don't completely trust them. If a lot of things go well, I think this team could win 11 games. However, if injuries pop up (especially at the wide receiver position), they could be closer to .500. Either way, I think the Chiefs will have a shot at the playoffs.

3) San Diego Chargers

2015 Prediction: 9-7

2014 Record: 9-7, 3rd Place

Confidence in Pick: 50%

How they win the division:

Philip Rivers - Rivers doesn't always get the due he deserves, but in his nine seasons as a starter, Rivers has averaged nearly 4,100 yards, 28 touchdowns and a 2/1 TD/INT ratio. The most impressive thing about Rivers - and the reason why the Chargers have an outside shot at the division - is how Rivers simply cannot be counted out. He has that ‘it' factor, that winner's mentality. No lead seems safe and the until the Chargers are mathematically eliminated, they are always a threat. The most recent example of this was 2013 when the Chargers entered Week 13 at 5-7 and needed to win their last four games to even have a chance at the playoffs. One of those games was a Week 15 matchup at 11-2 Denver, a seemingly unwinnable game. The Chargers finished 4-0 and went to Cincinnati for the Wild Card round and crushed the Bengals, a team that was undefeated at home and had just beaten the Chargers a few weeks before.

Improved offensive weapons - The most known weapon on the Chargers offense is tight end Antonio Gates, but in my opinion, he is not even the best tight end on this team. I believe Ladarius Green is poised for a breakout year and will be the starter by the time the season is done. Keenan Allen is one of the more underrated wide receivers in the league and is a legit No. 1. Malcolm Floyd and Stevie Johnson are solid No. 2/3's and the addition of rookie running back Melvin Gordon should help Rivers as well. Lastly is the X-Factor, Danny Woodhead who is a big time contributor in the passing and running game.

Why they won't win the division:

Overall talent level - While I like the weapons the Chargers have surrounded Rivers with this year, his weapons are still not at the level of Peyton Manning or Alex Smith's weapons.

River's Track Record with Slow Starts - In his four seasons with LaDainian Tomlinson, Rivers was 46-18, with seasons of 11, 13 and 14 wins. In his five seasons without Tomlinson, Rivers is 42-38 with zero seasons with double digit wins. The biggest problem in those five seasons is slow starts and it seems as though Rivers and the Chargers are always in the position where they have to go on a hot streak at the end of the season just to have a chance at the playoffs. Over the past few seasons, the Chargers have had starts of 2-5 (2010), 4-7 (2011), 4-8 (2012) and 4-6 (2013). In fact, 2013 is the only season Rivers has made the playoffs since Tomlinson departed after the 2009 season. The 2015 Chargers cannot afford another slow start.

Mike McCoy - Mike McCoy received a head coaching job because Peyton Manning went to Denver. I too would look like a great offensive coordinator if Manning was my quarterback, because after all, it is Manning that is the actual offensive coordinator. In his two seasons at the helm, the Chargers are a respectful 18-14, with one playoff appearance and one playoff win. However, his team has never finished better than third in their own division and if not for the Chiefs sitting their starters in Week 17 of 2013, that team likely would not have made the playoffs either.


The Chargers have the look of a .500ish team. They have some talent and if things go well, they may be able to sneak out 9 or 10 wins. However, if things don't go well, they could win just six or seven games. Either way, I see this team finishing within a game or two of .500 yet again and just missing out on the playoffs.

4) Oakland Raiders

2015 Prediction: 5-11

2014 Record: 3-13, 4th Place

Confidence in Pick: 85%

How they win the division:

They can't - I like the pickup of Michael Crabtree, Latavius Murray will give them a more dependable option in the backfield and I love the drafting of Amari Cooper and I think he will be a very good receiver for a long time. However, I am not sold on Derek Carr, the offensive line is a concern and the Raiders overall talent is in the bottom quarter of the league. As a result, they have zero chance of winning the division

Why they won't win the division:

Derek Carr - As I said above, I am not sold on Derek Carr as a starting NFL quarterback. He had a decent rookie season (21 touchdowns, 12 interceptions), but he also had just a 58.1 completion percentage, a rating of 76.6, a QBR of just 36.8 and a record of 3-13. With the addition of some real NFL receivers this year, we should get a better idea of what Carr will be.

Coach - In nine seasons in Jacksonville, Del Rio had just three winning seasons, two playoff appearances (1-2) and an overall losing record of 68-71 (.489). While he is an experienced coach and the most accomplished coach the Raiders have had in decades, I don't see him as the guy to turn the franchise around.

Management - If we were ranking management teams, the Raiders would be in the bottom five. This is a management team that once traded a 1st and 2nd round pick for Carson Palmer and then 1.5 years later, traded Palmer and a 7th round pick for a 6th round pick. They then traded a 5th round pick for Matt Flynn and followed that up with a traded for Matt Schaub before drafting Carr. Not the types of moves that lead to success.


The 2015 Raiders will be better and more competitive than the 2014 Raiders, but this is still a bad team. The overall level of talent (or lack thereof), combined with playing in the AFC West spells another bad season for the Raiders.

Final division analysis:

The popular story in the media is throwing dirt on Manning's grave, but I disagree. I still believe Manning has another year or two left and I believe his Broncos are still the class of the West. The Chiefs have the best chance of making a run at the division, followed closely by the Chargers and the Raiders have a solid grip on fourth again.