’15 AFC West Preview

After four straight division titles won by the Denver Broncos, the eyes of the NFL universe will be on the AFC West this season to see if Peyton Manning and his aging arm will finally be dethroned.

Denver Broncos-

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Notable additions:

Shane Ray – OLB

Ty Sambrailo – LT

Jeff Heurman – TE

Max Garcia – OG

Owen Daniels – TE

Vance Walker – DT

Peyton Manning will have to weather an unseasoned offensive line in 2015, but looks to continue his regular season dominance on his way to another AFC West crown.  (Getty Images)
Peyton Manning will have to weather an unseasoned offensive line in 2015, but looks to continue his regular season dominance on his way to another AFC West crown. (Getty Images)

Notable departures:

Julius Thomas – TE

Terrance Knighton – DT

Orlando Franklin – OG

Rahim Moore – S

Wes Welker – WR

Will Montgomery – OC

Manny Ramirez – OG

 

2014’s AFC West Champion Denver Broncos will have a large task at hand to retain the throne after an offseason that saw enormous turnover. Starting guard Orlando Franklin left in free agency, leaving 1,123 snaps to fill. Starting left tackle Ryan Clady was lost for the season to injury, adding another 1,084 snaps along the offensive line missing. Combine the loss of Manny Ramirez in the draft day trade to the Detroit Lions and you can tack 1,156 more snaps missing. Peyton Manning will have a hard time adjusting  to life with an unproven offensive line, not to mention the loss of star tight end Julius Thomas. Thomas accounted for 108 receptions for 1,277 yards and 24 touchdowns the past two seasons. His speed and athleticism will be missed by an aging Manning that might be better suited to throwing at his short/intermediate targets. Rookie tight end Jeff Heuerman has also been lost for the entire season.

Adding Shane Ray will give the Broncos an extra pass rusher to find ways to get on the field and an heir apparent for DeMarcus Ware. Defensive tackle Vance Walker will more than replace Terrance Knighton, with an added ability of an above average pass rush. Under new coach Gary Kubiak and his super-productive zone offense the Broncos will likely continue their consistent regular season offensive dominance,  but odds are they will have some bumps along the way with the new adjustments and possibly show more vulnerability at times. Second year wide receiver Cody Latimer should be first in line to eat up targets left by Wes Welker and Julius Thomas. In all likelihood Denver will recapture the AFC West again in 2015, but this is the most open it has been since The Sherriff has been in town.

2015 Prediction

11-5 (2nd place AFC West)


San Diego Chargers-

 

Notable additions:

Denzel Perryman – ILB

Melvin Gordon – RB

Orlando Franklin – OG

Stevie Johnson – WR

Jacoby Jones – WR

Patrick Robinson – CB

The 2015 San Diego Chargers will go as rookie running back Melvin Gordon goes. If Gordon can come out of the gates swinging the Chargers could make some postseason noise.  (Getty Images)
The 2015 San Diego Chargers will go as rookie running back Melvin Gordon goes. If Gordon can come out of the gates swinging the Chargers could make some postseason noise. (Getty Images)

Notable departures:

Ryan Matthews – RB

Eddie Royal – WR

Nick Hardwick – OC

Marcus Gilchrist – S

Shareece Wright – CB

Dwight Freeney – OLB

 

Rookie running back Melvin Gordon could possibly lead the way for the rising Chargers to becoming a playoff team in 2015. When San Diego has challenged the Broncos for the AFC West throne the formula has always been a ball-control offense that leans on the run game and third down pickups by Philip Rivers. The best way to beat Peyton Manning is by winning the time of possession battle and keeping the ball out of his hands.

The addition of mauling Orlando Franklin at guard will boost their run game by a large margin, as will the position change of D.J. Fluker from tackle to guard. The two of them will provide a lot of movement up front for San Diego and allow them to get creative after the retirement of long-time starter at center, Nick Hardwick. Stevie Johnson will prove a more reliable option than Eddie Royal, who departed in free agency. Wide-out Jacoby Jones will also impact special teams and carve out a role on offense. I believe a key player for the Chargers is third year pro Melvin Ingram. His development could make or break a defense that needs pass-rush in a major way.

2015 Prediction

9-7 (3rd place AFC West)


Kansas City Chiefs-

 

Notable additions:

Marcus Peter – CB

Mitch Morse – OC

Chris Conley – WR

Jeremy Maclin –WR

Ben Grubbs – OG

Steven Nelson – CB

Paul Fanaika – OG

Ramik Wilson – ILB

Veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson will provide an instant impact on the run defense that ailed Kansas City last season. If Johnson can come back at full force this could be a top-5 defense.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson will provide an instant impact on the run defense that ailed Kansas City last season. If Johnson can come back at full force this could be a top-5 defense. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Notable departures:

Donnie Avery – WR

A.J. Jenkins – WR

Rodney Hudson – OC

Dwayne Bowe – WR

Vance Walker – DT

Anthony Fasaono – TE

 

Head coach Andy Reid has given Kansas City faithful a huge reason to be excited for the upcoming 2015 season. Replacing Dwayne Bowe with much lauded free agent signee Jeremy Maclin will provide immediate results for the Chiefs, while showing to be a much more natural fit in their offense. Returning from Achilles injuries, veterans Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito will go a long way to patching up Kansas City’s recent run defense woes. The biggest boost and surprise that the Chiefs have received thus far has been the return of safety Eric Berry, against all odds defeating his Hodgkins Lymphoma cancer and returning to practice in an eight month span. Did I mention that Berry managed to stay in shape throughout his rigorous treatment, even coming back a few pounds heavier? This defense will be PLAYING for Eric Berry this season, you can bet on it.

2015 first round pick, Marcus Peters, will be thrown to the fire early and often considering the three-game suspension of KC’s top corner Sean Smith. Peters has shown his abilities early and often in training camp, picking off three passes his first day of practice. Second year pro Phillip Gaines is a man to watch out for this season as well, a year after showing he can play in this league. His speed will allow the Kansas City defense to have an answer for those quick receivers that have seemed to have their number in recent memory.  The trade for left guard Ben Grubbs will give the Chiefs some stability along the offensive line, someone established that can mentor a very young offensive line that could use some leadership. Rookie third round receiver Chris Conley should work his way into first team playing time early in the season once he gains the trust of the coaching staff. Conley, Albert Wilson, and De’Anthony Thomas will more than likely be the trio to shoulder the rest of the receiving load after number one wideout, Jeremy Maclin. If Kansas City can manage to split with the Broncos, I see them with a good chance at taking the division.

2015 Prediction

11-5 (1st place AFC West)


Oakland Raiders-

 

Notable additions:

Amari Cooper – WR

Mario Edwards Jr. – DE

Clive Walford – TE

Rodney Hudson – OC

Michael Crabtree – WR

Dan Williams – DT

Nate Allen – S

Malcolm Smith – OLB

Trent Richardson – RB

Derek Carr will look to utilize a plethora of new offensive weapons in 2015 and prove to his detractors that he is a true franchise quarterback. (Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)
Derek Carr will look to utilize a plethora of new offensive weapons in 2015 and prove to his detractors that he is a true franchise quarterback. (Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)

Notable departures:

Maurice Jones-Drew – RB

LaMarr Woodley – DE

Tyvon Branch – S

Nick Roach – LB

Darren McFadden – RB

Stefen Wisniewski – OC

Tarell Brown – CB

 

Oakland’s GM Reggie McKenzie might have saved himself and his public perception with his past two draft classes, although we have a long and grueling season ahead before we will know. After an offseason exodus of 2014 free agent signees, the Raiders look to begin anew with a refreshed roster. Rookie receiver Amari Cooper will prove huge towards the development of second year quarterback Derek Carr, their fates very much intertwined. Khalil Mack has had a full offseason to become even more comfortable and confident as a leader of the defense, looking to prove his pass rushing prowess in 2015. By all reports out of camp Michael Crabtree has turned heads, looking explosive with Carr at the helm. Having a revamped arsenal of weapons will give the Oakland front office a much better chance to evaluate Derek Carr as they decide whether or not he is a franchise quarterback you can hang your hat on.

The only loss that would have really stung Oakland was Stefen Wisniewski, their center who signed with Jacksonville. The loss was averted with an upgrade in signing Rodney Hudson, who is more consistent than Wisniewski and will plug and play flawlessly. Dan Williams will give the Raiders a proven veteran defensive tackle that can do it all, something they didn’t have last season. Oakland won’t likely challenge in the West this year, but their chances are better than they have been in years.

2015 Prediction

6-10 4th place AFC West)

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