NFL: Once Upon a Time in the AFC West

The 2012 AFC West is being billed as a very competitive division where just about any of the four teams can win it. Last season three teams finished 8-8 with Kansas City at 7-9.

It may end up being a very competitive division, though it’s still a highly flawed one, and a great source of myths.

First there’s last season. I updated the regression model and in today’s article at Bleacher Report, I looked at 2011’s biggest overachievers and underachievers, where the 2011 AFC West cleans up the overachiever category. Denver, Kansas City and Oakland are the top 3,and it’s easy to see why when you look at these interesting graphics:

They may have been 7-8 win teams, but they are easily among the three worst in NFL history when you look at the scoring differential.

You can check the pulse of a team by what they have at QB and head coach.

Denver – John Fox brings stability in year two, and if healthy, Peyton Manning brings HOF QB play back to Denver. Of course I like the Broncos as a 10-6 division winner, assuming Manning is what he used to be. What I don’t like is the myth that Denver has a great defense. Elite offenses like Detroit, New England and Green Bay destroyed this unit last season. The Broncos have a strange tendency for allowing 40+ point games, and Manning should know this well from his days at New England. He’ll make the defense better by giving them more rest and keeping them out of bad field position, but there’s still a lot to prove from this unit.

San Diego – Major stability with Norv Turner and Philip Rivers. The problem is it’s Norv Freakin’ Turner, and his neck wrinkles are beginning to suck in the rest of Rivers’ career. This team has become very NORVOUS in the clutch the last two seasons, as evident by a 2-11 record at 4QC/GWD. Combined with red zone problems, and that’s part of the reason why I think Rivers had a very overrated season in 2010. San Diego’s had a lot of success against Manning, but we’re talking a ton of changed parts since 2010 and beyond compared to this season.

Oakland – It’s probably been five years since a lot of people thought Carson Palmer was a top-tier quarterback, and rightfully so. Had it not been for Jason Campbell’s season-ending injury last year, we’re likely not even talking about Palmer in a Raider uniform. Dennis Allen comes from Denver as a rookie head coach. This team has the potential to field a decent offense if Palmer plays better than last year, though the defense should find little answers for a lot of the strong offenses they’ll be playing. Looks like the non-winning season streak will hit 10 for Oakland.

Kansas City – While the win over Green Bay was great, it may have duped Chiefs fans into a year or two of a bad head coach. Romeo Crennel was not the answer in Cleveland, and he’ll be relying on the healthy returns of Cassel, Charles, Moeaki and Berry. There is talent on this team, though Matt Cassel has proven he can’t do anything unless he plays a ridiculously soft schedule like he did in 2008 and 2010. He also had better offensive coaching in those years (Josh McDaniels, Charlie Weis). Personally, this is a team I think Manning should have explored ahead of a destination like Denver. There’s more talent here than in Denver, though just based on who the QB is, I’d choose Denver to win the division for that reason alone.

Next week I’ll take a look at the plight of Denver’s offense.

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