Riding the rodeo in the AFC West

By Mark Bell Spectator’s Eye

August 9, 2014

In the AFC West, it’s hard not to project the Denver Broncos finishing first again. Their offense goes as far as Peyton Manning takes them, which is quite a distance really.

Now that Seattle has shown everyone the method to destroy Manning’s read-and-go system, we’ll see how many are equally adept at its execution. (Probably very few.)

Getting more speed at the receiver position is the best way for Denver to make the most of Manning’s abilities, and while they appear to have succeeded in doing that, what looks good on paper and in practice may be different when the lights are on and the body fluids start flying.

Denver’s defense went for a talent upgrade in the secondary, which was their most pressing need. Provided the unit can avoid the injury curse and hold together, the odds of this team returning to the Super Bowl are as good as any and way better than most.

Down in Tijuana North, the San Diego Chargers are projected to finish second simply because of Philip Rivers’ determination and a defense that is becoming the most effective unit in the division.

The team has, for a generation at least, been adept at scoreboard watching late in the season, and it’s a good bet they wind up doing it again. For years now they have been good enough to be there, but always either catch or miss the playoff bus at the last minute. It’s hard to see how they catch it this time because they are just not deep enough to have enough things go right for them two years in a row.

On the bright side, after so much time playing second fiddle, the Chargers’ defense has the opportunity to be their “Reason for the Season” this year. On the dark side, it’s just too bad this is a league that really favors offense. (Insists on it, actually.)

The Kansas City Chiefs are due for a slip and the projected order of finish is third. On offense, while they are settled somewhat in the skill positions, the line is all kinds of football voodoo. That risk grows exponentially by putting so much on the back (not to mention the neck and knees) of Jamaal Charles who remains their only really consistent playmaking threat.

Meanwhile on the defensive side, after a season of making-do, the coaching staff decided it was time to put their stamp on the personnel at hand and so they made big strategic decisions in an effort to build a winning unit over the long run, not just for a handful of seasons. The pass rush looks promising, which makes a lot of sense in their division, but don’t expect any shut-down performances.

On top of those issues, their schedule is a monster. Even if they continue to light up the scoreboard, the odds are against them sustaining the kind of success early that helped them hang on by their fingernails for last year’s fleeting playoff appearance. This has all the makings of a tough year of small ups and big downs while they methodically work their way toward a better future.

When it comes to the Oakland Raiders you still have to project their order of finish as last place. The schedule is terribly unkind to this struggling franchise. Their personnel approach of having a core group of young players guided by veterans who have known success (but not recently or they wouldn’t be in Oakland) is a strategy that requires patience and is fraught with risk since making your roster older does not logically square with being patient.

Head coach Dennis Allen and his crew had to coach their heinies off last year just to finish at 4-12. Doing just as good a job this time might even get them to 8-8, provided nothing ever goes wrong. Who knows? They could catch lightning in a bottle and all the free agent vets could have high-end seasons. It’s happened before. Still, expect the house to clear more than a buck or two on those few out there who dare to bet on it.

Patience is not a quality known to exist in abundance in the Black Hole — or anywhere else in America, really. If the late Al Davis’ son, Mark, is to put his own stamp of legitimacy on this team, he will have to let this approach and coaching staff play out a little while longer.

Oakland’s best chance to win comes in the first seven weeks and they’d better get it done. After that, it could get Mondo Ugly on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay.