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10 Burning Questions: AFC West



By SAM SPIEGELMAN
XN Sports

The AFC West produced three playoff teams a year ago.

The Denver Broncos were crowned champions of the division in 2013, and the San Diego Chargers snuck into the playoffs under first-year head coach Mike McCoy, who helped to revive Philip Rivers' career.

The Broncos enjoyed one of the best offseasons of any NFL club, and are prepping for another Super Bowl run. The Chargers, too, addressed their needs, while the Oakland Raiders added a host of veterans to the fold to try and reverse their fortune. The Kansas City Chiefs' second-half collapse did not result in the team missing the playoffs but it kept them from making any major offseason moves, and Alex Smith's contract remains the biggest obstacle.

Here are the 10 burning questions for the AFC West in 2014:

1. How many playoff teams will the AFC West produce?

The Broncos are seemingly a lock. The Chiefs were a shoe-in in 2013, and the Bolts managed to sneak in. No way can three teams from the AFC West make it again, but the Chargers definitely have a shot at returning to the playoffs. However, the AFC North has a number of teams that will be vying with San Diego for the wildcard spots.

2. Are the Broncos the clear-cut favorites in the AFC?

Without question. The second-best team in the conference is probably the New England Patriots, but the Broncos are light years ahead of them. Not only does Peyton Manning have more weapons at his disposal, but the addition of DeMarcus Ware to a star-laden defense gives Denver arguably the most talented roster from top to bottom.

Broncos Back To Work

3. Will the Bolts be a playoff team again in 2014?

I can see it happening. If Rivers continues to play at the level he did last year, he's one of the top quarterbacks in the league, and that always gives you a chance. The defense was the major issue a season ago, and if the front office found a way to address those problems the team should be even more competitive this year.

4. Will Alex Smith earn a new deal?

Yes, but maybe not from the Chiefs. Smith wants to get paid like he's Jay Cutler, and that simply is not the case. Smith has to either settle for less money or he's going to find himself in a different uniform come 2015. Andy Reid can find another starter in his system.

5. Can Matt Schaub revive his career in the Black Hole?

There have been conflicting reports out of Oakland as to how Schaub is doing. Some indicate Derek Carr could supplant him as the starter at some point, and others suggest Schaub is capable of having a bounce-back year. I'm not high on on Carr, but I'm also not very confident in Schaub's abilities, especially with fewer weapons around him.

6. Can Peyton Manning be as a good as he was a year ago?

Will age ever catch up with Peyton? I don't know, but his offense could potentially be better than a year ago. Emmanuel Sanders is an upgrade over Eric Decker, and I have high hopes for Cody Latimer. Manning doesn't have to be an MVP candidate for the Broncos to return to the Super Bowl, but it seems inevitable that he will be.

7. How well did the Chargers address their secondary?

One of the worst units in the NFL a season ago, the team drafted Jason Verrett in the first round and recently signed Brandon Flowers in free agency. Flowers is going to be a hit-or-miss signing, depending on how he fits in the Chargers' system. And rookie corners tend to have a bit of a learning curve. But if Verrett can mature quickly and Flowers returns to form, this secondary has a chance to be better than it was in 2013.

8. Which Chiefs D should we expect this year?

Great question, because nobody knows. The Chiefs defense dropped off the map in the second half of 2013, and as a result the team fell out of Super Bowl contention. Now players named Allen Bailey and Chris Owens are penciled in as starters, and I'm not sure that bodes well for their chances.

9. If Oakland doesn't improve, will Dennis Allen get fired?

Well, reports suggest he was close to earning the axe after the 2013 season. In the offseason, the team added a bunch of veterans - Schaub, Justin Tuck, Lamarr Woodley - meaning ownership believes the team can be competitive. The Raiders are in the wrong division to think Tuck and Schaub are going to be difference-makers. If Allen's job depends on how the team finishes in 2014, prepare for a new coach next year.

10. Which rookie will be a difference-maker right away?

I want to say Latimer, but he's too far down on the depth chart to have an instant impact. Dee Ford has earned rave reviews during OTAs, but I think Verrett can be the difference-maker in San Diego largely because of how terrible the secondary was last season. If Verrett can find a role faster than anticipated, he has a chance to single-handedly make the Bolts a playoff team.

RELATED LINKS

5 NFL teams poised to improve in 2014

5 NFL teams poised for regression in 2014

Top 10 NFL defensive players who will regress in 2014

10 NFL offensive players expected to regress in 2014

10 NFL defensive players primed for bounce-back seasons

For more sports coverage, please visit XNSports.com

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
buddwhyzr July 04 2014 at 1:53 PM

New England made it to the AFC championship game with 5 defensive starters out for the season and only Edelman to throw to. They are all healthy now and added Revis. Hold off giving out any trophies to Denver.

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3 replies
ram4131 July 04 2014 at 2:00 PM

Agree with buddwhyzr---NO team could have made it as far as New England did last season with so many starters out.

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1 reply
kentuckycowby ram4131 July 05 2014 at 5:21 PM

Dont matter. New England still got their a**es beat. They didn't bring home the trophy regardless and would not have even if they had their starters in. Cry babies. Hope they get beat every year. Cant stand the New England pusstriots

Flag Reply 0 rate up
Ron July 05 2014 at 11:04 AM

The Seahawks came ready to play and up to the actual Super Bowl game, Manning seemed more interested in doing Papa Johns commercials than preparing for the big game. He looked liked he had the deer with the headlight syndrome when Seattle BTS of Denver. Heres some advice Manning, concentrate more on football and less on pizza and you might actually win the Super Bowl!

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gjbattle July 04 2014 at 5:38 PM

Denver may get to the Superbowl, but when they run into that Sledgehammer named the Seattle Seahwaks, it will end for them in the same way that it did back in February!!

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1 reply
rockymtnal gjbattle July 04 2014 at 11:57 PM

Assuming the Seachickens make it that far. I think you can bet on the Broncos being better prepared if they get to the big game, too.

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1 reply
kentuckycowby rockymtnal July 05 2014 at 5:22 PM

looks like the seachickens won didnt they? hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm the denver buttholes did not. ha!

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clwgeorgetownlaw July 05 2014 at 3:37 PM

I blame Obama

Flag Reply +1 rate up
toddisit July 04 2014 at 11:15 PM

Manning is way overrated, like Brady, pretty much done! They are both past their primes and should bow out.

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1 reply
gigi1105 toddisit July 05 2014 at 11:45 AM

manning is an egotistical jerk whereby tom is a classy, great person!!! people here in boston love him and we are so proud of him he is a great representative of n.e.!!! not to mention he is the best looking guy in the league!!!

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sbm54pswf July 04 2014 at 10:01 PM

Who can ever forget the "OMAHA" build up to Super Bowl, and not a single "OMAHA" called in the game. Manning should hide his head in shame. Along with John Fox, who has been to the Super Bowl twice and been defeated twice. Fox lacks the stuff of a real Super Bowl Champion. I predict he'll never win one.

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sbm54pswf July 04 2014 at 9:57 PM

Peyton Manning Quarterbacking and John Fox Coaching are not going to lead you to a Super Bowl Victory. Manning had a great year, but his day is over. It's time for the young guns to shine, and they will.

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1 reply
Rita Hayward sbm54pswf July 05 2014 at 6:25 AM

Yeah...yeah...yeah...we listened to people like you last year saying Peyton was finished. And, yes he had a great year...actually he has broken just about every record there is and how many MVP's? Now go sit down. Peyton will know when it is time for him to retire. Go find another player to hate.

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Charles July 04 2014 at 2:40 PM

If the coaching staffs around the league paid any attention to how the Seahaws handled the Broncos, you might not want to hand out that title to them just yet. They have some new holes in the defense this year, so lets just see.

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2 replies
jwfoust Charles July 04 2014 at 3:04 PM

More on point, the sea chickens might want to buckle down. The party is over. It's a new season. You have the curse of Richard Simmons, sorry Sherman, to deal with. What joke he's become. Many a defending champ hasn't done so well.

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patrick Charles July 04 2014 at 7:26 PM

Seahawks will do fine !! And I have no idea what your talking about with Sherman

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knightrang July 04 2014 at 6:35 PM

Yeah, give your playbook to the refs so they can cheat for Manning again.

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1 reply
ram4131 knightrang July 04 2014 at 9:23 PM

How the hell can the refs.............oh forget it.

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