In 2013, three teams (Kansas City, Denver, San Diego) made the playoffs. Kansas City lost in epic and historic fashion to Indianapolis while San Diego upset the Bungles in Cincinnati and ending up losing a close game to eventual AFC Champion Denver who lost in the Super Bowl in epic and historic fashion. The Raiders, were well, the Raiders. In 2014, it’s possible only the division champion will enter the playoffs because of the scheduling. The AFC West Plays the NFC West this year. The NFC West is the NFLs most competitive division (Seattle, San Francisco, Arizona, and St. Louis). Here’s the order of finish
1. Denver Broncos
John Elway and the Denver Broncos are all in on the 2014 season and their off season moves were centered on filling the holes identified in the evisceration at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl 48. The addition of T.J. Ward, Demarcus Ware, and Aqib Talib, combined with first round pick Bradley Roby, should make the defense better overall in 2014. Peyton Manning, coming off an NFL record setting season at the quarterback position, seems ageless. However, the losses on offense should not be understated. Eric Decker leaving for the Jets, Knowshon Moreno signing in Miami, a reshuffled offensive line, and an brutally difficult schedule (@ Seattle, @ New England, San Diego twice, Kansas City twice, San Francisco at home, Arizona/Indianapolis/St. Louis are no push overs). Of course, they do benefit from playing the Oakland Raiders twice. Manning stays healthy for 16 games, just like every season he’s played (except the year he sat out to get healthy for 1 more Super Bowl try), Montee Ball emerges as a PPR fantasy god, Demaryius and Julius Thomas, enjoy monster season, Manning makes another star receiver out of Emmanuel Sanders/Cody Lattimer while Welker shows he has another 100 catch season in him (because he stays healthy) and the Denver offense steamrolls opponents again on the offensive side of the ball. 13-3
2. San Diego Chargers
This team rallied late, winning 4 straight to end the season and snuck into the 2013 NFL playoffs through relatively miraculous events (beating Kansas City 41-38 in Week 12, defeating Denver on the road 27-20 in Week 15, then the overtime win against Kansas City 27-24 in Week 17, sending San Diego to the playoffs instead of 8-8 Pittsburgh). Brittle RB Ryan Matthews put up 1300 yards, rookie Keenan Allen (who the Browns passed on in third round of the 2013 NFL Draft for CB Leon McFadden … seriously Cleveland Browns, how nice would it be to have Keenan Allen on the roster right now? Addressing the need for someone opposite now suspended Josh Gordon in 2013 would have yielded some serious stability at the position) emerged as a legitimate #1 threat, Danny Woodhead served spectacularly in the New NFL RBBC, racking up 76 receptions (#2 amongst RBs, only 1 reception behind NFL RB reception leader Pierre Thomas of New Orleans), and the offensive line was outstanding when compared to prior years. The defense will struggle, Weeks 13-17 are brutal (@ Baltimore, New England, Denver, @ San Francisco, @ Kansas City) and this team is again on the fringe of the 2014 AFC Playoffs. 8-8
3. Kansas City Chiefs
This team over achieved in 2013, posting an 11-5 record, they won 9 straight, lost 3 straight, won 2 straight, lost 2 straight, then blew a 28 point lead in their Wild Card Game against Indianapolis. Alex Smith was never the guy in San Francisco and he’s not the guy in Kansas City and it will be interesting to see if they open their wallets to sign him to a long term contract. Dwayne Bowe and Jamaal Charles will again be the top options on the offense, but the lost of Dexter McCluster combined with the other options in the backfield, at WR, and TE, basically unknown, have this team struggling when coupled with the changes on the offensive line. The schedule is monumentally more difficult (The NFC West, plus Pittsburgh, New England, and what will turn out to be a pesky New York Jets) has this team regressing to the fringe of the AFC playoffs. 8-8.
4. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders may be more woeful than the Cleveland Browns, with 11 straight non winning seasons, including 9 seasons with at least 11 losses, and no real appearance of help in the near future. The Raiders will go down in history as one of the franchises who passed on Johnny Manziel and although the future doesn’t seem bright, things are perhaps better for 2014. First round draft pick Khalil Mack could be All Pro and Derek Carr, taken in the second round and 36th overall, gives them at least a potential franchise QB. Signing Matt Schaub takes the pressure off Carr to start Day 1, the signings of Maurice Jones Drew, James Jones, a projected healthy Darren McFadden, an improved offensive line despite the loss of their best player Jared Valdheer (it’s one of the reasons the Raiders are so hopeless. Veldheer was the best football player on the team, playing one of the most important positions, Left Tackle, and signed with the Arizona Cardinals for 5 years, $35 million. Meanwhile, the Oakland Raiders signed Rodger Saffold, an inferior player, for 5 years $42.5 million. After questions about Saffold’s physical condition, specifically his shoulder, led to cancellation of the contract and Saffold resigning in St. Louis for 5 years, $31.7 million). Really the Raiders woes began in 2006 when they selected S Michael Huff from Texas with the fourth overall pick, passing on Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler. In 2007, Calvin Johnson was probably the best WR prospect ever and if Oakland had taken one of those two QBs who went in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft, it would have been a no brainer to take Johnson at #1. Instead, they selected Jamarcus Russell with the #1 overall pick and he’s gone down as one of the biggest busts in NFL Draft History. In 2009, Russell’s last season, the Raiders selected Darrius Heyward-Bey, a relatively unknown WR from Maryland #7 overall. In 2010, the first without Russell (who was cut in May 2010, before the season), they selected LB Rolando McClain who played 3 seasons, was cut, and promptly retired. Oakland did not have first round picks in 2011 and 2012 because of trades (DE Richard Seymour from New England, QB Carson Palmer from Cincinnati). In 2013, they selected CB D.J. Hayden 12th overall. 2014 seemed to be the best draft for the Raiders in years and maybe there is a glimmer of hope several years down the road. 3-13.