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2012 NFL Preview – AFC West

It’s that time of year again. 32 Teams. 8 Divisions. 2 Brothers. Once again, my brother and I break down each division in the 4th Annual, “we used to do this as kids in our bunk beds, but that would be weird now,” NFL Preview.

It’s been over two months since I’ve contributed anything to this blog. Here’s why:

1. I had another kid. Guess what? Two kids are twice as hard as one.

2. My son celebrated his second birthday four days before my last blog post. Coincidence? No. Two year old boys were put on this earth to test the structural integrity of home furniture and accelerate the aging process of fathers in their late 20s. Writing took a backseat to surviving.

3. The Phillies never recovered from their embarrassing elimination to the Cardinals in the 2011 playoffs and I was away for all but four days of the Summer Olympics (which were fantastic). So there went the two most interesting things for me to write about.

4. Seriously, I have two kids now.

Don’t worry, though. Football season is too important to ignore. I’ll find a way to get it done. Besides, I’ve already forgotten to feed my son once or twice over the past three months so a few more missed meals to allow for writing time won’t be the end of the world. But enough about me. Let’s get to football.

1. San Diego Chargers
I cannot wait to get this pick wrong for the 3rd year in a row. Oh well. I like the Chargers to finally win the division (again) for several reasons but two stand out. First, Philip Rivers HAS to bounce back from his brutal 2011 campaign. (Brutal may be an understatement.) Rivers is an all-pro caliber quarterback. He can’t have back-to-back stinkers. Also, Rivers no longer has to remember if Vincent Jackson was actually trying on 3rd down of the current series or if he was waiting until the next one to give a crap. Second, absolutely no one is talking about the San Diego Chargers. After falling way short of expectations two years in a row, people are sick of the talented Chargers coming up short. (Well everyone but me, obviously.) But even more than that, Peyton Manning now resides in the AFC West. When Peyton Manning is in your division you’re going to be ignored unless you do something to win attention. Redemption? Check. Motivation? Check. Norv Turner gone? Chec… Uh, two out of three’s not bad.

DWC’s Take: Broncos – It seems simple. Tim Tebow led the Broncos to the playoffs despite being a mediocre QB for 3 quarters. Replace him with Peyton Manning and it would seem like a no-brainer that the Broncos would make the playoffs and possibly go even deeper with a caliber QB like Manning. The defense is good enough (see Von Miller) and Manning should improve the offense significantly but I’m not willing to completely throw out Tebow’s magic or ignore the fragility of Peyton’s recovery. The 2nd hardest schedule in the league won’t help either.

2. Denver Broncos
Sorry but I’m not buying Peyton-Manning-is-back-to-normal stock until I see him excelling in November and December. Let’s also not forget that Manning, entering his 14th season at the age of 36 (15th if you count his sabbatical in 2011), is moving from a controlled climate to one of the NFL’s most unpredictable places to play, especially over the season’s final two months. Furthermore, Denver’s offensive line isn’t exactly a stone wall. Getting clocked in a dome hurts. Getting clocked when it’s 20 degrees and the ground is frozen solid hurts even more. There’s also no Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison or Dallas Clark. And good luck to you if you think Willis McGahee has one more 1,200 yard season left in those legs. By the way, I’m rooting for Peyton Manning. The NFL is a better place with him involved.

DWC’s Take: Chiefs – Losing Jamaal Charles was devastating (especially to my fantasy team) and yet the Chiefs still pulled out a 7-9 record in a wide-open division. Adding Peyton Hillis provides some insurance in case of another injury and Dwayne Bowe has a lot of money to earn. While I’m not ready to jump on the Matt Cassel bandwagon, this is a toss-up division and the Chiefs have as good of a chance as any.

3. Kansas City Chiefs
The AFC West finished a combined 31-33 in 2011. The Kansas City Chiefs were the only team not to finish 8-8. So they can’t be that far off from the rest of the division, right? Right. With Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry returning and Todd Haley leaving, I flirted with picking the Chiefs to win the division. After all, they were the division champions in 2010 before their 2011 campaign went up in flames in the first week when both Charles and Berry were lost for the season and head coach Todd Haley went off the reservation shortly after. With a solid defense and what looks to be a versatile rushing attack, I like the Chiefs chances of making some noise in 2012. And yes I realized I just used “making some noise” to describe a Romeo Crennel coached team. And no, I don’t feel good about it.

DWC’s Take: Chargers – I’m giving up on the Chargers. Their run has officially come to an end. The bad starts have become regular and now they lack the ability to overcome them. Losing Vincent Jackson was devastating (though not paying him was smart). I do think Ryan Matthews will finally become the RB he was drafted to be, but Rivers has very few reliable targets outside of Antonio Gates who is older and slowing down due to nagging injuries. Throw in a mediocre defense struggling without Ron Rivera and things look bleak. If they make the playoffs it will be on the shoulders of Rivers but weeks 11-16 for the Chargers (DEN, BAL, CIN, PITT, CAR, NYJ) spell another playoff-less season and the end of the Norv Turner era.

4. Oakland Raiders
I’m not sure what I hated most about Oakland’s decision to bring in Carson Palmer – that they brought in Carson Palmer or that they gave up a first and a second round pick to do it. If Darren McFadden is actually healthy this season I suppose the Raiders have a chance in the always-up-for-grabs AFC West. Then again, this is the Raiders we’re talking about. Either something will go terribly wrong or they’ll make another head-scratching decision to set the franchise back a few more years. And on that note I gotta go. My son is emptying the trashcan.

DWC’s Take: Raiders – Who is Carson Palmer? Can Darren McFadden play a whole season? What happened to that vaunted defense from a few seasons ago? How can the Raiders get better when they keep trading high draft picks? Those are a lot of questions facing an 8-8 team. Maybe if Palmer starts throwing to the guys in black and silver and McFadden is healthy the Raiders can compete for the division. Regardless, the Raiders will be spending the next few seasons paying for their own stupid decisions.

For those keeping score, last season’s AFC West predictions:
Me: SD, KC, OAK, DEN
DWC: SD, OAK, KC, DEN
Actual Results: DEN, SD, OAK, KC

Score: DWC 0, Me 0  **No point awarded. We both picked the division winner to finish last. Though, in our defense, Tim Tebow still can’t throw the ball.

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