Five things to know and my all-division team.
Division MVP: This is not difficult: Denver quarterback Peyton Manning. There is a strong chance Manning will win his fifth NFL MVP award in his first season with Denver. His biggest competition is likely Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson. Manning has far surpassed expectations with the Broncos. Manning, 36, has not shown any signs of slowing after enduring a neck injury that kept him from playing all of last season with the Colts. He has spearheaded a 10-game win streak for the Broncos, who are 12-3 and have a chance to be the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. Manning has gotten better as the season has progressed, and he's having one of his best seasons in the NFL. This was a franchise-changing signing.
Biggest disappointment: It has to be Kansas City. The Chiefs were expected to be competitive and many folks (including myself) picked them to win the division. Yet Kansas City is 2-13 and on pace for the No. 1 pick in April's draft. The biggest issues were terrible quarterback play by Matt Cassel and his replacement, Brady Quinn, and questionable coaching. The result of the disappointment will likely be a clean sweep of the team’s brass and the search for a new quarterback.
Coaching searches about to commence: We all expected the Chargers to give the gate to coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith last year. Now that San Diego will miss the playoffs for the third straight year, both Turner and Smith are expected to be gone. And in the division, they may not be alone. Chances are strong Kansas City general manager Scot Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel will both pay for the Chiefs’ failures with their jobs. While Dennis Allen is probably safe in Oakland, there are no guarantees, and there could be big changes in store to his staff. So, January will be a busy month in the AFC West with at least half the division undertaking huge leadership makeovers.
Rivers has to be focus in San Diego: Philip Rivers, who turned 31 this month, is ending his second straight disappointing season and is no longer considered an elite quarterback. Still, he must be the centerpiece of the changes in San Diego. Rivers still has several years left and he can still help the Chargers win. But he needs help, and the new San Diego leadership must make it a priority to build around Rivers in an attempt to fix him and utilize him moving forward.
Help is on the way: The Broncos have won 12 games and the three other teams in the division have won 12 games ... combined. But there will be a payoff in the draft. The Chiefs are in line for the No. 1 pick, the Raiders are angling for the No. 3 pick and the Chargers are on pace to select 10th. Thus the draft season will be of supreme importance for this division. The Chiefs need a quarterback, but there are no top choices, so Kansas City may have to take a defensive gem in a top-heavy defensive class. Oakland has big defensive needs and will score a top defensive player, and the Chargers will be on the hunt for offensive line help early on. Expect us to heavily focus on the April draft in the coming months since no division in the NFL will be better represented at the top of the draft.
And now we present our 2012 AFC West team. A few notes before we get to the list.
I used a 3-4 defense because half of the division (Kansas City and San Diego) uses it as a base defense and I thought the linebackers were stronger, so I wanted to recognize four of them. This list features the best players at the position, so I used two left tackles instead of forcing a right tackle, etc. I did use a fullback, Oakland’s Marcel Reece, because I thought he was deserving of recognition.
The 26-man team features 13 Broncos. Excessive? Well, considering the 12-3 Broncos have accounted for half of the AFC West’s wins this season, it is fitting.
On to the list. I’m sure you’ll have a lot to say in the comments section below.