Today's question: Who will win the division and how many teams from the division will make the playoffs?
Jeff Legwold, Denver Broncos: The Broncos are poised to win the division again and the Chargers could push into the postseason if rookie Melvin Gordon has the kind of impact some expect. The Broncos have lived the good life since Peyton Manning’s arrival. Manning’s contract runs through 2016, but the team asked him to take a $4 million pay cut this year. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas has the franchise player tag, even as the team tries to work out a new deal, but he did not attend the team’s offseason workouts. Several defensive regulars, including Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller, are in the last year of their contracts. In the end, the Broncos have Pro Bowl-caliber players all over the roster, two 100-catch receivers, impact edge rushers, a potential breakout running back in C.J. Anderson, not to mention Manning. That’s still the best combination in the division, even with a 39-year-old Manning and a coaching change that led to John Fox’s exit and Gary Kubiak’s arrival.
Adam Teicher, Kansas City Chiefs: I’ll go with the Broncos one more time because I’m not sure the other teams have done enough to close the gap. But the division title is reasonably in play for the first time since Denver acquired Manning in 2012. The Broncos won’t win the division by six games as they did in Manning’s debut season or even by the two- and three-game margins they’ve won the AFC West with the past couple of seasons. They’ll have some competition from the Chiefs and the Chargers and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the division have its first champion other than the Broncos since 2010. The Chiefs will get back in the postseason after a year’s absence. The Chargers won’t, but they’ll be close. The Raiders will be improved but they’re still at least a year away from being serious contenders.
Bill Williamson, Oakland Raiders: After sending three teams to the playoffs in 2013, only division winner Denver (12-4) went to the postseason in 2014. I expect another one-team representation from the AFC West this year. But I’m going with San Diego as the division winner. It would be the Chargers’ first division championship since 2009, when they went 13-3. San Diego will be more in the neighborhood of 10-6 this season. The Broncos' fade is inevitable due to Manning’s age and offensive line issues. Kansas City is average and Oakland is still building. The Chargers have an improving roster and quarterback Philip Rivers is still in his prime. I am predicting the Year of the Chargers in the AFC West.
Eric D. Williams, San Diego Chargers: Like 2013, the AFC West has the potential for three teams to reach the postseason. I still believe the Broncos are the front-runners because of Manning, along with Denver’s ability to rush the quarterback and be physical in the secondary. But San Diego and Kansas City will be nipping at Denver’s heels. I will go with the Broncos to win the division, with the Chargers earning a spot in the postseason as a wild-card team.