AFC West: 2011 Season Wrap AFC

Raiders regular-season wrap-up

January, 4, 2012
1/04/12
1:00
PM ET
NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 17
Preseason Power Ranking: 22

[+] EnlargeOakland's Denarius Moore
Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIREThe athleticism of Denarius Moore is a big reason why hopes will be high for Oakland's offense next season.
Biggest surprise: The Raiders’ young receivers emerged. The group is a bright spot of the team and will be a strong building block for the future. Quarterback Carson Palmer, 32, may have his flaws, but he still has a big arm and the Raiders can make some plays in the passing game. Darrius Heyward-Bey, the No. 7 overall pick in 2009, is one of the most improved players in the NFL. He had 64 catches for 975 yards this season. He had 35 catches in his first 26 NFL games. Add fabulous rookie Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford and Louis Murphy, and this is one of the best young receiving crews in the league.

Biggest disappointment: Poor defensive play. The Raiders have one of the more perplexing defenses in the NFL. The unit has plenty of talent, but they didn’t play well together. Oakland gave up way too many big plays on defense. It ranked near the bottom of the league in several defensive statistics and faltered down the stretch, including Sunday in a home loss to San Diego in a game in which the Raiders could have clinched the division title. It will not be a shock if defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan is sent packing. Oakland also could consider becoming a 3-4 defense.

Biggest need: There is a lot of talent on this team. There are areas where improvement is needed, including cornerback, linebacker and on the offensive line. I’d say a top cornerback would be the Raiders’ biggest need, although safety Michael Huff is reportedly moving to cornerback. They missed Nnamdi Asomugha, who signed with Philadelphia as a free agent. Stanford Routt is a nice player, but he’s not a top-flight No. 1 cornerback. If Huff does move, safety becomes a big need. The Raiders will likely have to address most of their needs through free agency, since they don’t have many draft picks.

Team MVP: Kicker Sebastian Janikowski. There were some nice performances by many Raiders this season, but Janikowski was dominant. He has the strongest leg in the league and he has become deadly accurate. He is a true weapon. Janikowski tied an NFL record with a 63-yard field goal in Week 1. He made 31 of 35 field goal attempts and made the Pro Bowl for the first time in his 12-year career.

What will the future leadership look like?: Much of the offseason will be dedicated to regrouping the front office after the death of owner Al Davis. He died at the age of 82 on Oct. 8. Now that the season is over, Oakland can move on. There have been plenty of reports linking the Raiders to general manager candidates, including Reggie McKenzie and Eliot Wolf of Green Bay. Sunday, in an angry postgame press conference, Oakland coach Hue Jackson vowed to take a bigger role in the organization. That could turn off potential general managers. Jackson is expected to have his share of power, but some of the top front-office candidates may not be interested in sharing power with a young coach.

Chargers regular-season wrap-up

January, 4, 2012
1/04/12
1:00
PM ET
NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 16
Preseason Power Ranking: 10

[+] EnlargeEric Weddle
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesSafety Eric Weddle's seven interceptions were a bright spot for the Chargers' lackluster defense.
Biggest surprise: The slow start by quarterback Philip Rivers. There is no doubt Rivers, who turned 30 last month, is still an elite player. But he had a rough first 10 games in which he threw 17 of his 20 interceptions. Rivers made crucial fourth-quarter mistakes during the six-game losing streak that doomed San Diego’s season. Will anyone forget the dropped snap in Kansas City on Halloween night with the Chargers about to kick a game-winning field goal? That was the difference in the Chargers not winning the division title. But Rivers settled down late in the season and finished strong. Quarterback is not a problem in San Diego.

Biggest disappointment: The Chargers were not happy with the performance of defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. They had a dominant unit under Ron Rivera, whom Manusky replaced after Carolina hired Rivera as head coach. Manusky promised an aggressive defense, but the players never really adapted to his way — and the Chargers were far from a special defense this season.

Biggest need: There are plenty of needs in San Diego. It needs help at every level of the defense and it may need three new starters on the offensive line with guard Kris Dielman (concussion), tackle Marcus McNeill (neck) and center Nick Hardwick as possibilities for retirement. While it’s difficult to pinpoint this team’s greatest need, a top safety could help the process on defense.

Team MVP: Safety Eric Weddle. He had seven interceptions and made several big plays. Weddle followed up his signing of a monster contract to stay in San Diego this summer with his first Pro Bowl. He is the quarterback of the defense and a clutch performer.

Future starts on defense: Expect a bunch of changes on defense. Every layer of the unit will likely see additions, and there could be big changes on the defensive coaching staff. The Chargers like their core on offense, but tweaking is needed on defense.

Broncos regular-season wrap-up

January, 4, 2012
1/04/12
1:00
PM ET
NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 14
Preseason Power Ranking: 27

[+] EnlargeWillis McGahee
Jake Roth/US PresswireWillis McGahee had a career resurgence during his first season with the Broncos.
Biggest surprise: The Denver Broncos are the AFC West champion. Denver became the eighth team in NFL history to make the playoffs with three straight losses to end the season. Say what you want about them backing into the playoffs, but the truth is no one expected the Broncos to make any sort of noise in the first year of the John Elway-John Fox era. The fact that this team went from 4-12 to qualifying for the playoffs in one season is impressive. The future is bright in Denver.

Biggest disappointment: It has to be the late-season setback of quarterback Tim Tebow. He was making strong strides as an NFL quarterback until the past two games where he has regressed badly. He was 6 of 22 for 60 yards in the Week 17 home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Tebow has thrown five interceptions in the past three games and he has also lost a fumble in each of the past five games.

Biggest need: Despite the progress, Denver's biggest area to improve is its defense. It needs another impact player, either in the secondary or at defensive tackle. It was ranked No. 32 in the NFL in nearly every statistical category in 2010, so the unit has clearly improved. There is no way Denver would have made the playoffs without its defense, but at the least, one more stud is needed.

Team MVP: Running back Willis McGahee. He was one of the best free-agent signings of the summer. Signed to be a complementary back, the 30-year-old turned out to be a star. After running a combined 209 times in the past two seasons in Baltimore, McGahee had 1,199 yards on 249 carries this season. He made the Denver offense a threat.

QB future is still unclear: It is strange for a playoff team to be unsettled for the future at quarterback. But after the past few weeks, you have to think that Tebow is no sure thing to be Denver’s starter in 2012. The Broncos probably will give him a full offseason and a full season (plus an improved supporting cast) to show he can be the long-term starter. But if he stumbles in the playoffs, all bets are off.

Chiefs regular-season wrap-up

January, 4, 2012
1/04/12
1:00
PM ET
NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 22
Preseason Power Ranking: 18

[+] EnlargeRome Crennel
AP Photo/Reed HoffmannThe Chiefs went 2-1 under interim coach Romeo Crennel, who appears likely to get the job permanently.
Biggest surprise: The Chiefs’ resiliency. Some may be surprised a team that went 10-6 last year and won the AFC West title and followed it up with a 7-9 season is trending up. But the Chiefs showed a lot of guts. First, they fought back from an avalanche of injuries and an 0-3 start to become competitive. Then, after coach Todd Haley was fired following the Week 14 loss, the Chiefs responded by going 2-1 under interim coach Romeo Crennel, including giving Green Bay its only loss of the regular season. Kansas City was a blocked field goal at the end of regulation in Week 16 against Oakland from repeating as division champion. Crennel is expected to be the permanent head coach. This is a young team getting key players back. The future is bright.

Biggest disappointment: The injuries. The Chiefs played the entire season with standout second-year tight end Tony Moeaki. They lost star second-year safety Eric Berry in Week 1 and star running back Jamaal Charles in the second week. Quarterback Matt Cassel suffered a season-ending injury in November. It could have been a much different season.

Biggest need: Kansas City still needs some help in many areas, including the defensive line, linebacker and at safety. But I think it needs to look at a tackle. Right tackle Barry Richardson is the type of player you look to upgrade from; I think tackle will be a focal point for the Chiefs in the first round, where they will have either the 11th or 12th pick in the first round. That will be decided by a coin flip with Seattle.

Team MVP: Linebacker Derrick Johnson. He is an underrated player and deserved his Pro Bowl berth. He is a playmaker and is always around the ball. Kansas City finished the season strong on defense and it began with Johnson.

Who’s the quarterback? After Sunday’s game, Kyle Orton, who started the final three games of the season after being claimed off waivers from Denver, said he believes it is Cassel’s team. I agree. I think the Chiefs will move forward with Cassel and Orton will look for a starting job elsewhere as a free agent.

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