AFC West: 2013 NFL season predictions

Raiders season prediction: 4-12

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
10:15
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Not much is expected of the Oakland Raiders in the eyes of most observers, and I can’t disagree.

There just isn’t enough talent in Oakland. The Raiders are beginning a rebuilding phase and there are lot of holes on the roster. This is a club that is counting on late-round draft picks to contribute at key spots. That is not a good sign for the immediate future. There are few areas Oakland can feel completely confident in.

There are questions about whether Oakland can successfully throw the ball with Matt Flynn, who is entering his first year as a starter at the age of 28. He has started just two NFL games in his career. The Oakland offensive line is in shambles and there are serious worries about how much protection Flynn will get.

Defensively, Oakland should be better in the back seven than it was last year. But it is unlikely to be an upper-level defense. Oakland has major issues at pass-rusher, and if no one develops as a serious sack threat, it will create issues for the defense as a whole.

Thus, there are too many question marks to think that Oakland can win much more than 25 percent of its games as the new era takes shape. This might be a good franchise in a couple of years, but I see a second straight 4-12 finish.

Predicted finish in AFC West: fourth

Broncos season prediction: 12-4

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
10:15
AM ET

Yes, they have created more drama than your average reality show this past offseason. Yes, they have questions on the offensive line. And yes, Von Miller is suspended for the first six games of the season. But the Broncos have quarterback Peyton Manning, and Manning, regardless of the circumstances and the personnel around him in his career, has had nine 12-win seasons.

So should the Broncos keep Manning healthy, upright and throwing to a deep receiving corps, the Broncos have to like their odds to again win the AFC West and get the kind of playoff position they let slip away last year in their double-overtime loss to the Ravens in the divisional round of the postseason. Make no mistake, though, Miller’s loss will sting plenty, and it will be made even worse if he doesn’t do his part during the time away and come back in Week 7 -- for Manning’s first game in Indianapolis since the Colts released him -- ready to be an impact presence on defense.

Overall, the Broncos are solid all over the depth chart, and the threat of an up-tempo, no-huddle attack at altitude should make an already top-shelf home-field advantage even better.

All in all, the Broncos are surrounded by rebuilding projects in their division, and players like Manning and Champ Bailey want a Super Bowl shot.

Predicted finish in AFC West: first

Chiefs season prediction: 8-8

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
10:15
AM ET
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The Kansas City Chiefs have too much talent to win just two games again, and they addressed their two major flaws from last season: poor coaching and lousy quarterback play. They also have an early schedule set up for success. But it’s still a bit much to expect them to make the playoffs in their first season with Andy Reid as their coach and Alex Smith as their quarterback.

In addition to a new coach and quarterback, the Chiefs have new coordinators and new offensive and defensive systems, a new general manager and many new players in key spots. That’s a lot to mesh together in a short period of time.

The addition of Smith, who threw just 10 interceptions in his last 25 starts for the 49ers, will cut down on turnovers, and that alone will help improve the offense. But Smith isn’t capable of carrying a team on his back and will need more help than the Chiefs appear capable of giving him.

Pass protection has been a problem during the preseason, and the Chiefs had yet to identify a second wide receiver to take some pressure off running back Jamaal Charles and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, the only proven playmakers the Chiefs have.

Predicted finish in AFC West: second

Chargers season prediction: 6-10

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
10:15
AM ET
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For the long haul, I think the San Diego Chargers are heading in the right direction as they begin the Tom Telesco-Mike McCoy era. However, I am not convinced we will see immediate progress.

San Diego went 7-9 last season, the final one of the A.J. Smith-Norv Turner partnership. It was the first time the Chargers had a losing record with Philip Rivers as their starting quarterback, a stretch that dated to 2006.

I foresee the won-loss record getting slightly worse -- San Diego finishing this season 6-10 -- because the Chargers just aren’t very deep. Telesco and McCoy are the right men for the job. They will turn this team around.

But for the immediate future, I think the Chargers may struggle. They are dangerously thin at key spots.

The offensive line is not up to par and I think it will have a difficult time giving Rivers the necessary protection. The receivers group is injured and could suffer further damage as the season goes on.

I like the core of the defense, but there are pass-rush questions and depth issues in the secondary. This is what the Chargers are: a promising work in progress. But for the short term, that could mean a losing season in the first year of the new regime.

Predicted finish in AFC West: third

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