As good as any division a year ago, the AFC West is about to get tested.
The AFC West sported three playoff teams last season, with late-charging San Diego and resurgent Kansas City joining Super Bowl-bound Denver in the postseason.
The path to the playoffs in 2014 has a few more potholes: The AFC West has to play the NFC West, where the Super Bowl champion Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams and 49ers boast some of the nastiest defenses the NFL has to offer.
Here are some things to know about the only division in the NFL that returns three playoff teams in 2014:
Atop Denver GM John Elway’s wish list after that 43-8 blistering by the Seahawks in the Super Bowl was an edgier defense. Yes, like the one that had just throttled the highest-scoring team in NFL history. So, he committed more than $100 million to add free agents DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward, then drafted Bradley Roby in the first round.
Denver’s record-breaking offense wasn’t spared, either. After throwing for more yards and touchdowns than anyone in NFL history, Peyton Manning had to say goodbye to Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno.
After a fruitful rebuilding project under new GM John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid last year, the salary cap-tapped Chiefs endured the price of that success. They watched three starting offensive linemen leave on the same day in free agency: Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert and guards Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah. Also, Pro Bowl punt returner Dexter McCluster signed with Tennessee, and Pro Bowl cornerback Brandon Flowers was released in a cost-saving move.
Mike McCoy was just the right fit to help turn Philip Rivers’ career around. Emboldened by a stunning win in Denver in December, the Chargers won their final four games and got some big help from slumping Miami and Baltimore – and the officials – to end a three-season playoff drought.
They beat the Bengals on the road in the wild-card round before losing the rematch at Denver.
The Broncos’ offseason moves, however, might have widened the gap too much for the Chargers.
GM Reggie McKenzie enters Year 3 of trying to get old mistakes off the Raiders’ books. He’s hoping the route back to respectability goes through the reclamation projects he’s added.
Discarded or unwanted by their former teams, players with a history of success in the NFL have gathered in Oakland this year in hopes of resurrecting their careers and ending the Raiders’ 11-year playoff drought.
As a whole, we’re fighting for the same thing, which is respect, said running back Maurice Jones-Drew, no longer wanted in Jacksonville.