Dec 6, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) calls a cadence at the line of scrimmage during the third quarter against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum. The Broncos defeated the Raiders 26-13. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The AFC West Looks Improved During Initial Impressions Of 2013

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The AFC West has looked markedly improved in the early goings of the 2013 NFL season. Last season, the only real threat from the division was the Denver Broncos at the top, as the other three teams failed to really mount a challenge for much of the season. The Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs finished among the bottom three teams in the entire league, while the San Diego Chargers were not far behind.

All four teams are at or above .500, albeit with only two weeks played in the season. The Broncos and Chargers are relying on their offense to get it done, while the Chiefs and the Raiders are using their defenses to keep games close by shutting down opposing offenses.

The Broncos were the team I predicted to win the AFC West title in the preseason, and so far they have looked like the team to beat, not just in the division but in the league. The Broncos feature the top scoring offense with an average of 45 points per game, while boasting the third best in total yards per game with 462.

The Broncos are led offensively by future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. Manning has been other worldly these first two weeks, with a 67.1 completion percentage, 769 passing yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions. As of right now, Manning is on pace to throw for over 6,000 yards and 70 touchdowns.

Defensively, the Broncos have not been as solid as they were last season, but that could be just a sample size issue. What should have the Denver fans worried is their pass defense. The pass defense ranks 28th with an average of 344 yards allowed through the air per game. That could be attributed to teams abandoning the run to keep up with the Broncos’ offense, but still they are giving up too many yards through the air. The pass defense will be helped out when Von Miller returns from his suspension in the middle of the season.

Sep 15, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Quintin Demps (35) breaks up a pass intended for Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) during the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won 17-16. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Chiefs were my dark horse team to challenge for a west title. They have a very solid defense, but have suffered from poor quarterback play for the last several seasons. This year, they added an offensive minded coach in Andy Reid and a solid starting quarterback in Alex Smith. Their defense has been at the top of the league this year, as they have only allowed nine points per game, which ranks second in the league.

The offense has not been spectacular, but it has been much improved over last season. Last year, the Chiefs averaged a league worst 13.2 points per game, while this year they average 22.5. A lot of that is due to the much more efficient passing attack led by Smith. Smith only averages 185 yards passing per game, but he keeps the chains moving and does not turn the ball over. He also helps out in the red zone, as the Chiefs are perfect on scoring touchdowns on their five times inside the opposing 20 yard line. The improved offensive production helps out an extremely stout defense.

The defense has been stingy in the early going of the season. They are third in the NFL with 248 yards allowed per game and rank in the top 7 in both passing and run defense. Kansas is tied for the league lead in sacks with nine and they hold opposing passers to an average quarterback rating of 68.1. The defense has a chance to be elite, if healthy, and it has a chance to carry this team to the playoffs.

Sep 15, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor (2) goes back for a pass in the fourth quarter in a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at O.co Coliseum. Oakland won 19-9. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

The Raiders were the experts’ favorite to finish with the first overall pick in the draft. Then they almost upset the Colts on the road in Week 1 and easily handled the woeful Jaguars in week two. They lead the league in team rushing and are the fourth best defense in yards allowed per game.

The Raider offense has not blown the doors off of anyone, but it has moved the ball consistently in the first two weeks. The running game has been the key to their success with a league leading 198.5 yards per game. Darren McFadden leads the team with 177 yards rushing, after a 129 yard performance against Jacksonville.

Not far behind is Terrelle Pryor with 162 yards, who had 112 yards rushing the opener. The passing game leaves a lot to be desired with just 343 yards and a single touchdown through the first two games. Pryor has a long way to go as a passer, but his playmaking ability forces teams to account for him and that opens things up for McFadden.

The Raiders defense has been the most improved unit so far this season. Last year, they were absolutely dreadful, while they have been top 5 defense in the first couple weeks. They are only allowing 15 points per game this season, which ranks third in the NFL. The Raiders defense also has only allowed 261 yards per game, which ranks fifth in the NFL.

The big area of improvement is with their pass rush. They have nine sacks on the season, which is tied for first. Last year, they only 25 sacks as a team, so they are more than a third of the way on tying last year’s total. The Raiders defense and running attack has the ability to shorten games and keep it close, which could lead to several extra upset wins this season.

The Chargers have had a weird start to their season, as both games have been decided by three points on last second field goals. As solid as the Chargers have been on offense, they have been equally as bad on defense.

San Diego features the seventh best offense with an average of 401 yards per game. Phillip Rivers has seen an early resurgence so far with 614 yards passing and seven touchdowns to one interception. The line play has been improved with only three sacks allowed, which has given Rivers the time to be successful.

Sep 15, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) looks to throw the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second half at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey G. Pittenger-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 15, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) looks to throw the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second half at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey G. Pittenger-USA TODAY Sports

The Bolts are still waiting on Ryan Matthews to fulfill his potential from when he was drafted, but he so far has yet to break through with just 106 yards through two games. Rivers playing well is the key to their success and keeping him upright in the pocket is going to be what allows him to revive his career.

The San Diego defense has struggled in the early part of the season. They rank second to last with 480 yard allowed per game. They feature the league’s worst pass defense with an average of 375.5 yards allowed per game. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging nearly 70 percent of their passes and have all the time in the world, as the pass rush has only generated three sacks on the season. The defense needs to improve to take the pressure off of the offense or these team could be in for some serious trouble in the later half of the season.

The Broncos remain the favorite to win the West, relying heavily on Peyton Manning and the offense maintaining their production. Do not count out the Chiefs, a legitimate contender to make the playoffs as a wild card . The Raiders look much improved overall, giving them a serious chance to play spoiler in the latter half of the season. The Charger offense is on the right track, but can they overcome the anchor dragging them down that is their defense?

Despite its recent track record, the AFC West looks to be much better than the awful display of last year.

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Tags: AFC WEST Denver Broncos Kansas City Chiefs NFL Oakland Raiders San Diego Chargers

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