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Broncos Question Marks: #2 – Improved AFC West

Out of a reeking visitors’ locker room, AFC West quarterbacks Philip Rivers, Brady Quinn and Carson Palmer staggered up to the sparsely attended postgame press conference with a sense of relief that their forgettable stop at Sports Authority Field was finally coming to an end.

Sure, they wore disappointed faces in front of the cameras, but nobody outside their mothers was surprised with the result.

And while CBS and ESPN would have been proud of the way the Broncos defended their divisional foes – Peyton Manning blushing over Kansas City’s defense, Champ Bailey reminding us that San Diego Chargers’ quarterback was once a Pro Bowl signal caller and a raspy-voiced John Fox expressing concern over the Raiders’ running game – the rest of the football world collectively yawned as the Broncos won all six their division games in 2012 by an average of 17.5 points.

But now, after a complete overhaul this offseason, look for the Broncos to keep their eye on a supposedly less dreadful division in 2013.


Kansas City Chiefs – Could be good

The Kansas City Chiefs will probably (most likely, maybe) be better in 2013. And if that hadn’t been the preview of this team for the past two seasons, you’d probably be inclined to believe just that. Last season, the Chiefs (2-14) didn’t score a touchdown against the Broncos in either meeting losing by a combined score of 55-12.

In saying that, nobody has hit the offseason like the Chiefs. After the short tenure of Romeo Crennel, the Chiefs hired former Eagles head coach Andy Reid, who then snagged second-winded Alex Smith, who was leading the eventual NFC champion San Francisco 49ers before a concussion paved the way for the more exciting Colin Kaepernick.

The moves seem to fix the Chiefs’ two biggest problems.

Coaching-wise, the experiments of ogre Todd Haley and Crennel, a combo that totaled nine wins in the past two seasons, are replaced with Reid (140-102-1) after his successful decade with an Eagles team that fell just short of “The Big One.”

As for Smith, he hopes to bring some sort of success behind center for a team who sent a revolving door of duds to the field since 2007, including Damon Huard, Brodie Croyle, Tyler Thigpen, Matt Cassel, Tyler Palko, and former Broncos’ castoffs Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn.

Through nine games in 2012, Smith was a top-five quarterback with a 104.1 passer rating. He threw 13 touchdowns to only five interceptions, leading the Niners to a 6-2-1 record with wins over NFC studs Green Bay and Seattle.

Recently, the Chiefs made receiver Dwayne Bowe the third-highest paid receiver after giving him a five-year $56-million deal.

Meaning: The Chiefs should be the Broncos biggest in-division worry in 2013.


San Diego Chargers – Not as Bad

After he was hit 70 times in 2012, Rivers had novels of choice words with former coach Norv Turner and his offensive line. And against the Broncos, things were no different.

The first edition came on Oct. 15, when the Broncos scored 35 unanswered points in the second half to beat the hosting Chargers 35-24 on Monday Night Football. During the game, Rivers lost two fumbles and threw a pair of touchdowns to both teams, as Peyton Manning countered with second-half touchdowns of 29, 7 and 21 yards to rally for the win.

In the second edition, the Broncos played one of their sloppier games of the season and still won 30-23 at home. Von Miller and Rivers did a dance number behind the line, as Superman grabbed three sacks and forced two fumbles in week 11 win.

The Chargers finished the season winning three of their last four games, grabbing second place in the division at 7-9. On the Monday following the final regular season games, however, Turner and general manager A.J. Smith were fired.

In January, then-Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy interviewed for the job and accepted it on the 16th. The 40-year-old coach is boasted for adapting his offenses from Tim Tebow to Manning from one season to the next one.

In 2013, the Chargers have a lot of question marks on a team that didn’t send one player to last year’s Pro Bowl.

Hobbled by plantar fasciitis, aging tight end Antonio Gates will make more than $11 million for the franchise during the next two seasons (unless he’s cut). Last season, the 10-year veteran had his lowest production since his rookie year with 523 yards and six touchdowns.

But the major concern is Rivers (26 touchdowns to 15 interceptions in 2012), who needs a side of a barn to prove some of his critics wrong. Recently, Rivers and McCoy have both acknowledged that they are excited to work together.

Meaning: The resurgence of four-time Pro Bowler Rivers is the thing the Broncos must worry about.


Oakland Raiders – Still Ugly

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. The Raiders went all in for a quarterback who didn’t pan out.

Yes, once again the Raiders were shocked when they didn’t get a return on their investment after mortgaging their future for a QB. Like JaMarcus Russell before him, Carson Palmer didn’t answer all of the franchise’s troubles as the one-time disgruntled Bengal was not worth the first- and second-round picks they sent to Cincinnati for the signal caller.

And despite throwing for 4,018 yards with 22 touchdowns, the Raiders benched Palmer in favor of Terrelle Pryor to close a season that ended with seven losses in eight games.

Against the Broncos last season, the Raiders were non-competitive, as the Broncos eased to two runaway wins.

Heading into the offseason, the Raiders, who are led by poor former Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, are already $4.5 million over the cap for next season. And while they’ll be freed up by the foreseen departure of free agent Richard Seymour, the Raiders are also hoping Palmer will re-do his contract rather than take a full $13 million next season.

Hoping.

Meaning: The Raiders are a wishing well at best next season.

***

In the end, the Broncos are expected by most to run away with the division again in 2013. But if the Broncos want to put themselves in another prime position at a Super Bowl trophy, they’ll have to dominate West like they did last season.


OTHER OFFSEASON QUESTION MARKS

#6 – Rahim Moore (CLICK HERE)

#5 – Help for Manning (CLICK HERE)

#4 – Running Back (CLICK HERE)

#3 – Defensive Playmakers (CLICK HERE)

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