Denver, CO. It’s amazing how one man can shift the tide for an entire division in the NFL. Peyton Manning has that kind of power. Once everyone learned that he had chosen the Denver Broncos as his new home, the aftershocks were felt for weeks throughout the entire league. It seemed to instantly vault the Broncos into contender status, and the AFC West got quite a bit stronger in the process. As the months have passed, and Manning has chipped away at the rust, most critics and experts have penciled in the Denver Broncos to ultimately win their division again in 2012. At 8-8 last year, oddly enough it was good enough to finish first and cause some chaos in the post-season. But now, there is a new QB, and he is probably the greatest free agent signing in the history of the league. Peyton Manning in Denver changes everything. All of the Broncos competition in the AFC West had to cringe when they heard the news this past March, and also had to wonder what they were going to do. Does Denver have any real threats within their division in 2012? The NFL always seems to be a league full of surprises, as time will eventually tell.
What to make of San Diego, Oakland, and Kansas City this year? Well, at first glance, the Chargers strike me as a team who is on the decline and will finish last this season. The team was incredibly inconsistent in 2011, and lost some key players to free agency this spring and summer. They plugged those holes, but with lower caliber talent. San Diego will finally be bad enough to get their GM and head coach fired. Oakland always seems difficult to figure out, and typically gets in their own way. Now that they have solidified their QB situation, can they become more consistent? Potentially yes, but there is so much inexperience at too many key positions to count on them in 2012. A 3rd place finish seems to be their eventual outcome for this year. Then comes Kansas City, who I believe will be the team that will be the biggest threat to the Denver Broncos in the west. The Chiefs had a ton of injuries last year, and to some of their best players. Their talent at the skill positions is above average, and a return to health will be a huge difference maker in general. Adding Peyton Hillis to help out in the backfield and at the goal line will really help this offense. They have some really nice, young players all over the roster. Most fans around the league are not expecting much from Kansas City, so flying under the radar could be ideal for them this season. This should be the team to battle Denver for the division title well into December.
As we all know, the NFL season is a true grind. So many different things can happen to change the course of the journey for almost all teams. Injuries, inconsistencies, and underperforming play all dictate where each team will end up. For the Denver Broncos, they are the undisputed favorites to win the AFC West. Not only will they have to fend off the Chargers, Raiders, and Chiefs, but the expectations to finish first may be their toughest opponent of all.