AFC West Outlook
June 5, 2013
By Joe Nelson
The Hall of Fame Game to open the NFL preseason is just two months away! The NFL draft and injury reports from mini-camps steal the spotlight in the summer, but the April release of 2013 schedule can be a more telling factor in how a team will fare next season. Take a look at the four teams in the AFC West this season. This division appears to be Denver's to lose, but there always seems to be a few surprises in the NFL each season.
Denver Broncos: After starting the 2012 season at 2-3, Denver rattled off 11 consecutive wins to close the regular season, tying Atlanta for the best record in the NFL. The only record that mattered was 0-1 however, as Denver was knocked out of the playoffs at home in a wild overtime game at home against the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens. Usually first-place teams are dealt a difficult schedule the following year, but Denver has the lowest 2012 win percentage for its 2013 opponents in the entire NFL. That simplified approach to determining strength of schedule has many faults, but Denver certainly resides in a division that presents a great advantage over most of the other contenders in the NFL. San Diego and Kansas City are both going through coaching changes, while the Raiders are still a young team in flux with a second-year head coach. None of those three teams has had a winning record in either of the past two seasons. Denver went 6-0 last season in its division games with an average margin of victory of 17.5 points and the Broncos will likely be heavy favorites in each matchup again, as five of those six games will be in the second half of the season.
Denver again opens with a couple of big games right off the bat, opening the NFL season by hosting Baltimore and then traveling to New York in Week 2, facing the last two Super Bowl champions in the first two weeks of the season. Things soften considerably from there with early season meetings against two more teams in transition, Philadelphia and Jacksonville, with both of those games at home. In drawing the NFC East and the AFC South teams, there is significant travel ahead for the Broncos and two huge games with Indianapolis and New England will both be on the road. The Broncos close the season with four of the final six games of the season on the road, but it seems unlikely that Denver will be stuck in a tight division race barring a serious injury issues. It might make it tough to wrap up a protected top-2 seed if the Broncos should be caught in a tight race as games late in the year on the road might be difficult, even in this division. Overall, Denver fans should be thrilled with this slate, but a lot of things still have to go right to have back-to-back 13-3 seasons.
Denver Broncos 2013 Schedule Numbers:
2013 Opponents Win Percentage in 2012: .430
Games vs. 2012 Playoff Teams: 5 (two home, three away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 9,849
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 5 (two Thursday, Two Sunday night, One Monday)
Kansas City Chiefs: It was a disastrous and tragic season for the Chiefs on and off the field last season, but with veteran coach Andy Reid taking over and still plenty of holdover talent, Kansas City will be a candidate for a significant improvement. After going just 2-14 last season, there is nowhere to go but up and the Chiefs have a schedule that will afford many opportunities to find wins. In only one of the first nine games of the season will the Chiefs face a 2012 playoff team and they will face fellow teams in coaching transitions in two of the first three weeks. Kansas City also has five of the first eight games at home, which could afford an opportunity for a promising start to the season. Kansas City incredibly went 0-12 against the AFC last season and 0-6 within this division and had a bevy of other unflattering numbers including not leading in regulation at any point in the first eight games of last season. The Chiefs also had 37 turnovers last season, a simply astounding number and with the Chiefs losing five games by 10 points or less, it was a big factor that greatly impacted the season.
Adding Alex Smith and improving the offensive line should help in that regard and the schedule will present opportunities especially early in the year. The late-season schedule is much more difficult with two games against Denver in the span of three weeks as well as both games with San Diego late in the year. The Chiefs also must face Washington and Indianapolis in December, so Kansas City will likely need to get its wins early in the year to make a big leap in the standings. Ultimately the results for the Chiefs will depend on improving within the division and being able to get wins against Oakland and San Diego after going 0-4 in those games last season. With a reasonable slate, it is hard not to imaging the Chiefs showing an improved record this season, but a potential promising start could likely fade late in the year.
Kansas City Chiefs 2013 Schedule Numbers:
2013 Opponents Win Percentage in 2012: .473
Games vs. 2012 Playoff Teams: 5 (three home, two away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 8,977
Back-to-Back road game sets: 1
Primetime Games: 1 (one Thursday)
Oakland Raiders: Oakland has significant travel ahead with two trips across the country to New York as well as trips to the Midwest. The Raiders will also face two sets of back-to-back road games with long travel in the span of five weeks. Oakland will only face five games against 2012 playoff teams all season and only three of those games are out of the division. Being the third-place team from this division last season features the disadvantage of playing the Steelers and Jets, perhaps a less favorable duo than second-place San Diego will face and the long travel particularly in the second half of the season could take a toll on this squad.
Oakland opens up with very tough games early in the season with 2012 playoff teams in three of the first four weeks of the season, although with home games with Jacksonville and San Diego as well as a trip to Kansas City in the first six weeks of the season, it would not be a shock to see the Raiders at 3-3 entering an early Week 7 bye week. If the Raiders do not have that kind of a start, it could be another rough season as the schedule is challenging in the middle before closing with five of the final six games of the season against teams that did not make the playoffs last season. The home meeting with Denver in Week 17 could also be an opportunity for a win as the Broncos have a good chance to be locked into a playoff spot and potentially resting players at that point in the season. Oakland won just four games last season, but this was an 8-8 team in both 2010 and 2011 and getting back into that range might be a possibility especially with two teams in this division going through a coaching transition, leaving the Raiders as one of the more stable teams in the group, though that may not last.
Oakland Raiders 2013 Schedule Numbers:
2013 Opponents Win Percentage in 2012: .469
Games vs. 2012 Playoff Teams: 5 (three away, two home)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 15,298
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 2 (one Thursday, one Monday)
San Diego Chargers: After several years in a row of seemingly underachieving, the Chargers finally pulled the plug on the Norv Turner era. San Diego will go through a major transition this season, but in this division, the opportunity may be there to avoid a big step back. San Diego was even in point differential last season despite finishing just 7-9 and the Chargers had very good defensive numbers last season. Five of the nine losses came by seven points or less and the Chargers played two close games with division champion Denver despite losing both of those games. The Chargers went just 3-5 at home last season so that is a big area of concern and an easy way to find improvement, through San Diego will have a challenging home slate this season featuring four 2012 playoff teams plus the Cowboys and Giants. That does mean that San Diego will also have a very weak road schedule and the Chargers will get to play six of the first seven road games of the season against teams that had losing records last season before a Thursday night road finale late in the season at Denver.
San Diego does play two sets of back-to-back road games and those games could be made trickier by the first leg being in the east coast in both instances, making for taxing travel. San Diego will open the season Monday night at home against Houston and then face a short week with a long trip to Philadelphia so a slow start would not be a surprise for this team, even if the schedule grades out favorably on paper. San Diego will have the potential to close the year strong with four of the final five games of the season at home although several teams will be thrilled to visit San Diego in December to escape cold conditions at home. San Diego has not been that far from being a playoff caliber team in recent seasons, but the big changes coupled with a schedule that starts out tougher than it finishes could spell more disappointment in Southern California.
San Diego Chargers 2013 Schedule Numbers:
2013 Opponents Win Percentage in 2012: .457
Games vs. 2012 Playoff Teams: 6 (four home, two away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 8,477
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 3 (one Thursday, two Monday)
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