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AFC West Preview
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The NFL draft gets all the attention in the spring but the recent release of the 2014 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 in this schedule preview. Three teams from the West made the playoffs last season with the Broncos winning the AFC Championship. The schedules for this division are among the toughest in the NFL in 2014 however so a decline is very possible across the board.

Denver Broncos: From 1999 to 2007, there was a clear trend of the Super Bowl loser struggling the next season with seven of those nine runner-ups falling to a losing record the next season. The last two seasons, the Super Bowl loser wound up back in the conference championship game, but in the last 20 years, no Super Bowl loser has returned to the big game the next season, a troubling trend for the Broncos. Denver made some aggressive off-season moves notably bringing in DeMarcus Ware as the Broncos know that with Peyton Manning, the window for a championship is narrow at this stage in his career. Denver will face a much tougher schedule in 2014 after coasting to brilliant numbers in the regular season last year through one of the weakest schedules in the league. Denver has to play nine 2013 playoff teams this season as the AFC West plays the very tough NFC West teams and the Broncos will draw Indianapolis and Cincinnati as well as the entire AFC East.

Outside of the division, the Broncos have several very challenging road games, playing at Seattle, at New England, and at Cincinnati and in eight road games Denver faces teams that were a combined 75-53 last season. Denver has a stretch of three consecutive road games in November and the challenge of that run is increased by starting across the country in a huge game at New England. The primetime schedule could also wear on the Broncos with five night games ahead including having to play three division games following up primetime night games either Sunday or Monday. Denver is an older team and an early Week 4 bye might not be ideal. The first three games of the season are very tough with the Colts, Chiefs, and Seahawks in the first three weeks before the bye week. Denver also closes the season with three of the last five games on the road including potential cold weather games in Kansas City and Cincinnati. Early in the season, the Broncos will play the Chiefs, Seahawks, Cardinals, Jets, 49ers, and Chargers in succession as the offense will likely see a huge step back in production simply based on the quality of defenses faced compared with last season. Denver is still the team to beat in the AFC, but it will be a much tougher path in 2014.

Denver Broncos 2014 Schedule Numbers:
2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013
: .570 (2/32)
Games vs. 2013 Playoff Teams: 9 (four home, five away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 10,131
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2 including a back-to-back-to-back
Primetime Games: 5 (1 Thursday, 3 Sunday night, 1 Monday night)

Kansas City Chiefs
: The Chiefs went from 2-14 to 11-5 in one season with Andy Reid. The schedule played a role but Kansas City had a lot of talent on the roster following the disastrous and tragic 2012 season. The Chiefs will be a prime candidate to slip in 2014 with a much tougher slate and the league better prepared for how the offense will look as the Chiefs were one of the early surprise teams last season. Kansas City had an epic meltdown in the playoffs last season which could be difficult to overcome, but if there is any consolation, the Chiefs have the easiest schedule in the division in terms of 2013 win percentage. Kansas City only plays three 2013 playoff teams outside of the division, though it is a very tough group featuring New England, San Francisco, and Seattle. The Chiefs get the Patriots and Seahawks at home as they will avoid two of the toughest venues in the league unlike some of the division counterparts. The schedule before a Week 6 bye is brutally tough with road games in Denver and San Francisco plus a Monday night game with the Patriots, but the slate is reasonable in the back half.

The final four road games of the season are all against teams that missed the playoffs in 2013 and the only set of back-to-back road games comes early in the year. The road games with San Diego and Denver come in relatively favorable situations for the Chiefs as they will catch the Broncos coming off a huge opening game with the Colts and they have a bye week before heading to San Diego. In a division race that could be very tight, it could make a huge difference if the Chiefs are able to steal a big road win in the division. The Chiefs will take on substantial travel miles this season despite being about as close to the middle of the country as can be as Kansas City plays every road game outside of its own central time zone. The Chiefs have a very difficult schedule and falling from 11 wins would not be a surprise, but this is not a team that should endure a significant collapse and Kansas City might actually have the best path in the division.

Kansas City Chiefs 2014 Schedule Numbers:
2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013
: .559 (7/32)
Games vs. 2013 Playoff Teams: 7 (four home, three away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 10,593
Back-to-Back road game sets: 1
Primetime Games: 3 (1 Thursday, 1 Sunday night, 1 Monday night)

Oakland Raiders: While the Raiders have been a dysfunctional franchise most of the last two decades with short term plans and a constant state of transition, there is a lot to like about what the Raiders did in the off-season. Oakland did some positive things last year in a 4-12 first season under Dennis Allen as they ran the ball with some success and were capable defensively especially against the run. The offense showed some promise even battling through three different starting quarterbacks and fighting injuries. Oakland picked up several quality veterans in free agency led by Matt Schaub to take over at quarterback as well as several pieces on defense. Oakland also had a draft class that was well reviewed led by Khalil Mack and several other defensive players to add depth. Unfortunately for the Raiders, success may have to wait another season as the AFC West looks like the most difficult division in the conference and Oakland has drawn one of the league’s absolute toughest schedules.

The Raiders will play nine games against 2013 playoff teams as a result of every game in the division fitting that role and the fourth place draw of Cleveland and Houston looks fairly daunting relative to most seasons as those teams could be greatly improved even in transition seasons. Oakland has road games at New England and at Seattle, nearly impossible places to win and the final month looks brutal with a home date with the 49ers and the road meetings with the Chiefs and Broncos. The first half of the schedule is more reasonable for the Raiders as they only play one winning team from 2013 in the first four weeks before the bye week in Week 5. That bye comes after a trip to London as the Raiders are surrendering a home game this season to make things even more challenging. Including the trip across the pond, the Raiders will travel over 20,000 miles for nine away games, by far the most travel miles in the league. If the Raiders do manage a respectable start to the season, they will face a gauntlet starting in November facing seven teams that were a combined 76-36 last season. The only primetime game of the season for the Raiders is a short week Thursday night game that follows up a huge division road game at San Diego as well. Expect the Raiders to be a competent team in 2014 but it might not show up in the standings.

Oakland Raiders 2014 Schedule Numbers:
2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013
: .578 (1/32)
Games vs. 2013 Playoff Teams: 9 (four home, five away)
Miles Traveled for 9 road/neutral games: 20,251 (includes London)
Back-to-Back road game sets: 1
Primetime Games: 1 (1 Thursday)

San Diego Chargers: With wins in the final four games of the regular season last year, the Chargers snuck into the playoffs and San Diego upset Cincinnati in the Wild Card round before falling narrowly against the Broncos. That late run and the resurgent season from Philip Rivers made it a very successful first season for head coach Mike McCoy. Expectations will be elevated moving forward and the Chargers will have a tough 2014 schedule along with the rest of the division. San Diego is a team that could create an early buzz in 2014 as they have a favorable early season schedule. They only play one 2013 playoff team in the first six weeks and while they do have to play the Seahawks, that game is at home and they catch Seattle off what will be a hyped opener with the Packers knowing that the Seahawks have a Super Bowl rematch in Week 3 as well. The Chargers also catch Denver in what could be a favorable Thursday night spot in Week 8, with the Broncos coming off a primetime game with a physical 49ers team the previous week and with the Broncos staring at the Patriots in the following game. As usual, this could be a Chargers team capable of beating some of the elite teams in the NFL, but also capable of losing to anyone. Houston, Oakland, and Washington combined to win nine games last season but three of those wins came against the Chargers.

San Diego has a late bye week in Week 10, but they will pay the price for the favorable early schedule with a brutally tough final five weeks. The Chargers play at Baltimore to close November before a December schedule that features teams that went 48-16 last season. The final two games of the season for San Diego are at San Francisco and then at Kansas City, with home games with New England and Denver before that. A 4-0 close to the season seems pretty unlikely for the Chargers in 2014, so San Diego will need a strong start to stay in contention late. San Diego has three East Coast games and significant overall travel as well and they have a few awkward primetime games with a Monday night game to open the season plus a late season Saturday game. Look for the Chargers to start the season looking like a serious contender, but this is a team that could limp into the postseason if they find a way to get there.

San Diego Chargers 2014 Schedule Numbers:
2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013
: .563 (4/32)
Games vs. 2013 Playoff Teams: 7 (four home, three away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 12,189
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 4 (1 Thursday, 1 Saturday, 1 Sunday night, 1 Monday night)

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