2012 NFL Season Countdown: AFC West Preview

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Over the past week or so, we have been previewing the upcoming NFL season by taking a look at the league divisions. Today we wrap up our previews of the AFC divisions by going over the wide-open AFC West. (To view previous NFL previews, click on any of the following division names: AFC East, AFC North, AFC South)

Denver Broncos

Top Broncos Games of 2012

Sept. 9 vs. Steelers Tickets »
Oct. 7 at Patriots Tickets »
Oct. 28 vs. Saints Tickets »
Nov. 18 vs. Chargers Tickets »
Broncos TN.com Team Page »

No team changed its identity as much as the Denver Broncos did this offseason. Gone is quarterback Tim Tebow, who dominated the headlines all of last season; he has been replaced by future Hall of Famer — and arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time — Peyton Manning. Tebow led the Broncos with his rushing, but now with Manning at the helm, Denver will feature one of the league's best passing attacks. Look for a Bronco wide receiver to have a breakout season.

Projection: The Broncos won the AFC West with an 8-8 record last year. They should improve by a few games in 2012 and narrowly beat out the Chargers for the division crown.

Kansas City Chiefs

Top Chiefs Games of 2012

Sept. 9 vs. Falcons Tickets »
Oct. 7 vs. Ravens Tickets »
Oct. 28 vs. Raiders Tickets »
Dec. 2 vs. Panthers Tickets »
Chiefs TN.com Team Page »

The Chiefs struggled to score points last season, finishing last in points scored in the AFC. Their poor offense was due in large part to injuries to key players including RB Jamaal Charles and QB Matt Cassel, both of whom will be back at full strength in 2012. The team does have a very good defense, so if the offense can get back on track, the Chiefs may be a candidate to go from last place in the division to first, just a year later.

Projection: While I think the Chiefs have a chance to surprise a lot of people, their best bet is making the playoffs as a Wild Card. A record of 8-8 or 9-7 seems about right for the Chiefs in 2012.

Oakland Raiders

Top Raiders Games of 2012

Sept. 10 vs. Chargers Tickets »
Sept. 23 vs. Steelers Tickets »
Nov. 18 vs. Saints Tickets »
Dec. 16 vs. Chiefs Tickets »
Raiders TN.com Team Page »

The Raiders have wallowed around in mediocrity for about a decade now, not making the postseason since they lost Super Bowl XXXVII in 2002. The team has had to make a lot of changes to their roster thanks to salary cap issues, and those changes will be seen in the quality of play this season...and I don't mean that in a good way. The one saving grace for the Raiders is they still have RB Darren McFadden, who was dominant last season when he wasn't sidelined due to injury.

Projection: The AFC West is deep this season, but the Raiders may be the only team in the division that will take a step back from last year. Last place seems like the most likely place where the Raiders will end up at season's end.

San Diego Chargers

Top Chargers Games of 2012

Oct. 15 vs. Broncos Tickets »
Nov. 25 vs. Ravens Tickets »
Dec. 2 vs. Bengals Tickets »
Dec. 23 at Jets Tickets »
Chargers TN.com Team Page »

Oh, San Diego. Every season the Chargers are the team that experts look at and say "THIS is their year." The fans in San Diego are still waiting for that prediction to come to fruition. If the Chargers are going to make 2012 their year, they will need a big year from quarterback Philip Rivers, who had a tough year last season, turning over the ball 25 times (20 interceptions, 5 fumbles). He will have to do so without WR Vincent Jackson, who took his talents to Tampa, signing with the Buccaneers.

Projection: San Diego is the most likely threat to the Broncos for the division crown, but if history is any indicator, they are also just as likely to struggle at points during the year and finish outside of the postseason.

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