AFC West (2014 Finish: Broncos, Chargers, Chiefs, Raiders)
Overall: I nailed this division, in terms of finish. I also did a pretty good job of analyzing why they would finish as they have.
I will say the Pythagorean win totals suggests the gap between Denver and the rest of the division was not as great as their 3 game cushion would suggest. I think this is a harbinger of 2015.
In all honesty, this is the hardest division in the AFC to predict. I can come up with a scenario where a mediocre to bad Oakland is 2nd in the division with 8 wins, which to me means KC wins going away and Denver getting unlucky and finishing with 6 wins, tied with San Diego. Or, Denver could win 12 games again, and KC just misses with 11 wins, but is a damn good wildcard team that gets to the AFC championship.
I just don’t know here.
2014 Record: 12-4 (Pythagorean Wins: 11.0)
2014 Division Rank: 1st (My prediction: 1st)
2014 Injury Rank: 1st
2015 Age Rank: 18th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 2nd (3rd / 4th / 27th)
It’s a truism that no team can survive the loss of their starting QB. I think this is especially true for the Broncos. Peyton Manning is perhaps the most skilled QB I’ve ever seen. Is he the best ever? Maybe not, but he’s in the discussion because he is simply so skilled at the job. Do yourself a favor and watch his footwork. Amazing.
I do think this team will have major injury problems, even if Peyton stays healthy. In 2013 they were 25th in terms of games lost, but went to 1st in 2014. They’ll be somewhere in the middle of that in 2015, but that means a big injury hit.
Because of that I really don’t quite know what to do with this team. I can easily come up with a scenario where this team gets hit early and they end up last in this division with 4 wins. If they get lucky, though, they could win it all.
For now, I’m going to leave them here, at the top of the division, but watch the injury list for Peyton or anyone on their OLine. This could be sign that of the dominoes falling.
Kansas City Chiefs
2014 Record: 9-7 (Pythagorean Wins: 10.1)
2014 Division Rank: 2nd (My prediction: 2nd)
2014 Injury Rank: 26th
2015 Age Rank: 6th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 10th (12th / 19th / 3rd)
I actually want to pick the Chiefs first. There’s a lot to like about this team and, according to Pythagorean wins, there’s only a game separating the Chiefs from the Broncos.
It’s rare for DVOA to be all that far off, but I think that’s the case here with the Chiefs defense. With only 281 points allowed in 2014, 2nd lowest in the NFL, they are clearly pretty damn good. On the other hand, their offense is really not that good.
What’s holding me back are the injuries to Eric Fisher and, more importantly, Dontari Poe. Poe is in the discussion as one of the best in the NFL at his position, and I think the Chiefs depend upon him. The good news is that he might play this week, but I want to see if he’s full strength before relying upon him.
We’ll see. This is a young team and I can totally see them finishing strong. They’re a little unlucky with the schedule, as their 2nd game with Denver is week 10 and not, say, week 15 when the age difference would be more likely to matter.
This is the hardest race in the AFC to call, by far. I think both will be 10-11 win teams. The loser is probably the other wildcard in the AFC.
San Diego Chargers
2014 Record: 9-7 (Pythagorean Wins: 8.0)
2014 Division Rank: 3rd (My prediction: 3rd)
2014 Injury Rank: 31st
2015 Age Rank: 21st
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 16th (10th / 24th / 23rd)
I’ve been a fan of the Chargers since the days of Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner, and James Jefferson. I want this team to win the division.
But I can’t see it. Yes, they’ll be better with injuries than last year, but they’re actually older as a team than the Broncos, so while they won’t be 31st, they won’t be healthy.
I hit the nail on the head with this team last year. I said they’d score because Rivers has weapons but that the defense would be weak. 10th on offense and 24th on defensive DVOA says I was right.
People are bullish on this offense in 2015 because of Melvin Gordon. I’m not so high on him, and I will say that trading up for an RB in today’s NFL is idiotic. Trading up in general is a bad idea, especially early in the draft, but for an RB? Awful decision.
This defense isn’t measurably better. I think this team not only regresses to its 8 Pythagorean wins of 2014 but even farther to 6 or so.
2014 Record: 3-13 (Pythagorean Wins: 3.1)
2014 Division Rank: 4th (My prediction: 4th)
2014 Injury Rank: 29th
2015 Age Rank: 23rd
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 29th (30th / 26th / 18th)
To show how mismanaged the Oakland Raiders are, think about how high they’ve picked in the draft year after year and then note that this is the oldest team in the AFC West.
Does Derek Carr look like he’s got some skills? Yes, he does, but his was a significantly below average QB last year. Are they assembling pieces around him? Yes, including an OLine that helped keep him upright.
Is it enough? Nope. This team is still 1-2 good drafts away. I see nothing that suggests this defense will be good. I do see major improvement on the offensive side, but that means not that it’s a good offense, but rather it’s an average to mediocre offense.
Overall, this team will win 5-6 games, an improvement to be sure but there’s so far to go.