In the West lies the AFC’s powerhouse division, one that sent three teams into the playoffs after last season.
The Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning gobbled up all the headlines, records and awards — except for the one that mattered, the Lombardi Trophy. The Kansas City Chiefs started strong and faded badly, the San Diego Chargers rode a 4-1 finish into the postseason and the Oakland Raiders … well, they’re the Raiders. This year, can Peyton Manning work magic again? What will Andy Reid and Alex Smith do in their second season? Are the Chargers going to build on the 2013 finish? Are the Raiders going to improve?
Top story line – The Broncos found out that a great defense is really important to a team with aspirations of winning (not just appearing in) Super Bowls. To that end, John Fox and John Elway went a little wild on defensive players in free agency.
Key acquisition – So many choices … but it probably will be Aqib Talib, especially if the road back to the Super Bowl involves playing New England again.
Biggest loss – Who in his right mind leaves Manning’s team? Well, a number of players did and one of them was wide receiver Eric Decker, who headed for the Jets.
Kansas City Chiefs
Top story line – It all ended so horribly as the Chiefs converted a 9-0 start into a 2-5 stretch run in Andy Reid’s first season as coach. They lost a wild-card game to Indy and now get ready for another season in a division that sent three teams to the playoffs. Blerg.
Key acquisition – Outside linebacker Dee Ford, the 23rd pick in the draft, should help bolster the defense.
Biggest loss – It’s a tie: Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz are all gone after a season in which they combined for 2,022 snaps.
Top story line – While the Raiders work out whether they’ll share the 49ers’ stadium, the only AFC West team to miss the postseason was busy in the offseason.
Key acquisition – Matt Schaub had a horrific season in Houston and now gets a fresh start in Oakland.
Biggest loss – Left tackle Jared Veldheer moved to the Arizona Cardinals, who were looking to upgrade in the NFC West.
San Diego Chargers
Top story line — The Chargers were in salary-cap purgatory, but managed to keep the key pieces from a team that went to the playoffs last season.
Key acquisition — According to Brandon Flowers, it’s Brandon Flowers. In fact, the former Chiefs player says he is “the best corner in the NFL.” So he’s going to be keenly anticipating at least two games in the division.
Biggest loss — Defensive lineman Cam Thomas heads to Pittsburgh.