Last season, I picked the Broncos to make the Super Bowl and lose, albeit to the Saints.  This year, I have Denver going all the way which, while not unprecedented, would be the first time the previous year’s Super Bowl loser won it all since the Dolphins did it in 1973.

Don’t expect Peyton Manning to break his own record for passing touchdowns this year.  While Manning was great, that was partially a product of playing three atrocious defenses from the NFC East.  This season, the Broncos will face the NFC West, but while Manning’s numbers may decline, he will still be the best quarterback in the NFL, with plenty of weapons.

On offense, Denver will be just fine.  On defense, meanwhile, the Broncos made substantial improvements, and while it is sometimes dangerous to proclaim the team that wins the offseason as the following year’s frontrunner, it’s hard to think that Denver won’t be appreciably more balanced in 2014 than they were in 2013.

The San Diego Chargers made a few modest moves to improve their offensive line and I like the addition of Donald Brown, an underrated player for the Colts for years.

But ultimately the Chargers success depends on Philip Rivers continuing to play as well as he did last year.  While I think that will happen, I have the Chargers making the playoffs largely because of what I view to be a lackluster AFC.

No team in the NFL was more a product of its schedule last season than Kansas City.  I was able to predict the team’s 9-0 start in week 2 or 3 by just looking at what was coming up.  No such luck this year for the Chiefs, who will face stiffer competition and do it with less talent as key losses on both offense and defense figure to move this team down a notch.

While the Raiders won’t contend for much this year, the addition of veteran Maurice Jones-Drew will at least provide stability to an offense in transition.  MJD should, at least, delight fantasy owners who pick him.  Meanwhile, Oakland’s future looks bright thanks to the presence of Derek Carr who showed some real flashes during the preseason.

Oakland’s defense stunk up the joint last season, and it will take more than one year to fix all the problems.  Consequently, the Raiders are in year 1 of a several year plan to get better, and finishing near the bottom is probably the best thing for them.

Predicted Finish:

Denver Broncos (12-4) (1st seed; Super Bowl winner)

San Diego Chargers (9-7) (6th seed; AFC Wildcard Round)

Kansas City Chiefs (7-9)

Oakland Raiders (4-12)


Games to Watch:

Week 4 – New England @Kansas City:  If I’m wrong about the Chiefs, this early Monday night showdown with the Patriots is their chance to show it.

Week 13 – Oakland @St. Louis:  This isn’t so much of a key game as it is a train wreck.  These two teams might be battling for the #1 overall draft pick.

Week 13 – San Diego @Baltimore:  The Chargers playoff chances will hinge on how they play in games against other AFC bubble teams like this one.

Week 15 – Denver @San Diego:  I doubt anyone seriously challenges Denver for the division, but if they do, this game will figure prominently.