To call the AFC West top heavy a year ago would be an understatement. With the new life that Peyton Manning breathed into Denver during his comeback campaign, the Broncos won their division by the largest margin of any other playoff club.

This inspired some sweeping changes across the division. There are new coaches in San Diego and Kansas City, and new quarterbacks in KC and Oakland as well. To further the point, the Raiders actually brought in two new signal callers, just to make sure that some change was made. Yet for all that’s changed, the Broncos were far from quiet themselves, adding the league’s best possession receiver in Wes Welker and giving Peyton Manning another way to decipher the division’s defenses, as if he needed.

This season will be geared towards narrowing the gap on the far end of the AFC. Can the overhaul in Kansas City pull them from the league’s cellar, and can Oakland avoid replacing them in it. And in San Diego, will Philip Rivers finally have what he needs to regain the conversation among the NFL’s elite tossers?

ALL DIVISION TEAM

QB: Peyton Manning, RB: Jamaal Charles, Darren McFadden WR: Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, DeWayne Bowe, TE: Antonio Gates OT: Brandon Albert, Ryan Clady, OG: Jaromy Clary, Zane Beadles C: Nick Hardwick

DE: Tyson Jackson, Cory Liugett DT/NT: Travis Knighton, Pat Sims OLB: Tamba Hali, Von Miller MLB: Derrick Johnson, Nick Roach CB: Champ Bailey, Brandon Flowers FS: Charles Woodson, SS: Eric Berry

K: Sebastian Janikowski P: Dustin Colquitt KR: Trinton Holliday, PR: Trinton Holliday

Of all of his MVP seasons, there is a chance that Manning is about to take the helm of the most talented offense he has ever guided.

Of all of his MVP seasons, there is a chance that Manning is about to take the helm of the most talented offense he has ever guided. There is a legit chance for three 1,000 yard receivers for the Broncos.

DENVER BRONCOS (13-3 in 2012)

The Good: Unstoppable is not a word to throw around lightly, but this offense could be the finest that Peyton Manning has commanded in his career. With a deep threat in Eric Decker, huge red zone target in Demaryius Thomas and first down machine in Wes Welker, defenses will have to concede and hope for the blitz to work. Add in a rotating stable of tight ends and varied attack out of the three-man backfield, there are big play options everywhere Manning looks.

The Bad: How will the defense stand up? Champ Bailey has seen his better days, and it will be without its two primary pass rushers from a year ago in Von Miller (six-game suspension) and Elvis Dumervil (lost in roster restructure mismanagement) for the start of the year and the season. There will need to be a new presence that steps up and carries some weight of protecting the lead.

X-Factor—Knowshon Moreno: He went from injured and buried on the depth chart, to being once again being the versatile weapon out of the backfield it was always believed he could be since being the 13th pick in the 2009 Draft. Moreno is the perfect decoy and safety valve option for the master of the play action to have at his disposal.

Schedule: BAL (W), @NYG (W), OAK (W), PHI (W), @DAL (W), JAX (W), @IND (W), WSH (W), @SD (W), KC (W), @NE (L), @KC (W), TEN (W), SD (W), @HOU (L), @OAK (W)

Prediction: Year two of Mile High Manning should see them soar above the clouds in the AFC. Not only do they return the most complete team from a year ago, but they should be the most productive offense in the NFL. Even at 38, Manning should make a run for yet another MVP, as well as the first Super Sunday in Denver since his boss’ final game. 14-2

Consistently healthy seasons have been rare, but Charles is perhaps the NFL's greatest home run threat, and he could see the ball more than ever.

Consistently healthy seasons have been rare, but Charles is perhaps the NFL’s greatest home run threat, and he could see the ball more than ever.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (2-14 in 2012)

The Good: They’re stacking up on the right kind of players to run the gritty, run-first offense that has always been KC at its best. With franchised tackle Brandon Albert back and coupled with brutally athletic top overall pick Eric Fisher, Jamaal Charles should be able to find the corner easier than ever. Add in new coach Andy Reid’s penchant for finding ways to land his feature back’s the ball in open space, and an explosion from Charles should be expected.

The Bad: Can they finally stop the run? They have been looking for solutions on the defensive front for years to slow down the ground attack against them, and the answers have not been too positive. First round pick Dontari Poe did not contribute much to the cause a year ago, and the defense bled out a 135 yards a game on the groud.

X-Factor—Alex Smith: For all of the rhetoric that Smith isn’t a game changer or a threat to the defense, he’s actually exactly the type of signal caller KC needs right now. More than anything else, they need a QB that will protect the ball and steady the flow of the game. Those are areas that Smith excels in and will be able to do in the steady offense that Reid employs.

Schedule: @JAX (W), DAL(L) , @PHI (W), NYG (W), @TEN (L), OAK (W), HOU (L), CLE (L), @BUF (L), @DEN (L), SD (W), DEN (L), @WSH (L), @OAK (L), IND (W), @SD (W)

Prediction: The Chiefs may have been the best team to pick #1 overall in years. It is not that the talent wasn’t there; it was more that the leadership and breaks were absent. They worked to change all of those factors, from quarterback to coach to front office, as well as added to their strengths in place. With a better break in health and development, they should be one of the most improved teams in football. 7-9

Woodson returns to where it all started from him, and he was a four time Pro Bowler from 1988-2005. He'll be as tasked with leadership as he is with performance this time.

Woodson returns to where it all started from him, and he was a four time Pro Bowler from 1988-2005. He’ll be as tasked with leadership as he is with performance this time.

OAKLAND RAIDERS (4-12 in 2012)

The Good: They haven’t been afraid to gamble, and switch up the status quo. This is most evident in the decision to give Terrelle Pryor first dibs at the quarterbacking job this fall. His dual-threat playmaking element is what a team that has few reliable weapons needs, as he can get in motion and find ways to create plays where they shouldn’t be.

The Bad: There are a lot of elements that say things could actually get worse in the Bay this year. After giving up over 350 yards a game on an average week last year, and whose team sack leaders tied at 4 apiece. Now they have gone into a youth movement on that side of the ball as well. Charles Woodson has returned to man free safety, which could speed along the learning curve, but it’s a steep one.

X-Factor—Darren McFadden: It’s almost become generally accepted that he will give a few great games early in the season, before sitting out the second half with yet another injury. For the sake of defense’s staying honest against Pryor and to boost a running game that produced only 88 yards a game on the ground a year ago, he has to show back up.

Schedule: @IND (L), JAX (W), @DEN (L), WSH (L), SD (W), @KC (L), PIT (L), PHI (L), @NYG (L), @HOU (L), TEN (L), @DAL (L), @NYJ (L), KC (W), @SD (L), DEN (L)

Prediction: There is a good chance that the Raiders faithful are more likely to tune to Jadevon Clowney and Teddy Bridgewater games on Saturday this year over the ones of the current Raiders on Sunday. Between a questionable situation behind center and an unfortunate one on defense, it doesn’t stand to be a very fun season in Oakland. 3-13

The main element for a Charger turnaround could be a consistent campaign from Ryan Mathews, who is yet to deliver a 16 game season in his three year career.

The main element for a Charger turnaround could be a consistent campaign from Ryan Mathews, who is yet to deliver a 16 game season in his three year career.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (7-9 in 2012)

The Good: Change has finally come to San Diego on the sidelines. After (…) years of the Norv Turner administration, the transmission finally gave out on the ride and a change was made. Mike McCoy will take over for a team that has steadily lost pieces, without replacing them (Michael Turner, Vincent Jackson, Darren Sproles) and finally has something in place that represents a restart. This could be all that this still averagely talented club needs.

The Bad: There has been no regular vibe for the offense to follow. For too long, it has all depended on what Philip Rivers can pull off, and it has begun to be too much for him to hold himself. The team finished 24th in passing offense and 27th in rushing yards per game last season, and with a season-ending injury to Danario Alexander, as well as Malcom Floyd nearly missing one himself already this year, there cause to believe more of the same will continue.

X-Factor—Ryan Mathews: How many years is it “all going to depend” on Mathews? The former first round pick is one of the biggest potential riding backs in the league, but alternates between not being healthy and not being able to string together regular efforts on it. Philip Rivers needs some help, and the guy behind “should” be most easily able to provide it.

Schedule: HOU (L), @PHI (W), @TEN (L), DAL (L), @OAK (L), IND (W), @JAX (W), @WSH (L), DEN (L), @MIA (W), @KC (L), CIN (L), NYG (L), @DEN (L), OAK (W), KC (L)

Prediction: The San Diego offense has to find some identity. Whether it is becoming a more run-based attack or simply cutting down on the turnovers (35 Rivers interceptions since 2011), there has to be a page turned. It does not seem to be the year that happens this time around. Couple these issues with a defense that’s remolding itself at every level, and it could be a low mark in recent Charger history. 5-11

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