NFL Postseason: Where AFC West teams need to strengthen

Kansas City Chiefs

Where do the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, and Oakland Raiders need to look in the off-season?

Needs Must!!....Part 4

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs 

Following a largely forgettable 2012 campaign, 2013 will represent something of a re - building process, despite many picking them to win the division (a rather bizarre assertion given Denver’s upgrade from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning?...).

New head coach Andy Reid represents the first building block on the path to transition, and with plenty of talent to work with (including six pro bowlers, such as Jamaal Charles) the future looks distinctly more promising in Kansas.

However, with neither Matt Cassel (58.1 completion percentage, 6 touchdowns to 12 interceptions) nor Brady Quinn (56.9 completion percentage, 2 touchdowns to 8 interceptions) proving to be the answer to the quarterbacking dilemma, it appears the road to resurrection may be tougher than anticipated.

Although, with the recent acquisition of Alex Smith via a trade with the San Francisco 49ers, it would suggest Reid has the competence the franchise has been crying out for following years of mediocrity.

Will Smith come to represent the second coming of Len Dawson? Probably not, least not in the eyes of his detractors who assert that San Francisco’s march to the NFC championship game was born out of effective game management, game management articulated through a combination of offensive coordinator Greg Roman and coach Jim Harbaugh, and merely executed on field by Smith.

But to label Smith nothing more than a ‘game manager’ that benefits from schematics and a decent running game is not only disrespectful, but erroneous, as along the path to the conference title game Smith was positively imperious, throwing for 3,144 yards, 17 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions (even more impressive was the fact that he threw a pick on just 1.1 percent of his throws, the best in the league), before carving up Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round of the play - offs, and even before suffering the concussion that was to effectively to curtail his career in San Francisco, he was the 3rd rated passer in the league with a 104.1 passer rating, and a 70.2 completion percentage.

Smith may not come to embody the dynamism of his replacement at Candlestick, Colin Kaepernick, but his ball security and partnership with Jamal Charles, and Dwayne Bowe (should he chose to remain at Arrowhead) will at least ensure that Kansas City are a factor in the conversation where it concerns legitimate challengers to the Manning lead Broncos and the division title.

Contractual concerns: Left tackle Brandon Albert and receiver Dwayne Bowe are standouts as far as free agents are concerned, and with Bowe in particular unlikely to return in 2013, the need to upgrade at receiver grows ever greater.

Draft selection: Given the acquisition of Alex Smith, it would appear Kansas are no longer in the running for Geno Smith, and therefore will turn their attention to upgrading their offensive line, which may well come in the form of Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel. Although, as suggested earlier, with the possible departure of Dwayne Bowe, a receiver may well be a necessity, meaning Geno Smith’s team mate at West Virginia Tavon Austin, and Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins could be in the frame come draft time.

Denver Broncos

Following a 2 - 3 start, Denver went on a rampage, winning 11 in a row to clinch the division title and secure a first round bye in the play - off’s. However, for all his brilliance, Manning was unable to take the Broncos any further than the much maligned Tim Tebow, meaning the pressure will surely be ratcheted up a notch come the start of the new campaign.

That being said, Manning and the potent Denver offense, along with arguably one of the most formidable defenses in the league, ensure Denver remain firmly in the picture as far as not only divisional winners (although given they’re off - season activities, Kansas may well have a substantial say in the destiny of the division crown), but Super Bowl champions elect.

Although continuity may be affected by the arrival of a new offensive coordinator in the form of Adam Gase, who replaces San Diego bound Mike McCoy, the retention of defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio should ensure the tough and uncompromising defense of 2012 will carry over into 2013. Though, it can ill afford to give up the big plays that ended their play - off run at the first hurdle.

If the Broncos can seek strength in adversity and bounce back from their heart breaking 38 - 35 loss at the hands of Ray Lewis and the train of destiny, there is every chance that Manning can emulate the success of his younger sibling in New York, and go on and claim his second ring.

Word of warning, the window of opportunity isn’t getting any wider for a quarterback who’s fast approaching his 37th birthday.

That being said, Brett Favre at age 40 came within an interception of taking a Vikings team that not a lot of people had faith in all the way to the Super Bowl, posting a career best 33 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions along the way…

Contractual Concerns: After taking care of Manning, priority must switch towards the retention of tackle Ryan Clady who allowed just one sack in more than 1,100 snaps during Manning's bounce-back season in Denver. Although, Arnie Stapleton via his Yahoo Sports column recently reported that the Broncos have placed the franchise tag on Clady, thus guaranteeing the left tackle $9.828 million in 2013. Though, it is hoped that a new long - term deal can be worked out before the start of training camp.

Draft selection: The Broncos get on the board at No.28, with a requirement to strengthen at middle linebacker, slot wide receiver, and on the interior of both lines.

Oakland Raiders

It promises to be yet another difficult off - season for General Manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen, with Oakland already over the 2013 salary cap. This leaves the Raiders with precious little room to spend on a team that won four games in 2012 courtesy of an offense ranked 18th in total offense (344.0 yards per game), a 28th ranked run game (88.8 yards per game), and a defense that ranked 28th in scoring (27.7 points per game).

The Raiders also have a significant quarterbacking dilemma on their hands – Do they go with a Carson Palmer, who for all his experience, failed to meet the expectations the team had when they traded for him in 2011? Or, do they go with the inexperienced Terrelle Pryor, regardless of the evident duel threat that he brings?

Contractual concerns: Palmer is set to make a guaranteed $13 million in 2013. The teams impending free agents include the venerable but aging Richard Seymour and Punter Shane Lechler.

Draft Selection: The Raiders have the No.3 pick, and as a direct consequence have an assortment of options as far as defensive linemen and defensive backs are concerned, ranging from LSU’s inside linebacker Kevin Minter, Notre Dame’s inside linebacker Manti Te’o and Texas A&M’s defensive end Damontre Moore.

‘Jokeland’ to Oakland, we shall see…

San Diego Chargers

Chargers fans are looking to 2013 with renewed optimism following the end of the Norv Turner/ AJ. Smith era. New coach Mike McCoy has a decent understanding of the Chargers various strengths and weaknesses, having just left division rivals, the Denver Broncos, where he was the offensive coordinator from 2009.

McCoy, through his partnership with newly installed offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt firmly believe that they can build around a Philip Rivers that for much of 2012 resembled a skittish, discombobulated figure, and a pale imitation of the elite quarterback he has often threatened to be, but not quite become.

Contractual concerns: San Diego’s top off - season priority is to repair a porous offensive line, but the Chargers have very little room to operate under the salary cap. They may have to seriously consider making cuts to create space, although don’t expect changes of that nature under the new coaching structure. Linebacker Shaun Philips and cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer are the biggest names on the free agent list.

Draft selection: With the Broncos placing the franchise tag on standout left tackle Ryan Clady, it may well be worth the Chargers making a play for a player that would give quarterback Phillip Rivers far greater protection than he enjoyed in 2012. If not, San Diego could well took to use the 11th pick to acquire Oklahoma Sooners left tackle Lane Johnson (who obliterated the record for the 40 meter dash at the combine, clocking an astonishing 4.72 seconds), Terron Armsteadof Arkansas-Pine, or possibly even the previously mentioned Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M. Although it’s widely believed the latter will be taken by the Chief’s with the first overall pick, as they appear to have their franchise quarterback in Alex Smith.

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