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2012 AFC West Preview

AFC: East | North | South | West         NFC: East | North | South | West

2011 Common Opponents: AFC East, NFC North
2012 Common Opponents: AFC North, NFC South
In 2012, the AFC West will face some tough common opponents. However, the expected 2012 wins should still be relatively close to the 2011 deserved wins in general. The obvious exception is the Broncos, who should fare much better with Peyton Manning. The Chiefs should also do a bit better with several significant starters back who were injured in 2011. Apart from the Raiders or Chiefs experiencing a good amoung of luck throughout the season, in 2012 the AFC West should boil down to a race between the Broncos and Chargers. Both of these teams should be better in 2012, Denver due to Manning and San Diego due to the fact that they were very unlucky last season. And both should also be good enough that failing to win the division would still result in a wild card spot.

Denver Broncos
2011 Record: 8-8
2011 Rating: -3.2 (26th of 32)
2011 Deserved Wins: 6.1
2012 Wins by 2011 Rating: 5.9
The Broncos combined a string of luck, a weak division, and a record vs common opponents tiebreaker in 2011 to make the divisional playoffs in incredible fashion. Countless explanations were offered by the media and public relating the success to Tim Tebow whether the "magic" occured while he was on or off the field at the time. But the truth is in the stats. Denver's below average offense meant they were simply a team that ended up with 2 more wins in 2011 than they deserved. Such an occurance is not all that rare, and happens for at least a few teams each season due to random variation. That said, when looking forward to 2012, we can completely toss out the above 2011 ratings for Denver due to the arrival of Peyton Manning. Our best estimate of a true 2012 rating for the Broncos based on Manning's past ratings with the Colts would increase the offense, and therefore team, by about 6 points per game. This is a very significant improvement, but still leaves the Broncos as about equals with the Chargers, despite common perception that they will be heavy division favorites. The most likely scenario for 2012 is Denver and San Diego in a tight race for the division, with the loser still likely to be a wild card team.

Kansas City Chiefs
2011 Record: 7-9
2011 Rating: -4.3 (27th of 32)
2011 Deserved Wins: 5.5
2012 Wins by 2011 Rating: 5.9
The Chiefs' 2011 season seemed doomed from the beginning with the first couple weeks resulting in blowout losses and some season-ending injuries including that to star RB Jamaal Charles. After 9 games, they also lost QB Matt Cassel for the season, but managed to pull together a respectable but undeserved 7 wins by the end. Based on production during games Cassel and Charles played in from the past 2 seasons, the Chiefs' rating should increase in 2012 by at least 2 points. Getting those players back will certainly help, but barring a bit of improvement or luck, the Chiefs in 2012 will still be a mediocre team in a suddenly tough division. If things go as we expect, Kansas City may be left looking to go another direction at quarterback by the end.

Oakland Raiders
2011 Record: 8-8
2011 Rating: -1.5 (21st of 32)
2011 Deserved Wins: 7.1
2012 Wins by 2011 Rating: 7.4
After 7 terrible seasons in a row, the Raiders have returned to respectability in the last 2. Oakland spent a lot to trade for QB Carson Palmer midseason last year and the move did benefit the offense, but barely. RB Darren McFadden missed the final 9 games of the season, and the Raiders' rating on run plays did take a slight hit as a result. Getting McFadden back and Palmer having more time to get acquainted with the offense could take the Raiders offense from average to dangerous for 2012. Standing in the way of the team being competitive is their defense, which finished dead last in our 2011 ratings. Turning around a defense in only a season does happen more often than one would think, so if the Raiders can put it all together in 2012, they could make things interesting for division frontrunners Denver and San Diego.

San Diego Chargers
2011 Record: 8-8
2011 Rating: 3.2 (5th of 32)
2011 Deserved Wins: 10.0
2012 Wins by 2011 Rating: 10.2
The Chargers are probably the most misunderstood team in the NFL at the moment. For the past two seasons they have performed at a level typical of a top 5 team yet failed to even make the playoffs. But the truth for San Diego is they still are a good team that has just been unlucky. And we aren't the only ones with that opinion, betting spreads have continually favored them during that span despite their lack of success. This is because San Diego has been winning in blowouts but losing close games. The media likes to attribute such results as not being clutch, but historically over the long run similar teams tend to eventually win more. It is hard to imagine that the Chargers simply lost the clutchness they had in previous seasons. Last season the Chargers suffered from bad defense and QB Philip Rivers throwing more interceptions than previous seasons, but their run game has improved each of the past two seasons. All told, they ranked 5th in our overall ratings and deserved about 10 wins in 2011. That number should be an appropriate expectation for the Chargers in 2012. After failing to live up to their potential and win an easy division the past 2 seasons, San Diego will certainly have to live up to their true quality to win the division with Peyton Manning around. We give the Chargers decent odds to do just that, and at least manage a wild card spot in an AFC that appears to clearly have only 6 quality teams. This means our most likely AFC playoff picture for 2012 features the Chargers replacing the Bengals and joining the other 5 teams from last season's playoffs.

AFC: East | North | South | West         NFC: East | North | South | West

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