The Denver Broncos are coming off a 13-3 season where they had the league's best record.
They are reveling in a free-agent class that includes the best slot receiver in the game in Wes Welker.
They also play in a rebuilding division with three teams that are coming off losing records in 2012.
It's clear the Broncos are the cream of the crop in not only the AFC West, but the AFC itself. Denver will enter the 2013 season as most people's favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl next February.
The question is, how does the rest of the division stack up in comparison to the Broncos?
In 2012, the Chargers finished with a 7-9 record. Oakland and Kansas City were two of the worst teams in all of the NFL.
This is a division in flux that has one true playoff-caliber team in the Broncos.
What should we expect from Denver's division rivals in 2013?
Key Signings: OT King Dunlap, RB Danny Woodhead, CB Derek Cox, G Chad Rinehart
Key Losses: CB Antoine Cason, CB Quentin Jammer, G Louis Vasquez, DT Antonio Garay, LB Takeo Spikes
Denver's closest competitor within the division (that's not saying much) finished with a 7-9 record in 2012, missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
It led to Norv Turner finally being fired as head coach after six seasons with the team, most of his tenure having been marked by shortcomings in the playoffs.
NFL.com has an article up about The Five Weakest Rosters in the NFL. The Chargers are at No. 5 on that list.
For a team that as recently as two or three years ago was a perennial playoff contender and pre-season Super Bowl pick, it's a steep fall.
The Chargers are older. A lot of the veterans that were main pieces of those Chargers teams that contended in the playoffs from 2006-2009 are either gone or retired. And if they're not gone or retired, their play has declined due to aging or other reasons.
Take, for instance, Antonio Gates and Philip Rivers.
Gates will be 33 years old in 2013. In just a two-year span, Gates has gone from an elite tight end to a guy clearly a shell of his former self.
He started 15 games in 2012 and caught just 49 passes for 538 yards. San Diego is trying to bring back Gates for another year as the starting tight end, despite injuries clearly reducing him for the last couple of years.
Yeah, it's that bad.
Rivers continues to be a turnover machine. Whether it's injuries or mental confidence, one can no longer make the argument that Rivers is an elite quarterback. He's thrown 35 interceptions over the past two seasons and has had turnovers in key moments (Week 6 vs. Denver and Week 10 vs. TB) that led to losses for the Chargers.
The Chargers didn't make much of an impact in free agency, wisely choosing to rebuild their roster through the NFL draft.
Having said that, the Chargers have a chance to once again be the second-best team in the AFC West.
What does that mean for the Broncos?
It means San Diego will be in the rear view mirror.
Key Signings: LB Nick Roach, LB Kaluka Maiava, DT Pat Sims, LB Kevin Burnett
Key Losses: DT Desmond Bryant, LB Philip Wheeler, DT Richard Seymour, DE Matt Shaughnessy, TE Brandon Myers, RB Mike Goodson, S Michael Huff
Like San Diego, Oakland wasn't in the proper position to make an impact in free agency. And like San Diego, they have one of the five-worst rosters in the NFL, according to NFL.com
By the way, they're also choosing to rebuild through the draft, as the Chargers are doing in 2013.
Notice a trend here in the AFC West?
The Raiders gave a glimpse of being a contending team in 2011 when they finished with an 8-8 record—the same as the AFC-West division champion Broncos—but after firing head coach Hue Jackson, they came back down to earth in 2012 with a 4-12 record.
That means the Raiders have gone 10 consecutive seasons without a winning record. Eight of those seasons have resulted in five wins or less.
Yeah, it's bad in Oakland.
To make the situation worse, the Raiders are looking to rid themselves of quarterback Carson Palmer.
You know, the same guy they gave up numerous high-value draft choices for just two years ago.
Which means Oakland will go with either Terrelle Pryor or a draft pick such as Geno Smith at quarterback in 2013.
What does that mean?
Expect another four or five-win season in Oakland.
Key Signings: DT Mike Devito, QB Alex Smith, G Geoff Schwartz, CB Dunta Robinson, CB Sean Smith, TE Anthony Fasano
Key Losses: OT Eric Winston, G Ryan Lilja, QB Matt Cassel, TE Kevin Boss
The NFL's worst team with a 2-14 record in 2012, the Chiefs made vast changes all throughout the organization.
With the Chiefs acquiring Alex Smith at quarterback, look for KC to address their tackle needs with the No. 1 overall pick instead of drafting QB Geno Smith.
The Chiefs have a good assortment of talent in players such as Eric Berry, Tony Moeaki, Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe.
They upgraded their quarterback position by ridding themselves of Cassel and acquiring a top-flight game manager in Smith.
The Chiefs could surprise people this season. With a head coach who has one of the better resumes in the NFL, a quarterback who has played in big games for a winning team and a supporting cast that is only three years removed from a division title, KC could very well contend for a wild-card spot in a weak AFC conference.
Does that mean the Broncos should worry?
No, it just means that two teams from the AFC West might finally finish with a winning record in 2013.
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