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Analyzing the AFC West

The AFC West is arguably the best division in football, Phillip Rivers and Peyton Manning being two of the top quarterbacks in football, and the wily veteran Alex Smith finally has some excellent talent around him.

Without adieu, here it is.

Denver Broncos

Ryan Clady was injured in late May, and the impact isn’t minimal. Especially since the Broncos traded guard Manny Ramirez to the Lions in the draft, their already thin offensive line got even thinner.

Peyton Manning has never played behind a strong offensive line, but this one might be the worst.

I liked Ty Sambrailo as a developmental tackle with pretty solid upside, but it’s hard to imagine him dominating this season. Michael Schofield, who was drafted in the third round of the 2014 draft, is a similar player with similar expectations.

The Broncos passing game will be limited by this, though the extent of it will be minimized by receiver Demaryius Thomas.

There’s some reason to be concerned about tight end with Virgil Green becoming the primary, but Green is a superb athlete who should have no problems duplicating the production of Julius Thomas.

Denver should produce an average rushing game, the team rushed on 42 percent of plays last season, finishing with four yards per carry.

That’s about what fans should expect, though they might run a little more to help minimize any offensive line issue that occur.

Denver’s defensive unit remains as solid as ever. They have some issues at starting safety, but that is there only potential weakness at this point, and will likely have a superior pass rush.

What should improve, though, is there run defense, with the addition of linebacker Shane Ray He’ll help spell Demarcus Ware, and the biggest problem for the Broncos will be figuring out the best way to utilize the roster.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs are a different team than most realize. They now have some outstanding depth and talent at wide receiver, still have a high-ceiling tight end, all-pro running back, and an average-at-worst offensive line.

They’re a team with offensive potential that exceeds the Broncos, Chargers, Steelers and Eagles.

Jeremy Maclin and Chris Conley figure to be the top two receivers, Conley being a guy who few fans know of, but who was supreme talent and upside.

Most fans also see Quarterback Alex Smith as someone who can’t throw deep. This is simply not true. Smith was the fifth most effective deep passer (52.9% completion rate) in 2013, though his 2014 numbers were too poor to mention. But so was the help.

Smith is a guy who has the football acumen to take a team all the way.

And this year’s Chiefs team has enough talent to get there. The defense is the weak point here, a 360 degree turnaround from what helped make them relevant in 2013.

Tamba Hali is getting pretty old, and his defensive end support isn’t top-flight. They still have Dontari Poe and Justin Houston, and will need to bring along second year draftee Dee Ford.

Marcus Peters, who they drafted in the first round this year, will be one side of the starting secondary along with safeties Tyvon Branch and Husain Abdullah, as Sean Smith mans the other corner.

The Chiefs don’t have a terrible defense on paper, but they’re not great, either.

In all, they’re going to do very well in a division predicated on high-octane offense and lacking a real winner in special teams.

San Diego Chargers

The Chargers got better this offseason, but how much better will depend on incumbent receiver Keenan Allen and rookie running back Melvin Gordon.

Both are potential high impact players, though it’s worth noting that Allen fell of the face of football in 2014, after a tremendous rookie season in 2013.

Their run defense also got a big boost with rookie linebacker Denzel Perryman coming in to knock some men on their butt.

The Chargers defense wasn’t good at all last season, and was bailed out multiple times by their offense. Perryman, along with outside linebacker Kyle Emmanuel, should be instant upgrades and the down three should excel in stopping the run.

The level of defensive improvement may dictate the offensive playcalling, and if Philip Rivers can relax a little more, the Chargers can be a legitimate contender.

But that also means that Allen will need to ratchet things up some more, and dominate in the way he did for the second half of 2013.

Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.

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