June 11, 2013; Englewood, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) warms up before the start of mini camp drills at the Broncos training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Division Predictions: AFC West

Each week, Rishi Pochiraju will predict the placement of teams in an NFL division. He has predicted the results of the AFC North and NFC North. Today: the AFC West.

I took one glance at the schedules of every team in the AFC West and one word came to mind: easy. But I know in this league, anything can happen and any team can beat any other team. Despite that, I still decided to look at the strength of schedule for each team, and I found every team in the division in one place: the bottom of the list.

All four teams fell in the bottom five of teams in terms of strength of schedule, meaning the five teams with the easiest schedules. Four out of five. From one division. Schedules are important in determining the number of games a team wins, but the overall aspect of how well the actual team plays is more significant.

With that being said, this is how I believe the division will play out this season.

1st Place:  Denver Broncos

This is obvious. Denver is a team that is built to win now, and has that “win now” mentality with Peyton Manning approaching the conclusion of his career (currently 37). Manning will be leading a top 5 offense and his team is capable of winning any given game against any opponent.

Wes Welker makes the offense even more prolific. The unit should be more balanced with the addition of Montee Ball, a top college running back, through the draft – he can possibly secure the starting running back position and produce solid numbers. He can kill the clock and give Manning a rest late in games when Denver is blowing out an opponent.

The defense will continue to play effectively, boasting a premiere pass-rusher in Von Miller. The unit hopes it can avoid another catastrophe such as Rahim Moore’s. There is no question Denver is the best team in the division and is considered to be the AFC Super Bowl favorites leading up to the season.

2nd Place:  San Diego Chargers

As the schedule suggests, the San Diego Chargers will win the Super Bowl this season. The trend suggests this club will – in the last four seasons, the opponent of Philadelphia’s home opener went on to win the Super Bowl that year. As you probably guessed, the Chargers play the Eagles in their home opener. I don’t believe San Diego will win the big one – this trend will end, but the Chargers can have a better season than they have had in the recent past.

The offense should bounce back with Mike McCoy, an offensive mind, taking over at head coach.  I believe Philip Rivers will have a solid year with his job potentially being on the line, and Ryan Mathews, barring injury, should also produce. Manti Te’o is being overlooked, and maybe that is a good thing due to his tumultuous end of the season at Notre Dame. He can start right away.

San Diego won’t overtake Denver as division champions, but could have a season above .500 for the first time since 2010.

3rd Place:  Kansas City Chiefs

Many believe Alex Smith and Andy Reid will push Kansas City on top of the division, but I don’t see them jumping from worst to first in a division that features Peyton Manning on a team not named the Chiefs. I do think they will switch spots with the Raiders and finish third in the division, though, and the new additions of Alex Smith and Andy Reid may take the team above and beyond in future years.

Although the Chiefs have an easy schedule, every team in the division does. The defense will continue to play well. Eric Berry is a stud at safety, but the key will be Alex Smith’s development into Andy Reid’s offense. The one problem that comes with hiring Reid is the fear that he will overuse Smith and not make effective use of star running back Jamaal Charles.

This division could be the most improved in football when December rolls around and the Chiefs could be a .500 team. However, I just don’t see them winning the division with Manning in the division.

4th Place:  Oakland Raiders

Unlike the three teams above, Oakland doesn’t have a starting quarterback. Oh, Matt Flynn. This might be the second time in as many years that Flynn will lose a quarterback battle to a rookie named Wilson.  There is no established quarterback on the roster; that is not a good formula for success.

Dennis Allen is doing all he can with the pieces that are already there, and he deserves tremendous credit for the job he has done despite limited resources.

The front office has all of the necessary pieces in place, including Allen and new general manager Reggie McKenzie. But what counts is what is done on the field, and the Raiders simply don’t have enough to compete in what will be a much improved division.

Tags: AFC West Alex Smith Andy Reid Broncos Chargers Chiefs Dennis Allen Denver Broncos Easy Eric Berry Jamaal Charles Kansas City Chiefs Manti Te'o Matt Flynn Mike Mccoy Montee Ball Oakland Raiders Peyton Manning Philip Rivers Raiders Russell Wilson Ryan Mathews San Diego Chargers Schedule Tyler Wilson Von Miller Wes Welker Wilson

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