The worst investment in sports fandom is the NFL jersey.
Take, for example, Peyton Manning. There’s no guarantee he’ll be back in 2016.
But Broncos supporters have nothing on San Diego and Oakland fans. At least they know they’ll have a team next year.
Both the Chargers and Raiders are considering a move to Los Angeles, a disruptive scenario that could derail a season. Ask the 1995 Cleveland Browns, who lost 10 of their last 12 and got Bill Belichick fired when news of their imminent move to Baltimore went public.
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With that volatile backdrop, the AFC West appears to be wide open, with the Broncos, Chargers and Chiefs all holding a reasonable shot at winning the division.
A hard-to-believe parting stat: The last time an AFC West team won it all was Super Bowl XXXIII — John Elway’s final game as a player. The 17-year drought is the longest of any division in football.
▪ 2014 record: 12-4 (first in AFC West).
▪ Coach: Gary Kubiak (first season).
▪ Training camp report date: Rookies reported Monday, veterans report Thursday (Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre; Englewood, Colorado).
▪ Major additions: TE Owen Daniels, DE Shane Ray, S Darian Stewart.
▪ Key losses: DT Terrance Knighton, S Rahim Moore, TE Julius Thomas.
▪ Outlook: Has Denver’s window closed? Peyton Manning turned 39 this year, and his durability is a real concern. Manning was awful down the stretch and in Denver’s playoff game last season, the result of a torn right quadriceps. And with left tackle Ryan Clady lost for the season with a ruptured ACL, the offensive line could be an issue. The good news: Denver’s defense, which was second in the NFL in yards per play allowed last year (4.8), should be just as good, if not better. Grabbing Shane Ray with the 23rd pick in the NFL Draft could end up a steal.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
▪ 2014 record: 9-7 (t-second in AFC West).
▪ Coach: Andy Reid (third season).
▪ Training camp report date: Rookies reported Tuesday, veterans report Friday (Missouri Western State University; St. Joseph, Missouri).
▪ Major additions: S Tyvon Branch, WR Jeremy Maclin, CB Marcus Peters.
▪ Key losses: WR Dwayne Bowe, TE Anthony Fasano, G Rodney Hudson.
▪ Outlook: Only four AFC teams have done better than the Chiefs’ 20-12 mark over the past two seasons. That’s a credit to both Andy Reid and Alex Smith, who are a perfect fit. And with defensive end Justin Houston locked up for the next six years, the defense will be no slouch, either. But there’s a gulf of difference between competitive and championship caliber. The Chiefs’ limitations are well-documented. They were the first team in 40 years to go the entire season without a having a receiver catch a touchdown pass. Kansas City replaced Dwayne Bowe with Jeremy Maclin in an effort to change that.
▪ 2014 record: 3-13 (fourth in AFC West).
▪ Coach: Jack Del Rio (first season).
▪ Training camp report date: Rookies reported Sunday, veterans report Thursday (Napa Valley Marriott; Napa, California).
▪ Major additions: WR Amari Cooper, G Rodney Hudson, LB Malcolm Smith.
▪ Key losses: RB Darren McFadden, DT Pat Sims, C Stefan Wisniewski.
▪ Outlook: Is there finally a light at the end of the tunnel for the Raiders, who have been the league’s laughingstock for a decade? Jack Del Rio brings credibility to an organization that hasn’t had much of any since Jon Gruden left for Tampa Bay a generation ago. Armed with $50 million in salary-cap space, Oakland used it on a bunch of B to B-plus players — but only after striking out with the big fish. That might have been a disguised blessing, however. The Raiders’ turnaround will come through the draft, and many believe they hit a home run with Amari Cooper, the Bama burner out of Miami Northwestern.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
▪ 2014 record: 9-7 (t-second in AFC West).
▪ Coach: Mike McCoy (third season).
▪ Training camp report date: Wednesday (Chargers Park; San Diego).
▪ Major additions: G Orlando Franklin, RB Melvin Gordon, WR Stevie Johnson.
▪ Key losses: LB Jarret Johnson, RB Ryan Mathews, WR Eddie Royal.
▪ Outlook: Give the Chargers this: They knew their weakness and attacked it aggressively. San Diego was one of the worst rushing teams in football last year, ranking 31st in yards per rush (3.4) and 30th in rushing yards (85.4). The Chargers signed free agent linemen Orlando Franklin (University of Miami) and Joe Barksdale, brought back tackle King Dunlap, and most importantly, selected running back Melvin Gordon in the first round. Keep an eye on versatile Jimmy Wilson, the former Dolphins defensive back who signed with his hometown team this offseason.