AFC West Notebook: Every team’s outlook at the three-quarter mark

After six straight wins, the Kansas City Chiefs have the sunniest outlook in a wild AFC West.

Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports

Manning’s return looms large for surging Broncos

Brock Osweiler has met and exceeded expectations as Peyton Manning’s replacement.

But he’s just that — a replacement. Can Gary Kubiak reasonably supplant a future Hall of Famer with a backup who’s now 3-0 in Denver?

We’ll find out soon. In the coming weeks, Manning will step to a podium or a microphone and announce he’s healthy enough to return from a torn foot ligament. Then, Kubiak will decide between passers€” and decide the fate of a Super Bowl-caliber team.

He could easily turn back to Manning. But the Broncos won seven games to start the year in spite of No. 18, not because of him. And in the playoffs, when passing windows get tighter and the weather turns worse, Manning’s body might not be up for the task.

Osweiler has out-dueled Jay Cutler, Tom Brady, and Philip Rivers in recent weeks, but he’s still very green. That kind of inexperience is exposed in postseason play.

Kubiak will have to make a call either way. It’s the type of decision 31 other head coaches are happy not to make.

UP NEXT: vs. Raiders (W), at Steelers (L), vs. Bengals (L), vs. Chargers (W)

PREDICTION: 12-4, first place in the AFC West

Chiefs feeling Royal atop the AFC’s wild-card race

The Kansas City Royals won a baseball championship by proving they didn’t know how to quit.

Their football-playing neighbors could soon follow. The Chiefs improved on the recipe that brought them a division title two seasons ago.

Consider those 2013 Chiefs. They won the AFC West with a stifling defense that fielded six Pro Bowlers and allowed under three touchdowns a game, on average.

That ferocity is back. Even without injured star Justin Houston (knee), they’re fourth in the NFL in sack rate, according to Football Outsider’s defensive efficiency ratings. Only the rival Broncos take more quarterbacks down.

Now, consider the offense. Alex Smith was a first-year Chief back in 2013 and played within the confines of an offense built for ball control.

This year’s team? It lost Jamaal Charles early and actually became more creative. And unlike the 2013 receiving corps, Smith has a difference-maker to throw to in Jeremy Maclin.

This Chiefs team is dangerous. And scarier still, after a 1-5 start, it doesn’t know when its season is over. Just like the Royals.

UP NEXT: vs. Chargers (W), at Ravens (W), vs. Browns (W), vs. Raiders (W)

PREDICTION: 11-5, second place in the AFC West

The Raiders are no longer an AFC laughingstock

Jack Del Rio invoked an all-time comedy when he handicapped the Raiders’ latest playoff odds.

"I look at the different probability tables," the head coach told CSN Bay Area’s Scott Bair. "I think we’re one percent chance or something. That’s not real good odds. That’s kind of like the ‘Dumb and Dumber’ (quote) ‘So we still have a chance?’"

Del Rio’s got press conference jokes — and they’re the only funny thing left about his Raiders team.  The Silver and Black already secured their winningest season since 2011, and while a playoff seed seems out of reach, they’re back on the road to relevance.

Proof, as always, is found in the box scores. Consider that Oakland’s largest margin of defeat came in Week 1 against the AFC’s No. 1 seeded Cincinnati Bengals. By this time last season, they had dropped two games by 33 points or more.

They’re winning close contests, too. The Raiders posted five losses in one-score games last season; they’ve won four out of seven such contests in 2015.

Del Rio’s team has still succumbed to its inherent Raiders-ness. This is, after all, a franchise without a playoff berth since 2002.

But, despite heartbreakers in Chicago, Detroit and Pittsburgh this year, they’re no longer the NFL’s punchline. At long last, Raiders fans have something to smile about.

UP NEXT: at Broncos (L), vs. Packers (L), vs. Chargers (W), at Chiefs (L)

PREDICTION: 6-10, third place in the AFC West

Chargers refuse to start a roster remodel — or admit they need one

Philip Rivers was ready to pack his family up and head for Nashville just eight short months ago.

The Chargers reneged on a rumored trade with the Tennessee Titans. But we know now why such a valuable asset was trait bait in the first place — their roster was in desperate need of serious turnover.

Instead, Rivers stayed put in America’s Finest City. So did disgruntled safety Eric Weddle, who remained a Chargers despite rumors to the contrary at the NFL trade deadline. Both conservative moves underscore an era of wait-and-see football that unnecessarily paused a necessary rebuild.

They’ll be defined by the moves they didn’t make this year. For instance, instead of starting over with Marcus Mariota and picks, they locked in the star quarterback they had. And, though holding on to Weddle, they all bust assured he’ll depart with no net return as a 2016 free agent.

He won’t be alone. Franchise staples like tight end Antonio Gates and receiver Malcom Floyd are both set to test the market.

Football has traditionally bucked bold moves and splashy offseasons. But it speaks volumes about this team’s bland mindset that its conservative head coach, Mike McCoy, might be retained in 2016.

No team has more losses than the Chargers do (9). In the remaining four games, they’ll run back through three AFC West and attempt to avoid a total divisional sweep. This offseason, it’s time to take serious action.

UP NEXT: at Chiefs (L), vs. Dolphins (W), at Raiders (L), at Broncos (L)

PREDICTION: 4-12, last place in the AFC West

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