Last of an eight-part series
Overview: The Broncos fired head coach Josh McDaniels after the team dropped its seventh game in eight tries in a Week 13 loss to the Chiefs. Interim coach Eric Studesville made the switch to QB Tim Tebow after just one game, but the rookie signalcaller could do nothing to improve the Broncos' NFL-worst defense.
Team MVP: WR Brandon Lloyd has to be the Broncos' most valuable player, if for no other reason than a lack of legitimate competition. QB Kyle Orton was benched in favor of Tebow for the season's final three games, and although ILB D.J. Williams led the team in both tackles and sacks, his November DUI arrest detracted from his on-field performance.
Biggest surprise: Lloyd set career highs in receptions (77), receiving yards (1,448), and touchdowns (11) in 2010, making him a no-doubter as the team's biggest surprise. He led the NFL in receiving yards and was named a second-team NFL All-Pro, becoming the first Broncos All-Pro receiver since Rod Smith in '01.
Biggest disappointment: The Broncos' defense ranked last in the league in '10, with the majority of the struggles coming against the run. The pass rush wasn't too effective, either, as the Denver "D" finished 32nd in the league with just 23 sacks. The running game is a close second, as Broncos backs picked up less than four yards per carry.
Offseason outlook: Legendary QB John Elway was brought in to run football operations while John Fox was hired to help turn things around from the sideline. With a new staff in place, the organization will have to make a decision on free agent Champ Bailey and choose whom to draft with its No. 2 overall pick as it tries to re-establish a winning tradition in Denver.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Overview: The Chiefs may have been the league's No. 1 surprise of the 2010 season, going from just four wins in '09 to a 10-6 campaign and an AFC West title. Bolstered by some key free-agent additions on offense and rookies on defense, Kansas City made great strides in Todd Haley's second season, though the team was the beneficiary of a soft schedule. New coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel deserve credit for their philosophical changes.
Team MVP: While OLB Tamba Hali and his 14½ sacks made a huge impact on the defense, the Chiefs would not have had the league's No. 1 rushing attack if not for RB Jamaal Charles. The small, speedy back ran for 1,467 yards on 230 carries, nearly setting a record with his 6.38-yard average. He also had 468 yards receiving and scored eight TDs. For his efforts, Charles earned a contract extension that will keep him in K.C. for the long haul.
Biggest surprise: After finishing '09 with a 16-16 TD-interception ratio, expectations weren't all that high for QB Matt Cassel this season, which is what made his performance so shocking. Cassel put everything together in Year Two as a Chief, throwing 27 TDs to just seven picks and posting a 93.0 passer rating. Despite having only one legitimate receiver in Dwayne Bowe, the signalcaller made much better decisions and carried the offense at times.
Biggest disappointment: The Chiefs re-signed veteran WR Chris Chambers last offseason, thinking he'd be the answer opposite Bowe, but that didn't turn out to be the case. The 32-year-old showed he had nothing left in the tank in '10, starting just seven games and catching 22 passes. His unexpected plummet leaves the club with a huge need at wideout.
Offseason outlook: The Chiefs promoted OL coach Bill Muir to offensive coordinator, replacing Weis, who bolted for Florida after the season. GM Scott Pioli placed the franchise tag on Hali, giving the two sides time to try to work out a long-term deal. K.C. will also have decisions to make with other aging starters who have expiring contracts. While the Chiefs had an impressive season, their blowout loss to the Ravens in the postseason shows there is plenty of work ahead for them to remain a playoff contender.
Overview: While the Raiders went 6-0 vs. AFC West foes, they didn't fare well against their other opponents. Oakland's 8-8 record was its best since 2002, but the club's playoff drought continued. Managing general partner Al Davis decided not to pick up the option on head coach Tom Cable's contract, cutting him loose 2¾ seasons after having promoted him from offensive line coach.
Team MVP: CB Nnamdi Asomugha, P Shane Lechler and DL Richard Seymour each had Pro Bowl seasons, but RB Darren McFadden's breakout performance played a major part in the team's dramatic improvement on offense. McFadden gained 1,664 yards from scrimmage and scored 10 touchdowns in 13 games. Oakland's offense relied on him to provide a spark.
Biggest surprise: The Raiders had a nice find in the fourth round of the 2010 draft when they selected WR Jacoby Ford. He made an impact on special teams, returning three kickoffs for scores, and he became a bigger part of the offense in the second half of the season. He started the final nine games of the season at receiver and gained 18.8 yards per catch.
Biggest disappointment: It had to be missing the playoffs for the eighth straight season. It was the closest the Raiders came to getting a playoff berth since 2002, but early-season losses to teams like the Cardinals, Texans and 49ers cost them, and blowing a 10-point lead against the Jaguars in Week 14 also stung.
Offseason outlook: Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was promoted to replace Cable. The Raiders have reportedly extended Seymour's contract before it expired, but several of the Raiders' more valuable players are due to become unrestricted free agents, including Asomugha, OG Robert Gallery and TE Zach Miller, and there will be many teams interested in signing them. Davis may not be able to keep all of them.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Overview: As NFL seasons go, it would be difficult to find one stranger than what the Chargers just completed. After getting off to their usual slow start, the Bolts came storming back and looked like they would capture another division title. Previously invincible in December under Norv Turner, they were upended by the Raiders and Bengals late. Despite finishing with the No. 1-ranked offense and defense, San Diego amazingly missed the playoffs. And that's just a small part of the story.
Team MVP: Given their unbelievable number of injuries, the Chargers were probably lucky to go 9-7 — lucky to have QB Philip Rivers, that is. Playing with a cast of backup receivers for much of 2010, Rivers still managed to throw for an NFL-high 4,710 yards with 30 TDs and 13 interceptions, good for a 101.8 passer rating. Without his sometimes Herculean efforts, the Bolts wouldn't have even sniffed the playoffs. Defensively, OLB Shaun Phillips also deserves mention for his 11-sack campaign.
Biggest surprise: ILB Kevin Burnett disappointed in '09 after San Diego signed him as a free agent, but he more than made up for it this past year. The versatile 'backer was a force in every phase of the game, piling up 95 tackles while also notching six sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Since he's due to become a free agent, the Bolts likely will make a serious effort to bring back the 28-year-old.
Biggest disappointment: The Chargers fell short across the board in not making the playoffs for the first time since '05, but in no area did they struggle more than special teams. In arguably one of the worst performances in league history, the Bolts had four punts blocked, gave up four kick returns for TDs and allowed a record 18.9 yards per punt return. In the end, it cost special-teams coach Steve Crosby his job.
Offseason outlook: Few teams have as many marquee names about to hit free agency as San Diego, so GM A.J. Smith will have a plethora of major decisions to make as he builds the roster for 2011. The loss of defensive coordinator Ron Rivera also means the defense will have to make a transition under new boss Greg Manusky, albeit a small one. And after striking out the past two drafts, Smith will need to hit a home run this time around.