The 2012 season in the AFC West ended the way it began — the Broncos and Chargers won, and the Chiefs and Raiders lost. Denver is the top seed in the AFC, but as a whole, the AFC West was arguably the worst division in football, with the Chiefs earning the No. 1 pick in April’s draft, and the Raiders having the third pick.
What we learned: Peyton Manning had no problem with Romeo Crennel’s defense on Sunday after getting off to a slow start vs. the Chiefs in the teams’ first meeting. As he continued to add to his MVP résumé, Manning completed all but six passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns. WRs Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker each had seven catches on eight targets, with Thomas scoring once on a ridiculous one-handed catch, and Decker finding paydirt twice. The run game amounted for 172 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The defense was dominant too, especially when helping make up for the offense’s only mistake — a Ronnie Hillman fumble, which set the Chiefs up at the Broncos’ 12-yard line. Denver held K.C. to a field goal, their only points of the game. Jamaal Charles, who has had success against the Broncos, was held to 53 rushing yards. Brady Quinn completed only seven passes for 49 yards. The Broncos held the Chiefs to 119 total yards of offense, recording four sacks and nine tackles for loss. DT Kevin Vickerson continued his stellar season with a pair of stops behind the line.
What’s in store next: Thanks to a Texans loss earlier in the day, the Broncos, winners of 11 in a row, earned the top seed in the AFC playoffs. The route to New Orleans from the AFC will have to go through the Rockies. The Broncos will host the Ravens, Colts or Bengals in the divisional round. Denver is healthy, but the bye week gives them a little extra time to get CB Tracy Porter, KR Trindon Holliday and OG Chris Kuper to 100 percent.
What the heck? It apparently doesn’t matter who is running the ball, the Broncos will gain plenty of yards on the ground. No. 3 RB Lance Ball and FB Jacob Hester combined for 22 carries for 121 yards (5.5-yard average), doing most of their work in the second half when the game was out of reach. We know that the Broncos’ defense is very good with a lead, and we have seen in the past two months how effectively the run game can help take up clock when playing from ahead.
— Kevin Fishbain
What we learned:The Chiefs’ misery is over — and the rebuilding work is about to begin. They are a mess offensively, having run only 48 plays and gained eight first downs in a season-ending 38-3 loss to the Broncos that spelled the end of Romeo Crennel’s tenure as head coach. Said team owner Clark Hunt in a statement announcing Crennel's dismissal: "I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for Romeo, both personally and professionally. He is an accomplished coach, a man of great character and he helped guide our football team through some extremely challenging circumstances this season. However, I am embarrassed by the poor product we gave our fans this season, and I believe we have no choice but to move the franchise in a different direction. I will immediately begin the search for the next head coach of the Chiefs. The entire football operation will remain under review, and there may be additional changes to come. No final determination has been made at this point on the future of General Manager Scott Pioli. Finally, I want to personally apologize to our fans for our performance this season. We are blessed to play for some of the best and most passionate fans in the National Football League and they deserve better than what we gave them this season. I want our fans to know that I will do everything I can to provide them with a dramatically better team — both next season and in the seasons to come — and our entire organization appreciates their support.”
What’s in store next: The Chiefs have decisions to make on the next head coach and whether Pioli stays. In falling to a franchise-worst 2-14 record (including 0-12 against the AFC), the Chiefs now own the first overall pick in the 2013 draft — with no clear-cut candidate for the top pick.
What the heck? Crennel is out, yet his players spoke out on his behalf prior to official word came down that he was fired. Jamaal Charles, whose 1,509 rushing yards were the fifth-best total in franchise history, told the Kansas City Star, “I just hope everything stays the same. I’ve been here going into my sixth year and I don’t want to go onto my fourth head coach. It’s not fair to me because I don’t get a chance to win. I don’t get a chance to go out there and perform. … I don’t know how it’s going to get right that way.” Other players such as Brandon Flowers and Derrick Johnson, leaders on the defense Crennel oversaw, also supported him after Sunday’s loss. Similar sentiments were not made widely for Pioli.
— Eric Edholm
What we learned: QB Terrelle Pryor gave the Raiders a little something to be optimistic about heading into the offseason. Sure, his first career start had its ugly moments, but he did lead Oakland to 21 points — the most it scored in a game since Week Nine — vs. the Chargers and Pryor accounted for all three of the team’s touchdowns (two passing, one rushing). The Raiders didn’t even score a touchdown in their previous two games. Could he challenge QB Carson Palmer for the starting job down the line? Maybe, but Pryor, who had two career pass attempts heading into Sunday, showed signs he could at least be a legitimate NFL backup.
What’s in store next: Owner Mark Davis made it very clear after a Week 11 loss that he was unhappy with the lack of progress he saw from the Raiders, and the team went 1-5 in the six games that followed. There is no chance Allen accepts the status quo after that showing — there are going to be changes, starting with the coaching staff. It appears head coach Dennis Allen is going to be granted a reprieve after a disappointing first season, but the speculation about offensive coordinator Greg Knapp’s future apparently was valid. There was a report from the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday night that said Knapp and other assistants are expected to be fired.
What the heck? The outcome of the game may have been different Sunday if the Raiders had executed better at the end of the first half. On 3rd-and-1 with 12 seconds left and the ball at San Diego’s 43-yard line, Pryor ran for six yards as he headed for the sideline but lost his footing and failed to get out of bounds. PK Sebastian Janikowski was warming for a long field-goal try, but the Raiders were out of timeouts and the clock expired, ending the first half. It was one of the more frustrating moments for the Raiders in Pryor’s first career start.
— Dan Parr
What we learned: In the expected final game of the Norv Turner era, the Chargers put together a solid performance in a 24-21 win over the Raiders in nasty conditions in San Diego. The Chargers finish the 2012 season with a 7-9 record, their first losing mark since 2003. Philip Rivers quieted some doubters with strong play down the stretch, and he continued that on Sunday, completing 13-of-17 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns, good for a passer rating of 142.0. WR Danario Alexander had yet another touchdown grab, this one a 34-yarder, his seventh this season in only 10 games. The defense held the Raiders to 265 yards of offense and kept Darren McFadden to only 57 yards at 3.0-yards-per-carry. Terrelle Pryor did throw two touchdowns against San Diego in his first NFL start, though Quentin Jammer picked him off in the endzone in what was likely Jammer’s final game with the Chargers. And then there's Micheal Spurlock — how did they let this guy get away earlier in the season? They were fortunate they got him back. A week after a punt-return touchdown, Spurlock had a 99-yard kickoff return touchdown.
What’s in store next: Swift moves are coming to the front office, with Turner and GM A.J. Smith likely gone, and Jimmy Raye III possibly being promoted to general manager to help the search for the next head coach. The new regime has lots of work to do with a roster littered with players set to be free agents, including Jammer, Antoine Cason, Shaun Phillips and more.
What the heck? Takeo Spikes has the dubious honor of playing in 220 career games without a playoff appearance, something that will continue this season. Spikes, 36, is due $3 million in 2013 and could be gone, which would give him a chance to join a sixth team in his career. If that happens, Spikes had an unceremonious end to his Chargers career — he was ejected for getting in a scuffle with Raiders RB Mike Goodson.
— Kevin Fishbain