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How the West was won

Posted Jan 5, 2016

The Broncos narrowly clinched the AFC West title in 2015. This is how the West was won.

The 2015 regular season has come to a close, the playoffs have been set and teams that missed the postseason look to start preparations for 2016.

The Denver Broncos clinched the AFC West and the AFC’s No. 1 seed after holding off the surging Kansas City Chiefs. Looking back, here’s how the West was won:

Broncos start hot, finish strong (12-4)

With four consecutive AFC West titles under their belt, the Broncos looked to bounce back in 2015 from an AFC Divisional loss to the Colts in 2014, which ended their hopeful return to another Super Bowl. They brought back familiar faces in Head Coach Gary Kubiak, Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips and Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison, while adding a myriad of new playmakers. Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis, Pro Bowl tight end Owen Daniels and experienced safety Darian Stewart all signed with the Broncos in the offseason and made an immediate impact.

The Broncos started off 2015 jumping to a historical 7-0 start under quarterback Peyton Manning. But in Week 10, Manning went down with a partially torn plantar fascia, forcing him to sit out for an unknown amount of time. Backup quarterback Brock Osweiler stepped into the starting role and helped lead the Broncos to wins over the then-undefeated Patriots and the Bengals. In the final game of the season, the Broncos staved off the surging Chiefs with a win over the Chargers to secure the AFC’s No. 1 seed and their fifth-consecutive AFC West title.

- Allie Raymond

 

Chiefs' late win streak not enough to overcome slow start (11-5)

After a disappointing 9-7 season in 2014, the Chiefs made two big moves in the offseason with their sights set on a brighter 2015: they added a big-time receiving threat in free agency by signing Jeremy Maclin, and they wrapped up outside linebacker Justin Houston for the next six years. Safety Eric Berry also returned after beating cancer, and the Chiefs had multiple other player return from injuries.

But after the Broncos beat them in Arrowhead Stadium in a thrilling Week 2 prime-time matchup, the Chiefs dropped four more games and found themselves reeling at 1-5 with running back Jamaal Charles out for the season with an ACL tear. The odds may have been against them, but Kansas City fought back with an aggressive defense and a balanced offense. Though their late-season run of 10 straight wins secured them a wild card playoff seed, it wasn't enough to dethrone the Broncos.

- Ben Swanson


Raiders show future potential (7-9)

If 2014 showed a slight glimmer of the Raiders' potential could be, 2015 was a much more steady light for the residents of the Black Hole. With the addition of wide receivers Amari Cooper (No. 4 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft) and Michael Crabtree (free agent), second-year quarterback Derek Carr finally had a receiving corps to support him and the offense was able to find balance with running back Latavius Murray.

The season had its ups—wins over the Jets, Broncos, a sweep of the Chargers—and downs, but the Raiders brought their best effort in every game they played, falling in five of their nine losses by less than a touchdown. Though Oakland didn't get to a winning record, they had an emotional ending to their season with safety Charles Woodson announcing his retirement at the end of the year and the Raiders getting a win in his final home game.

- Ben Swanson

 

Chargers endure emotional 2015 season (4-12)

It was almost guaranteed that the Chargers’ 2015 season was set to be one full of emotion. After years of unrest at Qualcomm Stadium, the team geared up to play possibly their final season in San Diego. Proficient quarterback Philip Rivers remained at the helm of the offense, as the team hoped to improve upon their 9-7 record from 2014.

The Chargers ended 2015 4-12, but their losses were littered with close games. Their biggest point differential came in Week 11 with a 33-3 loss to the Chiefs, but on average the Chargers lost by less than 10 points. Even against the Broncos, the Chargers defense forced five turnovers but the offense could only convert one of them into a touchdown.

Rivers finished with the second-most passing yards in the league (4,792), but the team struggled to keep consistent threats for him on the field. Injuries plagued the Bolts as they finished with 15 players on injured reserve, including first-round pick running back Melvin Gordon.

- Allie Raymond