The AFC West is always a heated division with rivalries across the board. However, it just seems like there is a gap between the top two teams in the division and the bottom teams of the division every year. And it just has that vibe. But I think at least three teams have a great shot to win the division, but those same three teams have gaping holes that keep them from being relatively considered a lock. The Chargers have high hopes and rightfully so as they are probably the most balanced squad in the AFC West, but with injuries on defense already there is some depth issues. The Raiders bring back their coach from almost 20 years ago in Jon Gruden and hope to get the offense rolling, but questions are abound on the defense especially if they don’t have Khalil Mack around via holdout. The Chiefs will put their dynamic offense into a young gun in Patrick Mahomes, but like the Raiders, there are major questions abound that really hasn’t been answered in the off-season and questions are all over the place with one of the more consistent squads in the league in Denver, where the Broncos may have a very rare off-year (though this would be the 2nd straight off-year for them) and it just doesn’t look like there are a lot of bright spots with them.
(1) LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
LAST SEASON: 9-7 (2ND PLACE)
KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Geno Smith (FA-New York Giants), TE-Virgil Green (FA-Denver), C-Mike Pouncey (FA-Miami), K-Roberto Aguayo (FA-Carolina), K-Caleb Sturgis (FA-Philadelphia), S-Derwin James (Draft-Florida State), LB-Uchenna Nwosu (Draft-USC), DT-Justin Jones (Draft-NC State)
KEY LOSSES: TE-Hunter Henry (Injury), S-Jaylen Watkins (Injury), CB-Jason Verrett (Injury), TE-Antonio Gates (FA), RB-Branden Oliver (FA-Indianapolis), K-Nick Novak (FA), C-Matt Slauson (FA-Indianapolis), G-Kenny Wiggins (FA-Detroit), DT-Tenny Palepoi (FA), LB-Chris McCain (FA-Indianapolis), LB-Korey Toomer (FA-San Francisco), S-Tre Boston (FA-Arizona)
Similar to my feel on the 49ers I really am buying into the Chargers this year. I think their defense despite some injuries and dings, is a championship, top 5 defense. And the scary part is when you add a healthy Keenan Allen into the mix, you have a top 10 receiver in him with a quarterback like Philip Rivers. Rivers has been one of those mid-tier guys who you are just waiting on to bust out and have an MVP caliber year. The numbers are there, but the wins aren’t, which has led a good friend of mine to say “some of those numbers are empty calorie numbers” and only have them when the team is behind. However, the Chargers have a good balance of a passing game, a running game, and a defense. Those are all formulas for a great team. It can be if can Rivers take them to that next level and can the special teams can step up, which really has been the team’s ultimate albatross since Drew Brees still wore the bolt. The Chargers have Joey Bosa, who has proven me wrong time and time again since joining the NFL and could be in line for the defensive player of the year. And on the other side is Melvin Ingram. Sick. The key question will be past the defensive line, notably at linebacker which does raise some concerns and a little surprised they let Korey Toomer go. But the secondary should be on the upswing with Kasey Hayward and draft pick Derwin James. But they cannot afford any other hits in the secondary as it is relatively thin. KEY QUESTION: Assuming everyone is healthy, is it somewhat of a do-or-die bit for Rivers to get them to that next level? Honestly, yes. He’s 36, almost 37. He has to get the Chargers in the playoffs and deep. I think they have to consider getting a quarterback in the NFL Draft next season. MY PREDICTION: 11-5 they’re going to be good enough to win a lot of games and they may be the one team that can really scare the Patriots in the AFC.
(2) OAKLAND RAIDERS
LAST SEASON: 6-10 (3RD PLACE)
KEY ADDITIONS: RB-Doug Martin (FA-Tampa Bay), FB-Keith Smith (FA-Dallas), WR-Jordy Nelson (FA-Green Bay), WR-Martavis Bryant (Trade-Pittsburgh), WR-Ryan Switzer (Trade-Dallas), TE-Derek Carrier (FA-Los Angeles Rams), T-Breno Giacomini (FA-Houston), K-Mike Nugent (FA-Chicago), DE-Tank Carradine (FA-San Francisco), DE-Frostee Rucker (FA-Arizona), LB-Tahir Whitehead (FA-Detroit), LB-Derrick Johnson (FA-Kansas City), FA-Emmanuel Lamur (FA-Minnesota), S-Marcus Gilchrist (FA-Houston), FA-Rashaan Melvin (FA-Indianapolis), CB-Darryl Worley (FA-Philadelphia), CB-Shareece Wright (FA-Buffalo), FA-Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (FA-New York Giants), P-Andrew DePaola (FA-Chicago), T-Kolton Miller (Draft-UCLA), T-Brandon Parker (Draft-NC A&T), DT-PJ Hall (Draft-Sam Houston State), DE-Arden Key (Draft-LSU)
KEY LOSSES: WR-Michael Crabtree (FA-Baltimore), K-Sebastian Janikowski (FA-Seattle), DE-Denico Autry (FA-Indianapolis), LB-Navorro Bowman (FA), CB-TJ Carrie (FA-Cleveland), P-Marquette King (FA-Denver), WR-Cordarelle Patterson (Trade-New England) T-Marshall Newhouse (Released-Buffalo), FB-Jamize Olawale (Trade-Dallas)
People are giving Oakland the benefit of the doubt that with Jon Gruden back, things will automatically giving them the Division and another option besides New England for the AFC representative in the Super Bowl. I don’t see it at all. Yes, Derek Carr is a solid quarterback and they supplied more weapons with Carr in Nelson, Bryant, and Doug Martin to compliment Marshawn Lynch. So from a paper standpoint, the offense could rival some of the best in the NFL. However, there is A LOT of turnover from the roster, notably on defense and they were horrid last year. Adding on, nobody knows when Khalil Mack will return from the holdout and Gruden didn’t really ease tensions on his comments. They added pieces like Tahir Whitehead and Derrick Johnson to offset Mack, but they’re not Mack. And the secondary looks to be a giant mess, which may be problematic but not too problematic given what they have on their schedule this year. But it will still be an issue I believe for the offensive minded Gruden. They do have the potential to be competitive, but I don’t think the holes Oakland has on defense right now will put them over the top in the AFC. KEY QUESTION: When will Mack return? I think both Donald for the Rams and Mack for the Raiders will be uniform in the opening week, but it sounds like in Oakland’s case it is very tense with them and Mack to the point I can see them not have their star defensive player for a few games assuming how the Raiders start. MY PREDICTION: 9-7. Raider fans may not be excited on this record as they are already thinking Super Bowl or bust, but they are just not that balanced.
(3) KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
LAST SEASON: 10-6 (1ST PLACE, LOST TO TENNESSEE IN WILD CARD)
KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Chad Henne (FA-Jacksonville), QB-Matt McGloin (FA-Houston), RB-Kerwyn Williams (FA-Arizona), RB-Damien Williams (FA-Miami), WR-Sammy Watkins (FA-Los Angeles Rams), DT-Xavier Williams (FA-Arizona), LB-Anthony Hitchens (FA-Dallas), CB-Kendall Fuller (Trade-Washington), CB-David Amerson (FA-Oakland), CB-Orlando Scandrick (FA-Washington), DE-Breeland Speaks (Draft-Ole Miss), DT-Derrick Nnadi (Draft-Florida State), LB-Dorian O’Daniel (Draft-Clemson)
KEY LOSSES: QB-Alex Smith (Trade-Washington), CB-Marcus Peters (Trade-Los Angeles Rams), WR-Albert Wilson (FA-Miami), C-Zach Fulton (FA-Houston), DT-Bennie Logan (FA-Tennessee), LB-Derrick Johnson (FA-Oakland), LB-Kevin Pierre-Louis (FA-New York Jets), CB-Terrance Mitchell (FA-Cleveland), Ron Parker (FA-Atlanta)
Of all the teams I’ve looked at, Kansas City is the hardest to figure out especially with Andy Reid as the head coach. I don’t really doubt what Reid does in the regular season but of course January comes and then I doubt him. Alex Smith is gone but gun-slinger Patrick Mahomes is in. And I’m not fully sold on the guy. Yes, he’s been fine during the preseason, but it has been preseason. While I think they got a good trade in Kendall Fuller, I don’t know if he’s as better as Peters. And I see major defensive flaws to the Chiefs that make me think they really aren’t a viable threat to the Patriots and the rest of the AFC. But somehow, notably to Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs are always in the mix. It may be a similar year like that in 2018, but I don’t see them being as better as what they’ve been the last few years. KEY QUESTION: Will Patrick Mahomes be that guy to get the Chiefs over the hump? Something about him doesn’t sit right with me. He has an arm and is relatively mobile, but I don’t see him being like one of the elite quarterbacks and not really a guy that fits into Reid’s system. We’ll see though. MY PREDICTION: 9-7. They’ll be competitive, but I don’t know if they will beat the better squads, especially on the road.
(4) DENVER BRONCOS
LAST SEASON: 5-11 (4TH PLACE)
KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Case Keenum (FA-Minnesota), T-Jared Veldheer (Trade-Arizona), DT-Clinton McDonald (FA-Tampa Bay), CB-Tramaine Brock (FA-Minnesota), S-S’ua Cravens (Trade-Washington), P-Marquette King (FA-Oakland), DE-Bradley Chubb (FA-NC State), WR-Courtland Sutton (FA-SMU), CB-Isaac Yiadom (Draft-Boston College), RB-Royce Freeman (Draft-Oregon)
KEY LOSSES: QB-Brock Osweiler (FA-Miami), RB-CJ Anderson (Released-Carolina), RB-Jamaal Charles (FA), WR-Bennie Fowler (FA-Chicago), WR-Cody Latimer (FA-New York Giants), TE-Virgil Green (FA-Los Angeles Chargers), T-Donald Stephenson (FA-Cleveland), CB-Aquib Talib (Trade-Los Angeles Rams), QB-Trevor Siemian (Trade-Minnesota)
I think right now, Denver is somewhat in a position they rarely are in: a mess. And I blame John Elway for the mess. The moves they made, the inability to keep Wade Phillips around and having a top tier defense, etc. it just doesn’t look great. Case Keenum had a surprising year in Minnesota, helping to get the Vikings to the NFC Championship, but he’s not a guy I think that can be relied on for a lengthy period of time and instead of trying to get a young quarterback that is a franchise guy, he went with a veteran that has ups and downs. Adding on, CJ Anderson is gone, replaced by Royce Freeman, who can be a steal, but it has always been a back-by-committee in Denver. And the mishandling I think of the head coach with Vance Joseph (where Elway was indecisive on either keeping him or firing him) also stings as Joseph looks lost right now. And even with Von Miller on defense, the Broncos defense has fallen back badly, looking old and underperforming. And I honesty think Denver made no steps to improve their team this year. KEY QUESTION: Would Denver actually ask Elway to step down as GM if they have another porous year? Yes. Elway is the executive VP so it isn’t like he’d be completely out of the Broncos organization, and I know he orchestrated a Super Bowl with the Broncos in 2015, but many feel it was because of Manning, Gary Kubiak, and Wade Phillips with the defensive play. Right now, it could get very ugly with Denver. At least that’s how I see it. And it is really on his watch with the moves. MY PREDICTION: 3-13. Denver messed up I think with the moves they made this off-season. Were they going to be at the forefront in the AFC? No, but being competitive was still considered. And I don’t see them being that too much.
That’s all the look-ins. Next week will be my picks for the Super Bowl (which honestly I have zero clue who I am going to pick), MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, etc.).
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat