It was December 24th 2016, the Oakland Raiders were on top of the AFC West division with a 11-3 record, while the Kansas City Chiefs were 2nd with a 10-4 record. The Oakland Raiders were winning 33-14 in the 4th quarter against the Indianapolis Colts. The Raiders went on to win the game but lost the season. With 10:55 left on the clock Derek yells out clearly “it’s broken, it’s broken” and you can hear a feather drop in the Oakland Coliseum, because everyone there that day knew the Raiders had just won their last game of the season. Fast forward another two weeks and the Oakland Raiders would finish 2nd in the AFC West to the Chiefs who won their last two games against the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers, which is how the west was won in 2016-17 season. Now fast forward to the 2017-18 season and the question remains who will win the AFC West?
The Kansas City Chiefs
After releasing an aging Jamaal Charles and a lightly used Jeremy Maclin, the Chiefs are reloaded on the defensive side of the football with a healthy Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson, plus an all pro defensive backfield including CB Marcus Peters and newly extended Eric Berry stopping opposing defenses should not and will not be an area of concern. But offensively there might be some ??? Starting at QB with veteran Alex Smith who has a reputation of not taking enough risk and chances with a football. It’s because of Smiths limited arsenal that they Chiefs jumped up in the rounds to select rookie QB Patrick Mahomes who has been compared to the like of Brett Farve, but known to be careless with the football at times but could eventually push Smith this fall to compete for the starting job. At running back the Chiefs will have a running back by committee with Spencer ware leading the pack with Jamaal Charles being in Denver. He will be backed by Charcandrick West , and exiting rookie Kareem Hunt who has the skills to breakout in Andy Reid’s offense with his pass catching abilities. Next you have Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce who is one of the games elite tight ends and can help either A. Smith or P. Mahomes. When you look to the skill players there may not be a faster more explosive player in the league than 2nd year man Tyreke Hill, who really did it all last year, whether it be receiving, running the ball and the kicking game. With all the talent this roster has, led by one of the best coaches in the league I feel this team to will be in every game this year, but could be slowed by the offense and lack of weapons on the outside after Hill and Kelce. Prediction Chiefs 10-6
The Oakland Raiders
If there was a team that was setup to dethrone the New England Patriots I would personally tab the Oakland Raiders as that team. They have a young franchise QB in Derek Carr who is coming back from a broken leg that he suffered just 7 months ago, but has ascended himself as the leader of this team and is being paid as such. two play making wide receivers in Crabtree and Cooper, and finally they have a legit running back in Marshawn Lynch who is attempting to come back after a short layoff. You combine these pieces together and you have a very formidable bunch. But still I believe their offensive line, who is as big and physical than anyone else in the NFL, Osemele, Hudson, and Gabe Jackson will create huge holes and because of that, I think teams will have a hard time stopping the run, and when opposing teams attempt to put eight in the box to defend this rushing attack, Derek Carr and company will shred opposing defenses apart. On the defensive side of the ball they have a ball hawking safety in Reggie Nelson who can be seen as aging but that’s ok at that position, pair him with hard-hitting 2nd year man Karl Joseph, and last years big time free agent CB Sean Smith this secondary if they remain healthy should compete with most teams. The biggest question on this team is its linebacker group, Bruce Irving, Cory James, Jelani Jenkins will have to perform this year for this to work, and some what be a complement to their defensive line. The key to beating Tom Brady has always been to get to him with four pass rushers and drop 7 into coverage, and with Khalil Mack off the edge they will be able to do just that, and I also expect big time play from Mario Edwards Jr. who spent most of last year on IR. Prediction 12-4.
The Denver Broncos
Lets be honest here Bronco fans, Peyton Manning will not be walking through those doors this year, with that being said, the biggest question mark for this team is the question mark most teams who miss the playoffs have, who will be the starting quarterback come mid-season? Between Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian you don’t have a lot of experience pair that with an inexperienced head coach and you have a recipe for disaster. Another issue that has plagued the Broncos was their offensive line play in the past which they did address this off-season by acquiring Ronald Leary from Dallas and Donald Stephenson from Kansas City, in hopes to establish a rushing attack this year. Leading the backfield will be CJ Anderson who is coming off an meniscus injury last year but looks to regain his form from the previous season, behind him is often injured Jamaal Charles who is looking to stay healthy and contribute this year and possible even steal the job away from Anderson. I know things seem a little dim in Denver but on the bright side you do have two good wide receivers in Thomas and Sanders who will always give they quarterback a chance to be successful with their big play abilities, also they hope that rookie Jake Butt can comeback strong from his own knee injury last year in Michigan and be a security blanket for these young quarterbacks. The strength of this team is the defense with play-makers all over the field, their backfield is led by pro bowl corners Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. who will make things hard for opposing quarterbacks to find open receivers down the field. Upfront the D-Line is led by Derek Wolfe who is as good as they when it comes stopping the run and applying pressure on the quarterback. But what really makes this unit go is All-Pro edge rusher Von Miller. Who cannot be blocked by any one tackle in this league, which opens things up for the defense to tee off on quarterbacks, this defense will continue to give this team a chance to win every single football game they play. Prediction 8-8
The Los Angeles Chargers
Yes they are moving from San Diego which I completely disagree with, because I love that town, but now they are headed to Los Angeles and with that comes more pressure to perform in a hostile environment. Offensively will be all about health and can this years offense remain healthy. Keenan Allen is the teams best receiver and has been plagued with injuries since he has come into the NFL, if he can remain healthy enough to finish even 10 games this offense can really flourish. At the other wideout position is rookie Mike Williams who has already been linked to needing back surgery, with both of these players and pro bowl quarterback Phillip Rivers available this offense can be elite, throw in running back Melvin Gordon and his upside, which can garner him to being a top 7 running back in terms of yard and touchdowns this year. At tight end I believe there will be a passing of the torch, as perennial pro bowler Antoni Gates is getting long in the tooth, in comes the 2nd year tight end Hunter Henry who upside and become a household name for the Chargers. But for everything to come together they must get better protection upfront, and really commit to the ground game, and preserve Rivers until the stretch run. Defensively I think this unit can be special, top 8 unit depending on how you look at it. They have two outstanding corners in Verrett and Hayward which will allow for a lot of man coverage and added pressure on the quarterback this season. At linebacker they will rely on newly paid outside backer Melvin Ingram to apply pressure and live up to his new contract, and on the inside Perryman who always seems to be around football, will be expected to be great this season. On the D-line which has been called the best in the league by some will be led by last years defensive rookie of the year Joey Bosa, who will be in the fold from day one, so look for huge strides from him, and a healthy Cory Liuget who was tabbed as the teams best defensive lineman two years ago to have a good season. But again nothing matters if this team cannot remain healthy. Prediction 8-8
Hope you enjoy until next week, when I preview the NFC West.