Division Preview: AFC West

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Over the years, the AFC West has been an interesting division. Each year, there seems to be no consensus as to which franchise will take home the title of Division Champion.

Over the last eight seasons, the division has been largely dominated by two teams: The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs.

However, looking ahead to 2018, the tide seems to be turning. The Denver Broncos seem to be retooling the roster, while Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders feature two quarterbacks who look as if they’ll be battling for the division title each year for at least the next decade.

Then there’s the Los Angeles Chargers, led by the never-aging Philip Rivers, who always seem to be on the cusp of making the playoffs, but can never seem to do enough to win.

 

As mentioned above, this is a tough division to predict. There isn’t necessarily a powerhouse now, but it won’t be a surprise if a team like the Kansas City Chiefs emerge as one in 2018.

 

Enough of the chit-chat, let the division previewing begin.

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 18: XXX against the XXX at Cleveland Browns Stadium on October 18, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. Broncos defeated Browns 26-23.  (Photo by Andrew Weber/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** FristName LastName

CLEVELAND, OH – OCTOBER 18: XXX against the XXX at Cleveland Browns Stadium on October 18, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. Broncos defeated Browns 26-23. (Photo by Andrew Weber/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** FristName LastName

1. Denver Broncos

 

Best/Worst Record: 9-7/ 6-10

Playoff Prediction: None

Team MVP: LB Von Miller

Biggest Free Agent Acquisition: QB Case Keenum

Biggest Free Agent Loss: OT Donald Stephenson

Draft Grade: A

Best Draft Pick: LB Bradley Chubb

 

It’s been somewhat of a rocky season in the Rocky Mountains so far. After multiple reports of the team exploring quarterback options in the draft, the team opted to enter training camp with veteran Case Keenum as the starter.

As of right now, it looks as if Keenum will start the whole season. In 2017, as a member of the Minnesota Vikings, he posted career numbers. Now, he’ll be tasked with turning around a team that went through multiple starting quarterbacks last season. The biggest problem in Denver last season was without a doubt quarterback. The inconsistent play is what limited this team’s potential. While Keenum has proven that he can be effective, he also comes with his fair share of question marks. How will he succeed in a new offensive system under new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave? Is he a long-term option for this team? Can he do in Minnesota what he did in Denver?

 

It’ll be up to Keenum to answer all these questions. There’s no denying the fact that Keenum is legitimately a boom-or-bust free agent signing. You either hit a home run or swing for the fences and miss.

 

Denver had a pretty solid draft class. The first three picks (Bradley Chubb, Courtland Sutton, and Royce Freeman) are all expected to come in and contribute immediately. The goal for Denver going into the draft was simple: get younger on both sides of the ball. Denver did just that. However, their best draft pick was North Carolina State edge rusher Bradley Chubb who will team up with All-Pro linebacker Von Miller and form a duo that will constantly terrorize quarterbacks with multiple sacks.

 

Overall, there’s no knowing what to expect out of the Broncos in 2018. Every win will have to literally count if this team is to make it to the playoffs. They aren’t necessarily built to slip up at any point in the season.

 

SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 29:  Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers makes a call at the line of scrimmage against the Dallas Cowboys  on September 29, 2013 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

2. Los Angeles Chargers

 

Best/Worst Record: 10-6/6-10

Playoff Prediction: Wild Card

Team MVP: DE Joey Bosa

Biggest Free Agent Acquisition: CB Jaylen Watkins
Biggest Free Agent Loss: None

Draft Grade: A

Best Draft Pick: S Derwin James, FSU

 

Out of all the teams that may just be sleepers in the AFC, the Los Angeles Chargers could be the biggest sleepers of all. They’ve got a young defensive core led by Joey Bosa and Casey Hayward, which also features rookie Derwin James and Desmond King. This is a team that only got better this offseason.

 

While everyone wants to talk about when the Chargers will draft Philip Rivers successor, the organization opted to not draft a developmental signal-caller. The message the Chargers are sending is clear: We’re here to win and win now.

 

In the draft, the Chargers managed to snag one of the drafts best players in Derwin James with the 17th overall pick. A player who’s drawn comparisons to former Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor, he has future Pro Bowl potential. With four of the Chargers, seven draft picks being defensive players, this is a team that can rise to become one of the best defensive units in the NFL. Sack machine Joey Bosa entering his third full season and veteran Melvin Ingram both coming off double-digit sack seasons, there’s no shortage of talent in the front seven for this team.

 

On offense, the Chargers have guys like Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon. Both have developed into offensive cornerstones over the last two seasons. In 2017, Allen posted career highs in receptions (102) and receiving yards (1393). Gordon too rushed for 1105 yards and averaged 3.9 yards per carry in 2017. With Hunter Henry set to be out for the 2018 season due to a torn ACL, a name to keep an eye on is wide receiver Mike Williams who averaged 8.6 yards per reception in 2017. If all goes well, the offense can carry this team to a division title. 

 

In 2017, Anthony Lynn’s team started off by losing four straight games, before winning six of the final eight games to finish 9-7. Now, going into 2018, this a team that can certainly contend for the AFC West Championship. Los Angeles has a good enough roster to win the division on paper, but now they must deliver and win on the field.

 

Photo Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

3. Kansas City Chiefs

 

Best/Worst Record: 9-7/6-10

Playoff Prediction: None

Team MVP: QB Patrick Mahomes

Biggest Free Agent Acquisition: WR Sammy Watkins
Biggest Free Agent Loss: WR Albert Wilson

Draft Grade: C

Best Draft Pick: S Armani Watts, Texas A&M

 

The winds of change swept through Kansas City all throughout the offseason. Quarterback Alex Smith was traded, meaning the Patrick Mahomes era is officially underway, while guys such as Marcus Peters and Tamba Hali were either traded or released as Andy Reid retools this teams identity.

 

On offense, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Kareem Hunt all return, with Sammy Watkins joining the fold. However, Matt Nagy, the offensive coordinator in 2017 is now head coach of the Chicago Bears, so it’s hard to predict what this unit will look like. If playcalling duties go back into the hands of Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes takes the next step and develops into a franchise quarterback, the sky’s the limit for this unit. In one start last year, Mahomes threw for 284 yards and no touchdowns. Considering the organization sacrificed a 2018 first-round pick to trade for him, he needs to take a big step forward this year.

 

Defense is really an area of concern for Kansas City. Staying healthy will be the key to Bob Sutton’s unit having a successful year. Eric Berry missed all of 2017 with an injury, while Marcus Peters was traded. At cornerback, it’s likely that Kendall Fuller and David Amerson will emerge as the starters after being on different teams in 2017. However, the team is not as bad as most think. With starting linebackers Dee Ford, Justin Houston, and Anthony Hitchens leading the way, this team could form one of the best linebacker trios in the NFL. All throughout the season, the Chiefs defense will be tested as they’ll face teams such as Pittsburgh Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars, and New England Patriots.

 

League-wide, Kansas City had one of the more questionable drafts. With no first, fifth, or seventh round picks, General Manager Brett Veach and co. were forced to rely on the later parts of the draft to find future talent for this team. Perhaps their best draft pick ends up being Armani Watts, a four-year starter at Texas A&M who had 10 tackles for loss in 2017. If Watts can continue to improve his game at the next level, then it won’t be a surprise to see him getting more play time as the 2018 season rolls on.

 

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4. Oakland Raiders

 

Best/Worst Record: 10-6/8-8

Playoff Prediction: Narrowly miss playoffs

Team MVP: QB Derek Carr

Biggest Free Agent Acquisition: WR Jordy Nelson
Biggest Free Agent Loss: OT Marshall Newhouse

Draft Grade: C

Best Draft Pick: DE Arden Key, LSU

 

He’s back. Seems like everyone is excited to see Jon Gruden roaming the sidelines again, but it’s hard to see how things will go for the Silver and Black. Yes, Derek Carr still seems to be getting better, but the unless the Raiders can get the whole Khalil Mack situation figured out, the team might not be as good as some think.

 

After a down year in 2017, wide receiver Amari Cooper is set to return and will join Martavis Bryant and Jordy Nelson. Nelson alone will help the Raiders passing game take the next step as he was Aaron Rodgers go-to option for 10 seasons in Green Bay. However, Bryant will need to prove himself after a year of ups and downs in 2017 where he the center of multiple trade rumors as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the backfield, Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin will bring a power-running style that will be useful in goalline and short yardage situations.

 

The defense for Oakland is filled with more questions than answers. With Khalil Mack’s holdout looking like it will last into the regular season, Oakland will be forced to rely on guys like Tahir Whitehead, Bruce Irvin, and Derrick Johnson to lead the way. All three have experience playing the position but are not necessarily guys who will carry a whole defense. In the secondary, one guy to watch is 2017 first-round pick Gareon Conley, whose rookie season was cut short due to injuries. When he did play, Conley looked like he could be a solid starter in this league. He’s definitely worth watching in 2018.

 

Throughout the draft, Oakland made some good, but also some questionable moves. Selecting offensive tackle Kolton Miller over guys like Derwin James and Jaire Alexander could prove to backfire on the team as safety and cornerback were arguably bigger needs than finding an offensive tackle. However, Oakland’s biggest boom-or-bust draft pick was actually taken in the third round. Defensive Arden Key is someone who flashed serious potential at LSU, but due to off-field incidents, he saw his draft stock draft. To some, Key could have seriously been the best pass rusher in this class had he stayed healthy and out of trouble. If he’s really matured, then Key might just be the biggest steal of the 2018 NFL Draft.  

 

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