Tied with the AFC North for the Conference’s best Division.
WINNER: LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (13-3)
Assuming RB Melvin Gordon plays football this year, the Chargers are the team to beat in the AFC West. Although similar to a few of the other Divisions, it will be a close race at the top with the Chiefs winning a Wild Card berth.
Los Angeles of course features veteran QB Philip Rivers, who is as hungry as anyone to attend a Super Bowl. Along with WR Keenan Allen, and TE Hunter Henry, the Offense looks to be among the league’s best. However, as I just mentioned they won’t be nearly as good without All-Pro RB Melvin Gordon, who is holding out during contract negotiations. The super-back brings a different level of energy to the team, and he will certainly be needed. The health of OT Russell Okung will also be crucial this season.
On the Defensive side of the ball, they’ve already lost star safety Derwin James for up to 3 months (foot injury). Luckily for the Chargers, their Secondary isn’t lacking in talent, and should fill the void of James adequately. Where he will be most missed is actually by the Linebackers. His ability to blitz and hover around the line of scrimmage, was often leaned on by a sub-par Linebacking unit. Upfront on the D-Line they are stacked once again, led by DE Melvin Ingram, who has shown great leadership capabilities. Having DE Joey Bosa back healthy will also be a boost to the Defense.
Benefactors of a relatively easy schedule, and excellent kicking game, Anthony Lynn (great head coach) and the Chargers are headed to the Playoffs once again. Hopefully for their sake, they don’t have to meet Tom Brady and the Patriots in Foxboro this time around. As talented as LAC is, teams like New England and Indy are expected to show them an early exit.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (12-4)
Picking up where they left off after a very successful season, the Chiefs jump out to a 6-0 record.
A few important pieces have left, but Kansas City also did a great job in Free Agency and in the trade market. The acquisition of DE Frank Clark (Seahawks), and signing of DE Alex Okafor, are both expected to help bolster the D-Line. The weak part of their Defense however (and reason they won’t go far in the Playoffs), is the average Secondary. Much like last year, we should see a lot of high scoring Chiefs games.
On Offense, the future is certainly bright. QB Patrick Mahomes is already ranked in my top-3 for NFL QB’s, and his next-generation talent and abilities will be the main reason for Kansas City’s success for years to come. Of course, having one of the fastest WR’s in the game (Tyreek Hill) helps a ton. Head Coach Andy Reid will be well served if he can keep the tandem of Mahomes and Hill together. While they no longer employ RB Kareem Hunt (Browns), RB Damien Williams did a great job filling in late last season, and is projecting to have a breakout year. Add in the always, exciting TE Travis Kelce, and this Offense is ready to do big things again.
If they can find a way to improve their Secondary (and kicking game), this team could be dangerous. Until then, it’s a Wild Card in KC. With no home-field advantage come Playoff time, the Chiefs lose out on the road in early January.
DENVER BRONCOS (8-8)
In a league where it can be tough to find reliable Quarterback play, the Broncos are lucky to have QB Joe Flacco. Following his replacement in Baltimore, the veteran QB doesn’t get much respect. But his amount of experience, and solid arm, should actually be one of the bright spots for Denver this year. He also adds value by hopefully mentoring rookie QB Drew Lock. Another reliable veteran, WR Emmanuel Sanders, should also help anchor the Offense. RB Phillip Lindsay will of course still be more than some teams want to bargain for. Outside of this trio, the O is pretty thin talent wise. The Offensive Line is a solid group, but the WR corps is seriously lacking. Promising first round Draft pick, TE Noah Fant (Iowa) should immediately be leaned on in the passing game.
Surprisingly though, it’s the Defense which will cause a majority of the issues in Denver this season. Outside of LB Von Miller, they lack depth upfront, and have an average pass rush. To make things worse, the Secondary is expected to be picked apart. Luckily, their new head coach Vic Fangio, is somewhat of a Defensive guru, and will get the most out of the guys he has.
A weak kicking game to round out the Broncos evaluation, and it’s easy to see this is just an average football team. 8-8 on their way upwards in years to come.
OAKLAND RAIDERS (3-13)
It’s a good thing they’re on Hard Knocks, because the only value this team brings is entertainment.
Unfortunately for Las Vegas’ future hometown team, once the season starts it won’t be the right type of entertaining. It’s hard to tell who is at fault in Oakland (most likely coach Jon Gruden), but the decision making the organization has displayed in the last 18 months or so, has been awful at best. Perhaps Gruden is listening too much to the opinion of new GM Mike Mayock? Whoever is making the calls, has made a catastrophic move in acquiring WR Antonio Brown.
For whatever reason, people seem to put the blinders on when staring back at talented Wide Receivers. Antonio Brown, much like hall of fame WR Terrell Owens, is the type of player who simply doesn’t know how to play team sports. Unless you’ve ever been on a team in which one guy brought the entire ship down, it may be hard to understand. Even when you have a sport like football, in which the rosters are much more numerous than other sports, being a good teammate is the most important trait an athlete can possess. Success is almost always dependent on team cohesion, not WR stats. Sure Brown is the best WR in the game. Yet it all goes to waste when you make it all about yourself. Chasing the money and fame, instead of championships. It took the Steelers forever to figure it out, but this guy will only spell disaster for the Raiders.
To make things worse, QB Derek Carr is not a true leader of men. His relationship with the in-your-face Gruden will only deteriorate the longer the pair are together. Of course, Carr and Brown will connect on a bunch of impressive long-TD’s this season, but it won’t amount to many wins. Carr has a strong arm and is decently mobile, but has poor decision making skills, and the phrase “3 and out” is certain to be uttered many times by Oakland broadcasters this year. Once Brown starts miscommunicating with Carr and other teammates, things will begin to break down.
On a positive note, the Offense does have playmakers other than Brown. Newly acquired WR Tyrell Williams (Chargers), should be a consistent producer. And rookies RB Josh Jacobs (Alabama), and WR Hunter Renfrow (Clemson) are also expected to contribute. However the O-Line is average, and the kicking game is a mess. On Defense, the D-Line is too young, and should fall near the bottom this year in sacks. First round Draft Pick DE Clelin Ferrell (Clemson), is still a couple years away from unleashing his potential.
Mix in a below-average Secondary, and you’re looking at one of the worst teams in football.
Next Division to be featured: AFC South