Let’s wrap up the AFC division previews and predictions by looking at the AFC West.
First: Los Angeles Chargers (11-5)
Here come the Chargers. If Los Angeles had a capable kicker last season, they may have gotten a top two seed in the AFC. Instead, they missed the playoffs but now come into the season much hungrier. They’re still led by future Hall of Famer Phillip Rivers, who remains one of the most consistent quarterbacks of all time. He has so much supporting talent on offense, with a premier running back in Melvin Gordon, a deep wide receiving corps led by Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, their 2017 first round pick who was injured for most of last season. With the addition of center Mike Pouncey, the Chargers now also have one of the best offensive lines in football. It gets better on defense, where the Chargers have the scariest pass rushing duo in Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. They also have one of the deepest cornerback groups led by Casey Hayward, who may be the best corner in the NFL. At safety, 2018 first round pick Derwin James should be an immediate contributor and strengthen the Chargers’ defense even further. They have as much talent as anyone in the NFL, and also have just the 24th toughest schedule this season. That is a combination for success, and the Chargers should run away with this division.
Second: Denver Broncos (8-8)
In an attempt to try to “save” a team that went just 5-11 and finished last in the AFC West, the Broncos signed quarterback Case Keenum to a two year deal in free agency. Keenum had a great season for the Vikings last season, leading them to the NFC Championship Game, but that was his first season of success in his seven-year career. If he plays like his Viking self, Denver may be a playoff team. If he returns to older form, Denver may see themselves at the bottom of the division. Most likely, Keenum will be neither. He’ll probably have his moments, but will mostly be mediocre. That may be enough, as Denver has a dominant edge rush duo of Von Miller and 2018 first round pick Bradley Chubb and a solid receiving corps, while rookie Royce Freeman looks to be the team’s long-term running back. However, the offensive line is still a work in progress and the secondary isn’t the fearsome unit it once was. Denver has the look of a mediocre team and even with an easy schedule (T-25th), their record should reflect that mediocrity.
Third: Kansas City Chiefs (7-9)
The Chiefs may have won the division a year ago, but that won’t happen this year. Kansas City is going through a transitional phase on both offense and defense. They traded away quarterback Alex Smith and are now are turning it over to Patrick Mahomes, who has a great arm but has some accuracy and turnover issues. That means that even though they have two great deep threats in Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins, one of the game’s best tight ends in Travis Kelce, and an excellent running Kareem Hunt, Kansas City may have some struggles offensively as Mahomes adjusts. On defense, trading cornerback Marcus Peters made it one of the worst in football. Their secondary is atrocious, and they are relying a lot on their linebackers and pass rush to carry the load defensively. But in considering they have to play Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, among others, having such a weak pass defense and having turnover problems offensively will prove costly. They have the toughest schedule in the division, so expect them to miss the postseason this season.
Fourth: Oakland Raiders (5-11)
When the Raiders traded away arguably the best defensive player in the league in edge rusher Khalil Mack, they pretty much threw any chance of contending out the window. That’s a strange choice, considering they are invested in older veterans, such as receiver Jordy Nelson, linebacker Derrick Johnson, and running back Doug Martin. Their offense is still solid under quarterback Derek Carr, who is still an above average quarterback. Amari Cooper still has the potential to be a #1 receiver, but he is very inconsistent and can’t be relied on. Their running back duo of Marshawn Lynch and Martin would have been awesome in 2012, but unfortunately, it’s 2018. Their offensive line still remains a strength, but rookie Kolten Miller may be a liability at left tackle if he fails to adjust right away. On defense, Oakland lacks any sort of pass rush without Mack, has a weak secondary, and should struggle against the run. That’s a recipe of disaster, to say the least. Even though they have a cupcake schedule (T-29th), Oakland should struggle as it goes through a change of identity without Mack and with Jon Gruden at head coach.