AFC West preview

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September 5, 2017 by themikepaige

(Courtesy of Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

Written by Michael Paige

When it comes to the AFC West, one word comes to mind; battle. No matter which team in the conference you look at, you have a battle on your hands. With most divisions, save for the AFC North, there is at least one team that can be counted out but not when it comes to the Chargers, Broncos, Raiders and Chiefs.

Los Angeles Chargers

2016-17 record: 5-11 (4th)

Key additions: Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley, Dan Feeney, Forrest Lamp, Head Coach Anthony Lynn, Russell Okung, Mike Williams 

Key losses: King Dunlap, Brandon Flowers, DJ Fluker, Head Coach Mike McCoy, Defensive Coordinator John Pagano, Manti Te’o, Danny Woodhead

Starting with the second team in the league to share the city of Los Angeles, the Chargers. Led by Phillip Rivers who is going into his 14th season with the franchise. The six-time pro bowler is a reliable player when given a pocket, making pin point throws through narrow windows much like his fellow 2016 pro bowler Drew Brees.

Rivers’ steadfast performance, however, hinges on something that has plagued the Chargers, LA or otherwise for years; and that is injuries. From former running back Danny Woodhead to 2013 third rounder Keenan Allen to Rivers himself, injuries have always been a thorn in the side of the Chargers. The saving grace of this Chargers team is its second year defensive end Joey Bosa. With 44 tackles and 10.5 sacks in his rookie season, Bosa is on pace to become a defensive juggernaut that can spur on his front seven to become a penetrating powerhouse.

For the 2017 campaign the Los Angeles Chargers face a schedule that is not much different to years past but is quite difficult none the less. Due to the fact that the AFC West is such a tough division, interplay between the foursome usually does not fall in the favor of the blue and gold with only one inter-divisional win in the past two seasons. With that in mind, I see the Chargers stumbling out of December with a meager 6-10 record with the game to watch being the game against Washington and the definite one to miss being the Dallas beat down sure to come in week 12.

2017-18 prediction: 6-10 (4th)

Denver Broncos

2016-17 record: 9-7 (3rd)

Key additions: Garrett Bolles, Ronald Leary, Domata Peko, DeMarcus Walker, Menelik Watson, Head Coach Vance Joseph, Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy

Key losses: Head Coach Gary Kubiak, Russell Okung, Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips, DeMarcus Ware, Sylvester Williams

Moving onto the former home of Papa John’s spokesman and current celebrity roaster, Peyton Manning. The Denver Broncos look to shape up their young and inexperienced quarterback, Trevor Siemian. For the past couple seasons the secondary and mid field presence of Denver’s defense is daunting led by none other than Super Bowl 50’s MVP Von Miller. Miller, who has only had one season with less than 10 sacks will continue to be the moral and literal powerhouse of this mile-high team.

Because of Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward, opponents are limited to short routes and gadget plays to fool the less than stellar front four. Now Denver’s defense is no legion of boom but it is a looming threat that even gives the more accurate of gunslingers a tough time threading the needle. Unfortunately the other side of the line is not fairing much better than its defensive counterpart, with Siemian kissing the turf over 30 times in his 2016 season.

Denver falls into the same curse with their schedule that their fellow division mates also suffer from in their vast amount of inter-divisional play as well as tough as nails schedule outside of that. These games include Dallas and their young new talent, Tom Brady and Belichick’s battle plan and Eli Manning’s Beckham and Sheppard combo to test the secondary. Expect a 10-6 outcome with Denver picking up a wildcard spot under the new coaching style of former defensive coordinator of Miami, Vance Joseph.

2017-18 prediction: 10-6

Kansas City Chiefs

2016-17 record: 12-4 (1st)

Key additions: Bennie Logan, Patrick Mahomes, CJ Spiller

Key losses: Jamaal Charles, Nick Foles, Dontari Poe

Moving onto one of the greatest stadiums in the country and my runner up in the AFC West, the Kansas City Chiefs. They look to garner a mainstream presence in the National Football League. Much like the Arizona Cardinals, the Chiefs have always been a great contender with a fantastic coach in Andy “The Walrus” Reid and talented weapons in Tyreek Hill and Eric Berry but have always come up a bit short, never making it too far into playoffs.

Led by Alex Smith, who may not be the most reliable quarterback in the AFC, the Chiefs often find a way to win with their balanced throwing options and powerhouse secondary led by the young Marcus Peters at cornerback. The true strength comes from the balance Andy Reid and his coaching staff bring to the table from their strong offensive line, explosive secondary rivaled by only the Broncos in this division and their drafting smarts to bring on Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes to ensure the future of the organization. That’s why it’s not the Sherriff of Atlanta who destroyed the Falcons at home last year who deserves the Most Valuable Player award, but rather it’s Reid who deserves the Most Valuable Person award as he is to the Chiefs as Belichick is to the Pats.

Expect the Chiefs to challenge Oakland as the top seed in the AFC West with an 11-5 record with tough wins coming against the Broncos and Giants alongside hearty losses at the hands of the Patriots and Raiders, two powerhouses of the AFC. The only reason why Reid’s team falls second in my list, by no fault of their own, is the fact that Oakland has the one thing that the other three AFC West contenders don’t have; the X-factor.

2017-18 prediction:

Oakland Raiders

2016-17 record: 12-4 (2nd)

Key additions: Gareon Conley, Jared Cook, Offensive Coordinator Todd Downing, Marshawn Lynch, Obi Melifonwu, Marshall Newhouse, Cordarelle Patterson

Key losses: Nate Allen, DJ Hayden, Stacy McGee, Latavius Murray, Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave, Mychal Rivera, Malcolm Smith

With Derek Carr at the helm, the black and silver look to take over the AFC west and usurp last year’s title holder, the Kansas City Chiefs and face the Patriots in the AFC championship game. How will the soon to be Las Vegas residents defeat the rebuilding Chargers, defense heavy Broncos, and the uber-balanced Chiefs? Well the answer is sheer talent.

Gone are the days of the Raiders being a petty stepping stone of a team, with no-name or past-their-prime quarterbacks, absolutely laughable front sevens and abysmal turnover ratios. Now the city of Oakland has a team to be proud of again. Leading the charge is Derek Carr, who has, in the three previous seasons, given an offensive spark to the Raiders, making them a legitimate threat with both Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree as offensive staples. And when all else fails and the offence cannot deliver the payday, you can rely on either Janikowski to drill one from downtown or the dancing punter himself Marquette King to pin them within their own 5.

On defense the front seven of Oakland is absolutely immaculate with Kahlil Mack inspiring his side of the ball like Carr does on his. With two consecutive seasons with 11+ sacks and over 70 tackles, Mack hits like a freight train who can intercept the ball, making both running backs and quarterbacks alike second guess themselves. This defense is not without its flaws, however as the secondary is not as polished as the rest of the team. With Karl Joseph in the middle of the field, getting mostly cross and curl routes covered, Oakland’s deep threat coverage is shaky and reliable meaning if a running back like Jay Ajayi breaks containment, you’ll most likely be seeing him scoring six.

But what is the best counter to a secondary that lets too many points through? Answer, an offence that can put up even more points. And this brings me to the lynch pin of this offense and whether or not it will improve upon last year’s injury laden send off, Marshawn Lynch (pun fully intended). What do you do to a player who was the instrument of Matt Patricia’s demise in Super Bowl 49 who was underutilized in the final drive of said game? You give him to a head coach like Jack Del Rio who will use every facet of Beastmode’s skill and make him a dagger in the heart of every redzone defense in the NFL. Lynch has shown time and time again why he is not a power to trifle with in short yard situations.

I see a hard-fought road ahead of the men in black, but that tenacity will lead them into a 12-4 season and punching their ticket to a first round bye. With laughable games against the likes of Washington, the Jets and Miami the Raiders will have to use this as an opportunity to build momentum over their AFC West cohorts. The biggest challenges facing the Raiders’ schedule is the hard-hitting teams in the Patriots, Cowboys and Giants late in the season.

2017-18 prediction: 12-4 (1st)

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