Updated: Sep 16, 2018
The AFC West is a tight knit division where three of the four teams have won the division in the last 10 years. No team has seen outright dominance but the Denver Broncos are the only team to have won a Super Bowl in the decade long span.
The Los Angeles Chargers have a good chance to join Denver in that exclusive club when the 2018 season concludes. An elite defense and above average offense led by consistent veteran quarterback Philip Rivers will help topple most teams in the NFL.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
A move from San Diego to LA was upsetting for Charger fans but the team performed well in their new city. A 9-7 record and missing the playoffs does not sound like a hot start in a new city but losing three games by three points or less was the difference maker. If LA had a serviceable kicker the Bolts would have walked int the playoffs with a 12-4 record and the AFC West crown.
Los Angeles made sure special teams will not be their downfall in 2018 as they signed former Eagles kicker Caleb Sturgis to a two year deal. In 5 NFL seasons, Sturgis has hit over 84 percent of his field goal attempts. Compared to last years dreadful 67 percent, the Chargers will have no weaknesses.
Philip Rivers remains one of the most consistent quarterbacks in all the NFL averaging 4,195 passing yards and 28 touchdowns in his 12 seasons as a starter. If Tom Brady is the gold standard, Rivers is the finest silver.
Next to Rivers in the backfield is former pro bowl running back Melvin Gordon. 2017 was Gordon's first time eclipsing 1,000 yards on the ground and his second straight season with eight or more touchdowns. Gordon is primed for an even better year one of the league's top centers, Mike Pouncey, comes over from Miami.
Keenan Allen heads a receiving core the was part of the number one passing game and number three receiving team in the NFL last season. Tyrell and Mike Williams along with Travis Benjamin and the recently re-signed Antonio Gates will dominate defenses this season.
Speaking of defenses, Melvin Ingram and Joey Bose return to wreak havoc on opposing quarterback. Last season LA ranked number five in pass rush totaling 43 sacks. Even the secondary was elite placing third in fewest yards allowed through the air.
A season ending injury to starting cornerback Jason Verrett will have a negative impact on the secondary but first-round pick Derwin James is ready and able to pick up the slack at the safety position.
Opening 2018 against division rival Kansas City will be an early test but one Los Angeles should come out ahead in. A possible Super Bowl preview versus the Rams in week three will be a battle of which defense caves first.
The Rams traded for cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqiib Talib and signed defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh giving them three elite defensive additions. Those players give the Rams have a slight edge of the Chargers.
The Chargers have tough games against San Francisco, Tennessee and Denver after but should be able to edge out their opponents going on a eight win streak that ends in Pittsburgh.
A battle with Kansas City for first place will end in week 14 as Los Angeles will pick up win number 11 clinching the AFC West title for the first time since 2009. The Chargers will win a total of 12 games and finish 2018 with first-round bye and meet Pittsburgh the AFC Championship game.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
The Kansas City Chiefs are coming off an AFC West title which ended after a blown victory to the Tennessee Titans. A rather upsetting end to the Alex Smith era of Chiefs football. When every door closes a new on opens, right? In Kansas City's case, the answer is yes.
First-round pick Patrick Mahomes was drafted to be Smith's heir and has been handed the starting quarterback job after phenomenal play. Mahomes has made a quick connection with receiver Tyreek Hill and the two look like the next star QB/WR tandem.
Hill is coming off a career year where was selected to the pro bowl for the second time and caught 75 of the 105 passes thrown his way. Hill has also found himself labeled the biggest deep threat in football. Catching nine passes for 40 plus yards including six deep touchdowns catches ranks him first among receivers. With Mahomes throwing him passes, Hill could be in for an even better 2018
Next to Hill will be another touchdown threat in the form of Sammy Watkins. The Chief brought Watkins over from the Rams on a four year $48 million deal for one purpose, score touchdowns. Watkins is a consistent scorer when healthy, averaging seven touchdowns per season when playing 13 or more games. The problem is Watkins has not played an entire season since his rookie year in 2014.
Kansas City took a risk by signing Watkins but if he scores touchdowns it was money well spent.
The biggest surprise of 2017 was the emergence of rookie Kareem Hunt as a top ten rusher. Hunt has been breaking rookie records since his first career NFL game, setting the record for yards from scrimmage at 246 against the Patriots.
Hunt would also go on to break the Chiefs' rookie rushing record with 1,327 yards, previously held by Joe Delaney. That same total was good enough to be tops in the NFL by the end of 2017.
A safety net for Mahomes will be tight end Travis Kelce. There a very few tight ends that demand attention for defenses and viewrers, Kelce is one of the few. Coming of consecutive 1,000 yard seasons and three consecutive pro bowls Kelce has placed himself in the conversation as the best tight end in the NFL. Expect Kelce and Mahomes to make magic over the middle in 2018.
On the defensive side of the ball the Chiefs did some house cleaning. KC moved on veteran team leader Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali while trading star cornerback Marcus Peters. It's a new era in Kansas City and Andy Reid along with General Manager Brett Veach agreed it was time to move referenced players out of town.
Moving out means someone else is moving in and the Chiefs quickly found a replacement for Peters when they traded then starting quarterback Alex Smith for talented young cornerback Kendall Fuller.
The Chiefs also replaced Johnson with former Cowboy linebacker Anthony Hitchens. The 26 year old may not carry the leadership Johnson did but possesses the same talent.
The 27th ranked defense according to NFL.com may have gotten younger but that mean does not improvement have been made.
The Kansas City offense will be one of the tops in the league, especially with the ability to have big play at any moment. Patrick Mahomes look comfortable in the pocket and has no fear airing it out which means big years lie ahead for Hill, Watkins, and Kelce.
On the ground, Kareem Hunt may not duplicate his historic numbers but should remain in the upper echelon of running backs in regards to yards from scrimmage and touchdowns.
The Chief offense will be able to score with the best of them but the defense leave little room for fault in 2018.
The Chiefs play five top 10 defenses in regards to point allowed this season. Expect the Chiefs to lose all those games. The Chiefs will also have a hard time with high powered offense like Pittsburgh, both Los Angeles teams, and New England.
2018 will prove to the world that Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill are the next great QB/WR combo but a shallow defense will end up costing the Chiefs late in games.
Finishing 2018 with a record of 8-8 and finding a spot in the AFC Wild Card picture will give Mahomes and the rest of the offense confidence moving forward. Hopefully General Manager Brett Veach can continue to bring in fresh blood for a potential Chief's Super Bowl run.
The Denver Broncos, led by All Pro linebacker Von Miller, will be out for revenge after a disastrous 2017. Quarterback issues haunted Denver throughout last season, starting three different players at the position. Trevor Siemian was supposed to be a place holder for the experiment that was Paxton Lynch. Lynch played a few games but was an utter failure and even Brock Osweiler got another shot.
All that to say, Denver got their guy...kinda. Case Keenum signed a two year deal worth $36 million after a tremendous season with Minnesota. Last year, Keenum led the Vikings to an NFC Championship game appearance but were ultimately embarrassed 38-7 by the Eagles. Not the ending you want heading into free agency.
Luckily it did not cost Keenum and he is now the Bronco's newest starting quarterback. The only question is, which Case Keenum is Denver getting? Vikings Case Keenum or Rams/Texans Case Keenum are two entirely different quarterbacks and both play on different sides of the spectrum.
Keenum tallied 22 touchdowns for 3,547 yards on 67 percent completion rate in Minnesota. He never totaled more than nine touchdowns and 2,201 yards during his stints with Los Angeles and Houston.
Inconsistency at the quarterback position is something Denver cannot afford if they want any shot at the playoffs.
A questionable offense means the defense will have to be even better. Von Miller leads a defense that ranked third in 2017 and has the recipe to continue their success in 2018.
Cornerback Aqib Talib was shipped to Los Angeles weakening the secondary. To offset the move, Denver brought in safety Su'a Cravens but he will not see the field until late November at the earliest. Cravens is supposed to be a large contributor to the secondary but with him out, the Broncos will have to rely on Bradley Roby, Tramaine Brock, and Adam Jones to pick up the slack.
An elite defense can help the Broncos win multiple games but Denver's offense will have to be average at best to make the playoffs. If so, the Broncos could see themselves being the 2018 version of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Denver Broncos will finish third in the AFC West and one game behind the second place Chiefs. A 7-9 record in Case Keenum's first season in Denver will solidify himself as an average quarterback at best.
Wide Receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders continue to be one of the best tandems in football and could both eclipse 1,000 yards on the season. Denver will also rely on rookies Courtland Sutton and Royce Freeman to play pivotal roles on the offense. An average season from both is expected but Freeman has shown flashes of a possible breakout season.
The Broncos' defense is elite and will stay that way in 2018. The secondary will miss Talib but not enough to cost them many games. Whenever Su'a Cravens returns from injury the defense will get a boost and have new life late in the season. It will be prove to be for not as the Chargers and Chiefs have more complete rosters.
A lot of questions surround the Oakland Raiders in 2018. How will John Gruden adapt to the 2018 version of NFL after not coaching for 10 years? Will Derek Carr solidify himself as 'the guy'? Who will replace Khalil Mack on the defensive line?
One of these questions already has an answer. Former 49er Tank Carradine has been named starting defensive end, next to Bruce Irvin, and tasked with filling the shoes of All Pro Khalil Mack. Mack departed Oakland for Chicago after the two teams agreed to a blockbuster trade last week.
Carradine has had problems staying healthy his entire career and never found his footing the league yet. Totaling 54 tackles along with 5.5 sacks in his five year career, Carradine will need to quadruple his career averages just to be in the same conversation as Mack. A feat nearly impossible.
Fans will have to wait and see for the answers to the other two questions. 2018 will be a telling year for Raider fans as Oakland searches for their identity. Coach John Gruden has tried to instill a tougher throwback style of play in Oakland by showing 1970's film to the players. Gruden is an old school style coach trying to mold his team the way he wants but will it work?
What does work is Derek Carr. He may not be a top 10 quarterback but he can get the job done. Unfortunately the the rest of the Raiders have either under performed or have not had the personnel. Carr has that now.
Running backs Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin could be two power back tandem while the addition of receiver Jordy Nelson adds and element Oakland has not had with Carr under center. A consistent pass catcher.
Admittedly, signing Nelson was risk for two reasons. The Raiders brought him in to replace Michael Crabtree, who was their leader receiver and touchdown catcher last season. Nelson is also coming off a terrible season and is 33 years old. Both negatives for a receiver in decline.
Consistency is something the Raiders have struggled with on both sides on the ball but more so the defensive side. A secondary that ranked 25th last season, gave up 241 passing yards and 1.5 touchdowns per game.
Losing two starting cornerbacks in David Amerson and Sean Smith will make Oakland rely on Rashaan Melvin and Gareon Conley. Melvin played 2017 with the Colts and is coming off a career year where he intercepted three passes and deflected 13. Conley is heading into his sophomore season only having been on the field for barely over 60 plays. Karl Joseph emerged as one of the best young safeties in the NFL last season and has the potential to keep growing.
The Raiders entire team can be described by that one word, potential. 2018 is truly a season that could see the Raider contend for a Wild Card spot and possibly beat out the Chiefs for the number two spot in the division. 2018 can also be a season where the offense does not click, Doug Martin and Jordy Nelson prove to be past their primes, and the defense collapses shifting all the blame to new head coach John Gruden.
The Oakland Raiders have the weakest roster in the AFC West making it hard to win games. The Raiders do have the fourth easiest schedule in the NFL but that does mean they will be successful.
The offense, led by Derek Carr, has to prove itself. Can they run the ball effectively and come up clutch late in games? Or will the pressure be to much and cause Oakland to continue on a downward trend?
The defense has too many holes and unproven players to possibly be productive in 2018. Trading away Khalil Mack is one of the biggest mistakes in franchise history at the moment and Oakland will feel his absence on the D-line and in the secondary.
The Oakland Raiders have too many questions marks starting at the head coach and ending on the field. There is too much uncertainty surrounding the team for it to be successful. That being said Oakland will finish 2018 with a record of 6-10. A repeat of last season, Oakland will struggle to find themselves ultimately getting lost in a sea of powder blue and cherry red.
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