In 2016, the AFC West was one of the toughest divisions in football and featured two playoff teams, the Raiders and the division winning Chiefs. Both teams failed to make playoff noise. The Raiders were left hopeless after Derek Carr went down with a broken leg, then the Chiefs played the Steelers at home in a game that greatly altered their franchise future. The Broncos failed to make the playoffs just a year off of winning the Super Bowl, and the Chargers couldn’t seem to get out of their own way blowing multiple games in the 4th quarter. Let’s go team by team to see what changes have been made over the off-season and what we expect to see from the AFC West this year.
Kansas City Chiefs:
Entering his 5th season as head coach of the Chiefs, Andy Reid has never had a Chiefs team be under .500. Most of the winning however has come before January. The Chiefs are a measly 1-3 under Reid in the playoffs, the lone win coming in the form of a Wild-Card round win against a weak Texans squad. For a historically steady franchise, this off-season has been far from it, and I believe it’s story line that isn’t being talked about enough. For starters, the Chiefs lost Chris Ballard in their front office when the Colts hired him to replace Ryan Grigson. They lost their director of pro-scouting, then also entered the draft process without their director of college scouting after he left to Buffalo. Jamaal Charles is no longer with the team after they chose not to re-sign him, so he went to the division rival Broncos. Then on draft night they made the blockbuster trade up to #10 with the Bills to nab Mahomes, giving up a first rounder next year to get it. They released Jeremy Maclin in a surprise move, then GM John Dorsey was fired in June over a contract dispute which is extremely unusual, especially for a guy who’s team just went 12-4 and won the division.
I’m still not sure how much stock I want to put into these changes. It’s weird to see this happening to a team that has been competitive the past four years, however the Chiefs roster is still supremely talented. I’d argue that they have the biggest wealth of pass-rushers in the league with Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Dee Ford who came along nicely last year, and Chris Jones who gets pressure from the interior. They also drafted 6’7″ Tanoh Kpassagnon from Villanova in the second round who is raw but has freaky measurables. The Chiefs defense is always solid, but offense is where they fail to get me excited about their 2017.
With the release of Maclin, the Chiefs’ offense has gotten worse if anything. Mahomes is not likely to contribute this season, and Alex Smith is still starting. Spencer Ware is good, the o-line is good, Travis Kelce is good, but nothing there is great. Tyreek Hill was explosive and won games single-handedly last year for them but it remains to be seen whether he can be a consistent threat. He’s a home-run hitter, who will consistently move the chains for them this year? DeAnthony Thomas is a gadget guy, Chris Conley is meh, as is Albert Wilson.
I worry that this sounds too much like me bashing the Chiefs, because they’re a good team. However, I see no reason why this season would be any different from the last one barring a Patrick Mahomes takeover, which I don’t expect to happen. The future of this franchise depends on the development of Mahomes, it would be a shame to see such a talented roster not do anything of note.
After winning Super Bowl 50, the Broncos missed the playoffs altogether last year, the first time since 2010. The defense suffered injuries and was not as dominant, the losses of Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan in the previous off-season did not help. They had signed Russell Okung to help sure up the o-line who wont be back in 2017, however the other tackle spot was unsteady all year and a turnstile for opposing teams. They drafted Garrett Bolles out of necessity at #20 yet still have a hole at the other tackle spot, and it remains to be seen whether Bolles will be good or which side he will play on. In a division where each team has at least one elite pass-rusher, it’s inexcusable to be this weak at tackle. Ty Sambrailo is slated as the starting left tackle and is horrendous, please smack anyone that tries to tell you otherwise.
I honestly don’t believe Trevor Siemian was the problem last year. He’s limited, but for being a 7th round pick, having limited help with the running game, and welcome gates for tackles I believed he performed very well. Despite this, I believe Paxton Lynch will start this season. You rarely see first round quarterbacks red-shirt their first season anymore which Lynch did, and at a certain point the guy just has to play. Jamaal Charles may give a boost in the run game, and Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas are an above average wide-out tandem to help out Lynch. The Broncos don’t have much at tight-end, but it remains to be seen how Jake Butt has come along since his torn ACL in the Orange Bowl back in January.
The defense will likely be strong again however they did lose coordinator Wade Phillips to the LA Rams. They drafted DeMarcus Lawrence who I like, and I strongly believe that their secondary is the best in the NFL. Talib and Harris are lockdown and Roby is a solid slot guy, while TJ Ward and Darian Stewart hold it down from behind. I think Shane Ray is really going to come on strong in his third season, the left side rusher spot is strictly his now after DeMarcus Ware retired. He will easily notch 10 sacks in 2017, but expect more.
The Broncos, along with the entire AFC West will be competitive next year, but their ceiling depends on Paxton Lynch. If he can play well and the offensive line manages to step up, the Broncos can easily make the playoffs and accomplish more.
Los Angeles Chargers:
The Chargers last season in San Diego was mainly one to forget, but there were still some positives that came out of it. Melvin Gordon proved he has the ability to be the franchise back that they had hoped he would become, and they have a young core with good potential. The Chargers have been a sneakily snake-bitten team over the past few years, last season being a prime example. Starting with week one at Arrowhead they let games they very well should have won slip through the cracks. But that was last season, and if anyone has a “clean slate” its the “Los Angeles” Chargers. San Diego followed the trend of NFL money grubs and relocated 2 hours north to Los Angeles. They fired their Head Coach Mike McCoy and brought in former Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn. The team is going through a shift in culture and ultimately this will be the right thing for the Chagers’ future.
Let’s start with Phillip Rivers. He is a total gamer, but the consistent mistake making from last season needs to stop for the veteran if he wants any shot at Lombardi’s silver trophy. Like most teams in the NFL, the Chargers will only go as far as he takes them. Rivers has shown he has the passion, competitiveness, and skill-set to take them far, it’s now just a matter of making it happen. They plucked physical receiver Mike Williams out of Clemson with the 7th overall pick and used the rest of their picks very wisely, adding much needed brawn and reinforcement to their O-line with Dan Feeny and Forrest Lamp. Williams will add versatility and length to Rivers’ box of toys that already includes Hunter Henry, who showed flashes of a future All Pro last year and Keenan Allen, who has proven he is a more than capable WR 1 or 2 but has had major issues staying healthy.They were also able to pick a few defensive pieces in the process, safeties RayShawn Jenkins from Miami and Desmond King, who was a consistent upper echelon Big 10 DB at Iowa.
Defensively, the Chargers have the talent to compete in what very well may be the best division in football. I love the hiring of former Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley at defensive coordinator. Up front they have multiple guys who can get after it, and Joey Bosa is undoubtedly one of the best young defensive players in football. Corey Liuget had a rough year in 2016 but is a proven defensive hole-plugger who still has some left in the tank and Melvin Ingram coming off the edge is the cherry on top to their exciting pass rush. They also have depth with guys like Jerimiah Attaochu and Damion Square. Their linebackers and secondary are going to have to rise to the occasion if they want to win games in the AFC West. Jason Verrett is a fringe “cover your best guy” corner and Casey Hayward is a comfortable second guy. Their safeties are older and not going to turn heads but I believe they have young guys that are capable and ready to step in.
The Chargers seem to be one of those sneaky teams that can rally around each other and win games in a competitive 2017 NFL. They have something to prove and their play will reflect that. I liked the flashes of Lynn I saw as an interim HC last year in Buffalo and it’ll be interesting to see how he does in his first season. I believe in Rivers’ capabilities as a leader and I think that offense has the weapons to keep up in the AFC West. Their O and D lines are solid and if they stay healthy I think the Chargers could even go as far as winning the division.
The team that has been the NFL’s offseason darling. To begin, the fact that this team is moving to viva Las Vegas is an absolute shame for anyone who cares about the NFL. Onward we go, Head Coach Jack “snake eyes” Del Rio will come into his second year with a group that will be a legitimate super bowl contender based on the way they played last season and the way their 125 million dollar man Derek Carr played last season. Having said that, I do not believe the Oakland Raiders are as dominant as we NFL fans are led to believe. The offense gained a what seems to be major addition with Marshawn Lynch fishing his cleats down from the telephone pole so he could lace em back up in his hometown just before the franchise he and all of Oakland love shuffles off to the gambling capital of America. But other than beastmode replacing Latavius Murray, the Raiders have been relatively quiet this offseason in terms of acquisitions. The addition of Gareon Conley via the draft was a good move for them to bring in a young athletic stud to plug in after the loss of D.J Hayden (Lions).
The Raiders presumed success is based off of their awe inspiring ability to win games in the 4th quarter last year. It is going to be difficult to mimic the efforts of last years triumphs, reminding you that they have to play Denver, KC, and Los Angeles (San Diego) twice. Defensively, Khalil Mack will be Khalil Mack and wreak havoc on anyone lined up against him, Karl Joseph still looks like he will be able to evolve into the banger that everyone knows he can become and I would like to see Mario Edwards Jr. step up to the plate and have a little breakout year, taking pressure off of Mack.
When it is all said and said again, like last year, the consistency and poise of Derek Carr will be the determining factor of the teams success. I can envision a year where him and Marshawn mesh well together and the offense is playing with confidence. That version of this team could soar and take a shot a the Patriots for the AFC crown. I can almost just as easily envision a level of disconnect and a team that lets games slip away to a mediocre year. Their schedule is competitive and a slumpy year in Oakland would not drop my jaw.
To whom it may concern, I am a big believer in Raiders 7th round pick Elijah Hood, loved watching him at UNC and could be a good back if he can translate his game.
- Los Angeles Chargers
- Oakland Raiders
- Denver Broncos
- Kansas City Chiefs
- Los Angeles Chargers
- Denver Broncos
- Oakland Raiders
- Kansas City Chiefs