2017 NFL Preview: AFC West

afc-westThe AFC West is a division with plenty of changes as this is one of the most exciting times for the division.

There are plenty of divisions where things have been boring for a long time and although it provides dominant teams it doesn’t provide those exciting division battles.

These teams play each other twice every year and when one team begins to take over and gives the other teams no chance the regular season turns out to be a boring one.

The AFC West is no stranger to that type of boring play within the division as it has a long tradition of being a division with one dominant team.

From 2006 to 2009 the San Diego Chargers were the only team to take home the division title leaving no room for anyone else.

The other teams in the division were all struggling at that time and no matter what struggles the Chargers may have had they still took home division title year after year.

The Kansas City Chiefs broke their rule over the division in 2010 but that win was just a blip before another dominant team took over.

The Denver Broncos were next winning every division title from 2011 until 2015 with a Super Bowl win mixed into that period.

The Broncos gave way to the division spoilers last year as the Chiefs took another division title ending another long streak.

The West has been a division full of dominant teams with little room left for the rest of the teams to actually make an impact.

It was one of the most boring divisions in the league for years as teams continued to take over while all the others struggled to find their groove.

That might just be changing as the future seems very bright for the West and that future might arrive in 2017.

The Broncos are a team without a veteran QB but they have a lot of young options that could provide stability for years to come.

They also still have a great defence that can reduce the issues that these young QBs are sure to experience.

The Chargers, now the second Los Angeles team in the league, are still hanging on with one of the top QBs in the league every year, even if he doesn’t get the credit.

They may not be the team they used to be but they are not pushovers that the rest of the division can run through.

The Chiefs are that team that seems to find the right combination every now and then and despite coming up just short while the Broncos ruled they have regularly been in the hunt.

With one of the most debated quarterbacks in the league along with one of the top coaches of all time, they could always provide a spark.football-sidebar

Then there is perhaps the most exciting team in the league with the Oakland Raiders potentially having figured things out.

It has been a long time since the league feared the Raiders but with a young QB that is only getting better things have been turning a corner for the team.

Now with a native son in the backfield, the Raiders hope to begin their own time on top of the league after making the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

Of course, there is no team that wants to see the Raiders return to greatness especially not in the division and the fight is always going to be a tough one.

The West is an interesting division with a lot of unknowns and a lot of answers coming in the next season.

Can the Broncos’ defence make up for the lack of experience under centre? Does Phillip Rivers still have it? Can the Raiders finally break through? And What Chiefs team shows up?

2017 might not give a definitive answer to any of these questions and the many more that people have.

It will still be fun to keep an eye out for as they all have great potential to be answered and a new era might be underway.

That new era might still be a year or two away but one thing is for sure, whoever is ready to start the new era will have to do it this year.

The battle could be a great one in the division with only one division title up for grabs and four teams with their chances to grab that title.

denver_broncos

The Denver Broncos were riding a high for a number of years in the West as they landed one of the biggest free agents at the exact right time. When the Broncos signed Peyton Manning they went from being a good team to a Super Champion team. That move pushed them to the top of the league but Manning was a small piece in what was a larger build. Everyone agrees that Manning wasn’t the reason the Broncos took home a Super den-statsBowl as the defence was carrying the team while Manning did what he needed to do to get wins. Despite the fact that Manning wasn’t necessarily the greatest quarterback while in Denver he certainly turned out to be the linchpin. The Broncos have not done well without Manning who retired after winning that Super Bowl. The struggles at quarterback began immediately as their QB in waiting, Brock Osweiler left for a big payday in Houston leaving them with an unproven Trevor Siemian to lead the team in 2016. As important as the defence is to the success of this team they still need a quarterback that can run the offence effectively even if he isn’t a super star. Siemian will get that opportunity again this year as his training camp battle with the man many think is the future of the position in Denver, Paxton Lynch, ended with Lynch being hurt. It has essentially given Siemian another shot after a good but not great season under centre. Much of the rest of the Super Bowl offence remains intact as Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are still the best targets in the passing game for Siemian. The backfield will look slightly different though as C.J. Anderson will provide the power alongside Devontae Booker while Jamaal Charles provides a change of speed for the offence that can make things very difficult for opposing defences. The Broncos will hope the offence improves in Siemian’s second year but as usual, they will look to their defence for leadership. That leadership starts and ends on the outside as rush linebacker Von Miller remains one of the best in the league. He will be without partner DeMarcus Ware on the other side but the ageing veteran wasn’t putting up the same numbers before he retired. They tried to reload on the line signing Domata Peko and Zach Kerr but neither are going to make a make a massive difference. The defensive backfield is one of the best as Chris Harris, Darian Stewart and the ageless Aqib Talib remains a tough group to get past. The Broncos will still have a tough defence that will be the reason for their success and the reason for their playoff hopes. They might come up just short though as the offence has some work to do if they want to get back to the playoffs.

kansas_city_chiefs

The Chiefs tend to come out of nowhere and end the reign of one of the most dominant teams in the division. In 2010 they ended the reign of the Chargers and last year they did the same to the Broncos. Ever since Andy Reid got to town they have been a team to watch and they have been hovering around the top of the division with him in charge. Finally, in 2016, they were able to complete the goal of winning the division and taking it kc-statsout of the hands of the Broncos. Things have been going well in Kansas City under Reid but they haven’t been going well enough for many. They may be in the fight every year and ready to take on the playoffs every year but they can’t quite get any further than that. The Chiefs are at a point as they head into a new season that being in the playoffs is just not good enough anymore. They have to take that next step and if they don’t do it soon the team might go from a great turnaround story to an underwhelming team. A part of that struggle to take the next step has been the lack of offence for the Chiefs under Reid. Their passing offence has been barely serviceable as 2014 marked a full year without a receiver catching a touchdown pass. For many Alex Smith is the problem as he has been labelled as a game manager. Smith will hope to prove that he can be that Super Bowl calibre QB and he has the talent to do it as Travis Kelce has become one of the top tight ends in the league. They are without Jeremy Maclin who had an off year in 2016 and so Chris Conley and Albert Wilson will need to step up while Tyreek Hill needs to prove he can be a reliable deep threat. In the backfield, things are a bit up in the air as Jamaal Charles is gone and Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West could share touches while rookie Kareem Hunt looks to take over a feature role. The Chiefs’ defence is great at putting up their own points but last year were without some of their best players. This year the defence should be better with one of the best pass rushers in the league, Justin Houston back from a knee injury. He will be joined by Dee Ford who broke out last year and could provide a great running mate. On the line, the Chiefs will miss Dontari Poe but are hoping that Bennie Logan can fill the hole. With Marcus Peters and Eric Berry patrolling the defensive backfield quarterbacks have a hard time completing passes. The Chiefs have lost some top players but they still have talent, whether or not that talent is enough to get over that hurdle could be the question as they will fight for the playoffs but might not make a run at the Super Bowl.

san_diego_chargers

The San Diego Chargers are now the second team in Los Angeles, although they will spend a few years in Carson before moving to Inglewood. They will follow the Rams to one of the biggest markets in the USA in hopes that they can find their niche among the host of other things to do in LA. The Chargers are going to have to deal with a lot of the same issues that the Rams dealt with last year as they have moved around a lot as they lac-statsbegan to get settled in a brand new place without a lot of warning. They are trying to prove that it doesn’t matter and with the talent on this team they can easily do that. The problem over the last few years has been that the Chargers have had amazing talent that tends not to play a lot of football. Every year there seems to be another injury that hurts the team and with Philip Rivers nearing the end of his career the time is coming for the Chargers to make a run before it’s too late. Their first year in their new city, or at least near their new city, could be great depending on how much of their talent can stay on the field. Rivers remains one of the best quarterbacks in the league especially when he has players to throw to, which was not the case in 2016. Keenan Allen was supposed to be a solution for Rivers who needed a true top-tier receiver but he hurt his knee in training camp in 2016 and was unavailable for the entire season. He returns in 2017 hoping to be that solution while the Chargers wait on top draft pick Mike Williams who could provide a great second target if he can recover from his back injury in time to play this year. One of Rivers’ favourite targets returns for another year as Antonio Gates keeps going as a top target in the offence. The running back spot will miss the versatility of Danny Woodhead but Melvin Gordon proved that he is good enough to carry the load after a tough first year in the league. On defence, the Chargers made a great decision in 2016 with Joey Bosa who proved that he could be a star at this level. Adding him alongside Melvin Ingram gives them a promising pass rush this year. At cornerback Casey Hayward needs to continue his great performance because the rest of the defensive backfield is not as good as he has been. The Chargers have the talent to win this division but they need to avoid injuries, which have already affected their off-season signings. They can compete and likely will as they could be taking a playoff spot even if it isn’t at the top of the division.

oakland_raiders

The Oakland Raiders are going to be the third team to move in the last few years but it won’t be this year. After years of threatening to leave the Raiders finally pulled the trigger and will be headed to Las Vegas. They won’t be headed there this year though as the Raiders will stick around Oakland for a three more years until their stadium is built in Sin City. That makes the 2017 season the beginning of their victory lap as they say oak-statsgoodbye to the black hole and to Oakland for the second time. The move comes at the worst time for those fans that have packed Oakland Coliseum as the Raiders are finally good after years of struggling to be relevant in the league. The Raiders have begun to build a seriously dangerous team led by Derek Carr under centre who has been a bit of a surprise as one of the top young QBs in the game. Last year they made their move towards the playoffs but an injury to Carr at the end of the season sunk their chances pretty quickly and they were out in the first round. With a new season and some big new additions, the Raiders are hoping that they can continue to build a great team as they head into their final years in the Bay. Carr leads this team once again after injuring his leg near the end of the year last season as he needs to continue to grow if the Raiders have a chance. Carr has some serious weapons in the passing game as Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree form a serious one-two punch through the air. What is exciting this year for the Raiders is the addition of Marshawn Lynch who came out of retirement to play for his local team. It is likely only a three-year deal as he is coming back simply for the city he grew up in and if he can bring that Seahawks level of intensity to his running the Raiders have found a special and motivated back. On defence, the Raiders had a tough time last year despite also having the Defensive Player of the Year. Khalil Mack was one of the only bright spots last year with 11 sacks while Bruce Irving added 7 of his own. That was all of the sacks they would get though as they were one of the worst teams at getting to the quarterback. They are hoping that a healthy season from Mario Edwards can change things while a new addition in Jelani Jenkins hopes to sure up the second level. A veteran defensive backfield led by Reggie Nelson is getting some injection of youth with smart draft picks but they aren’t the best in the league. The Raiders are a team on the rise and with their talent, they can and likely will win this division but a deep run might be too much for the young team.

Prediction:
The AFC West is just getting interesting as every team has the talent to win this division but only one will come out on top. It looks like that could be the Raiders who are the young team on the rise as they look to their playmakers to push them over the top. The Chargers and Chiefs will certainly put up a fight but a healthy Chargers team will end up being the biggest challenger for the Raiders, earning a playoff spot but not the division. The Chiefs will fall short leading to some questioning where they go after this season. Meanwhile, the Broncos will also put up a good push but their lack of offence will sink them to the bottom of the division. It seems like an interesting season where anything can happen despite the best-laid plans by each team.

afcw-prediction

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