2018 NFL Preview: AFC West

afc-westThe 2018 version of the AFC West is an interesting one but not necessarily because there are so many competitive teams.

There are just so many questions surrounding so many of the West teams that nobody really knows what to think about the future of this division.

It could rival the South for one of the best battles in the league but could also be a war of attrition more than anything else.

Talent is all over the division with every team having a number of very good players that are among the best in the league.

On the offensive side of the ball, there are great receivers that can all be among the best in the league while the running backs compete to earn the rushing title.

The talent on these teams makes it fun to think about the battle for the division title that could be in place.

When talent takes on talent the fans are the real winners and in these divisional battles that could be the case.

Over the last few years though things have been so unsteady in this division that those great games could turn into terrible games.

The Chiefs have been one of the most consistent teams in the league but they have never really had the defence to compete with the top teams in the league.

Still, they are exciting to watch with some stars that can break games open with one play but instead of sticking with it they made a major change under centre.

Alex Smith is gone and Patrick Mahomes takes over in his second year leaving a massive question mark of the team.

Mahomes could be just as good or better and more exciting than Smith or he could struggle to adjust with all eyes on him for the first time.

The old power has fallen hard as Denver used to be the most feared team in the division but their lack of offence has put them in the basement.

They head into a new season answering their biggest question, the quarterback position, but there are still some lingering questions.

The biggest one being, is a new quarterback enough to bring the team out of the basement or is their time to compete over?

In Oakland, a new coach hopes to bring back the excitement of 2016 but nobody knows what he can bring to the table.

In the last ten years, the game has evolved in a major way and Jon Gruden will need to adjust to the new game after a decade in the broadcast booth.

He also has some questions on the field as his defence lacks the depth and star power of major teams around the league.football-sidebar

Will a slight offensive rebuild be enough to overcome the failings of a defence that is good but not great?

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the Chargers are becoming the forgotten team in Los Angeles because they failed to make the playoffs.

They are not a bad team but they continue to miss the playoffs despite their talent and with few changes they don’t know what is to come.

They might have to wait for answers on just how good the other teams can be in order to really see where they are headed.

The AFC West is a group of teams with a lot of talent and a lot of unknowns that makes it an intriguing fight for the title.

If everything works out the way that the teams are hoping all four teams could be in on the fight for the top spot.

If the answers to these questions turn out on the negative side it could be a matter of a team just getting by enough to take a spot.

Nobody really knows what will happen and that makes this division a fun one to think about, although possibly not fun to watch.

Can the young teams that seemed to be ready to take over in 2016 get back to that promise or will the old powers come back to take their spot?

denver_broncos

The Denver Broncos are still a bit in shock as this is the team that won Super Bowl 50 and just as it seemed like they were finding their groove they fell right to the bottom of the division. The biggest issue has brought light to just how important the quarterback position is in the NFL especially in this era. When the team won the Super Bowl they were led by a great defence but had the services of Peyton Manning under centre. denbroncosAlthough Manning wasn’t the QB he used to be when he played in Denver he was a presence in the backfield and helped them to that win. When he retired after the Super Bowl the Broncos had nobody to replace him and despite still having a good defence they couldn’t do anything on offence without a solid QB. Heading into the new season they are hoping that a new QB can bring them out of the basement. That new QB is Case Keenum who has slowly developed from a journeyman to a potential NFL-calibre starter. This will be his chance to prove that he has what it takes to be a starter and to lead a team and he will do it without having to fill in for someone and without having someone sitting behind him. He has two legitimate targets in the passing game as Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are great pass catchers. If Jake Butt can develop into a third this passing game could be in pretty good hands. The running game will look different as C.J. Anderson was cut leaving Devontae Booker to take over the starter’s role with the confidence of his coaching staff. The defence has been the strength of this team but has been crippled by the offence over the last few years who can’t stay on the field. With a better offence they hope to get back to their dominant selves and a lot of it will have to do with their group up front. Von Miller remains one of the best pass rushers in the game and he might get some serious support with the addition of rookie Bradley Chubb on the other side of the line. In the linebacking corps the leading tackler Brandon Marshall is back to solidify a group without many big names. Meanwhile, the secondary is changed after being a strength for this team for so long. Chris Harris returns to lead the group while Bradley Roby takes on a bigger role as they try to remain a solid group. The Broncos are a team that needs to get better or some big changes might be happening. They will look to the quarterback position to lead the way but without any improvement, the time could be over for the Broncos.

kansas_city_chiefs

The Chiefs are a team that has enjoyed a lot of success in recent years as they were once confined to the basement of the league. That seemed to all change when they signed Alex Smith to lead an offence that became one of the most consistent in the league. Despite the success and four straight seasons with over 3,000 passing yards, Smith was never truly accepted. He could never shake the title of game manager and as he made the playoffs kcchiefspeople still doubted his ability. It was largely because of this that the Chiefs moved up in the 2016 draft to pick Patrick Mahomes as the future of the position. After Smith’s best season under centre (4,042 yards and 26 touchdowns) the Chiefs moved on hoping that their young QB can do it better. 2018 will mark Mahomes’ first chance at starting in the NFL and he has the talent around him to be very successful. Kareem Hunt came out of nowhere last year to win co-rookie of the year with Alvin Kamara. If he can repeat his performance the pressure will be off of Mahomes to do all of the work. When they do want to go through the air they have the targets as Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce both earned over 1,000 yards last year. Adding Sammy Watkins to the mix provides three targets for Mahomes. Despite the big change coming on offence, it has never really been their issue as their defence has been the concern. In 2018 things are going to look drastically different especially in the secondary where almost all of the starters from a year ago are gone including their best corner in Marcus Peters. They will still have their veteran leader though as Eric Berry returns from an injury that kept him out of most of the 2017 season. He will be joined by Kendall Fuller, the result of the Smith trade, returning veteran Steve Nelson and new addition David Amerson. The linebackers will look different as well with Derrick Johnson gone leaving second-year backer Reggie Ragland and free agent signee Anthony Hitchens to make up for his absence in the middle. On the outside, Justin Houston is among the best rushers in the game but rarely plays a full season while Dee Ford hasn’t really lived up to expectations. Up front, the Chiefs are hoping that Chris Jones can continue his rise alongside Allen Bailey to get more pressure and help out a rebuilt secondary. The Chiefs are beginning a new era but a lot of the same issues exist. As much as everyone focused on the quarterback he was never the problem and without major upgrades, on defence, this team will remain a playoff team but not much more.

san_diego_chargers

The Chargers are fighting two battles right now as they took a chance and moved to Los Angeles last year, a year later than the Rams. They are now fighting for a playoff spot on the field as well as fighting to gain the attention from a fickle Los Angeles sports base that seems to be closer to the Rams. Winning will help and the Chargers have the talent to be a playoff team like their new-in-town rivals but they always seem to be just on the lachargersoutside. They head into a new season looking to capture that attention of the crowd with a playoff run and will do it with a team that looks much like the one they had last year. The offence has always been the concentration of this team and it is hard not to be with a quarterback like Philip Rivers under centre. In the last ten years, Rivers has only thrown for less than 4,000 yards once and is 9th overall in career passing yards. It helps that he continues to have great targets and he has exactly that in Keenan Allen who showed what he could do when he is healthy after missing all but one game in 2016. One of the most reliable targets for Rivers is now gone with Antonio Gates gone and with Hunter Henry out for the year due to an ACL tear, free agent signing Virgil Green takes the spot in his first real shot as the main target. In the backfield Rivers gets plenty of support with Melvin Gordon as one of the best young backs in the game breaking 1,000 yards in his third season. With a slightly rebuilt line, they hope to rely a little more on that running game to open up the air attack. The defence is in a bit of a rebuild mode but the investment made is paying off more and more every year. Joey Bosa has put up 23 sacks in his first two years and playing opposite Melvin Ingram helps both players get to the quarterback. The middle of the defence needs to be better as they were weak against the run and the Chargers are hoping that Denzel Perryman can play a full season to help a less than stellar linebacking group. The secondary should be a strength this year even with the loss of Tre Boston. Casey Heyward continues to put on Pro Bowl performances and anchors a group that loves to get to the ball. The Chargers are a talented team and can make a run at the playoffs but it might all depend on how the other teams develop. There aren’t enough improvements to say they will be better this year and so they almost have to hope that other teams are worse.

oakland_raiders

The Raiders were on the comeback trail after 2016 marked the first time in more than a decade that the Silver and Black were in the playoffs. They had a number of young talented players that were looking like they were just getting started and it left a legendary team on the edge of something special. Then 2017 came and became a massive reality check that they may not be ready quite yet. They fell to 6-10 in a disappointing oakraidersseason that left them trying to figure out a solution before the 2016 playoff appearance became a fluke. That solution came with one of the biggest signings in the off-season as they brought back a former coach in Jon Gruden to take this team to another level. Now he returns as one of the biggest coaching targets for the last few offseasons only choosing to leave his broadcasting role to come back for the Raiders. Gruden has always had success with quarterbacks and in Derek Carr, he has a young guy that showed how good he could be in 2016 but took a step back in 2017. If Gruden can work with Carr and get him to be more consistent the ability for this offence to be explosive is there. They will hope that Amari Cooper’s sophomore slump ends and that he provides a good compliment to Jordy Nelson. Jared Cook should get more chances in this new offence and after leading the team in receiving yards that could mean big things. The running game will also be a bigger focus and Marshawn Lynch continues to lead the group but will likely split a bit of time with new addition Doug Martin. On the defence, the Raiders may have some work to do if Khalil Mack continues to hold out into the regular season. He is their best pass rusher and one of the only true superstars on the defence so without him, this group looks entirely different. They went to work trying to build around him adding Tank Carradine while they hope to get more out of Bruce Irvin who moves back to the line. The additions of Tahir Whitehead and Derrick Johnson are big for the linebacking corps giving them two proven veterans. The secondary has just as many new faces with Marcus Gilchrist and Rashaan Melvin taking over starting roles after signing this year and providing a minor upgrade for the group. The Raiders could be a better team this year, especially on offence but there are some massive questions. Everyone is waiting to see what Gruden can do in this new NFL while their defensive hopes rely heavily on an unhappy superstar returning to form before it’s too late.

Prediction:
The West is an interesting group with so many questions that could make all of the difference in the fight for the division title. The Raiders and the Chiefs seem like the teams who have made positive changes for the most part and could be the most explosive. The Raiders might just take the edge to win the division as the backward step they took last year seems more like an aberration. The Chiefs are risking it on a young arm but the talent is there to compete and they might be able to grab a wild card spot. The Chargers will be just out of the running again but if the Raiders and Chiefs struggle it is their division to win. Denver is simply not good enough this year as the new QB is not a sure thing and despite their talent, they still don’t seem to be the team they were two years ago.

afcwest-prediction

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 168 other followers

%d bloggers like this: