Of the eight division in the National Football League, the AFC West is by far the most intriguing. The NFC East is always an interesting watch and each team in the NFC South has a seat at the table, but no division is as talented as the AFC West. So between the Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, and Los Angeles Chargers, who will take the division?
Predicting the AFC West Champion
Los Angeles Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers are a deceptively talented team. Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry, Jatavis Brown, Denzel Perryman, Melvin Ingram, and Joey Bosa are good pieces. On any given Sunday, this team can compete with just about any squad in the country. Last year, they kept losing games in the wackiest fashion, and they easily could’ve been in the playoff conversation.
The Los Angeles Chargers won’t win the AFC West this year for the same reason they couldn’t last year. They have to be able to play 60 minutes. The Chargers were the only team to lose to the Cleveland Browns last year, and Rivers led the NFL in interceptions. The Chargers have to tighten things up and win games when it matters most. It’ll be interesting to see how rookie head coach Anthony Lynn pans out.
When you look at Denver’s depth chart, some names really jump out at you. Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, Von Miller, and Brandon Marshall play big parts in what is arguably the NFL’s best defense. The Broncos have the NFL’s best secondary duo as well as arguably it’s best pass rusher. The Broncos can compete with just about anyone when their defense is playing well.
When the season starts, the starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos will either be Paxton Lynch or Trevor Siemian. As good as Denver’s defense is, they’re going to suffer without good quarterback play. The Broncos have a very difficult schedule, and they’re not going to be able to beat the elite teams with mediocrity under center.
Kansas City Chiefs
Two words, one man. Andy Reid. Andy Reid is probably the second best head coach in the National Football League. he gets the best out of his players, and finds the best players to fit his scheme. With players like Eric Berry and Justin Houston on the defense, Kansas City can compete with just about anyone.
Offensively, this team is very shallow. If the season began today, Tyreek Hill and Chris Conley would be the starting receivers. Pro Football Focus is hardly fool-proof, but they do give ballpark figures, and in 2016, Hill had a grade of 79.1, while Conley squeaked out a grade of 54.4, and yes, that’s out of 100. That’s easily the worst receiving duo in the division.
When you consider that Alex Smith is adequate at best and the Kansas City offensive line could still use some work, it makes you wonder where the points will come from. Travis Kelce is the second best tight end in football, but he can’t do it all by himself. This team just doesn’t have the firepower to compete with the big boys in the AFC.
On paper, the Oakland Raiders are the most talented team in the division. Derek Carr, Marshawn Lynch, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Jared Cook, Donald Penn, Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin, Sean Smith, David Amerson, and Karl Joseph are all supremely talented players. The team exploded in 2016, winning 12 games and making their first playoff appearance since 2002.
With another year under their belts, this young, hungry team is ready to take the next step in 2017. Lynch brings a new physicality to the team, and hopefully Carr takes the step from very good to elite this season. The Raiders are the most complete squad in the division, and if they play like it, they should win their first division title in over a decade.
The biggest issue with the Oakland Raiders is their defense. Last year, the Raiders defense seemed to make big plays when it mattered, late in games. And while that’s definitely not a bad thing, it’s a sign of a very, very bad thing. The Raiders defense just couldn’t play 60 minutes. They couldn’t cover tight ends, they gave up big plays down the field, and outside of Khalil Mack, they couldn’t rush the passer.
If the Raiders don’t fix these problems, they aren’t going to be able to get over the hill this season. They’ve had a hard time beating the Kansas City Chiefs, and while they may be more talented than Kansas City, talent isn’t everything. The Raiders lost the AFC West on a tiebreaker last year because the red and gold swept the silver and black. Look to rookies Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu to make an immediate impact for the Raiders.