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2016 NFL Forecast : AFC West

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Ric Tapia/NFL

The Denver Broncos rode a dominant defense to a 12-win regular season and Super Bowl championship last season. Kansas City also earned a playoff bid after going undefeated over the final two months of the season and then shut out the Texans in the AFC Wild Card round before falling to the Patriots. The Broncos have won the division for the last five consecutive seasons.

Denver, Kansas City and Oakland all have a legitimate chance to win the AFC West in 2016. The Broncos and Chiefs lost some key players in free agency, but still have the personnel to field strong teams, while the Raiders supplemented their young roster through a skillful free agent spending spree. The Beatdown staff believes all three teams could make it to the playoffs...

First Place: Kansas City Chiefs

We don't hear much about the Chiefs being talked about as true Super Bowl contenders in the AFC. They are not even talked about much in their own division. But this Chiefs team is the best in this division with a strong defense, a well-balanced offense, and Andy Reid, one of the best head coaches in the league. They get Jamaal Charles back to go along with Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware, forming a formidable three-headed attack. Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce are viable weapons for quarterback Alex Smith.  Someone has to emerge opposite Maclin, look for Chris Conley to try to fill that role. Despite the loss of CB Sean Smith, this defense is still very good with Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, Dontari Poe and Jaye Howard. Not to mention the defensive rookie of the year Marcus Peters. The defense will be even better with the return of Justin Houston from ACL surgery during the season. The Chiefs take this division, but the key to the Chiefs first championship since the Hank Stram days are in the hands of Alex Smith. - Evan Mazza

This team stumbled heavily out of the gate last season only to go on a seemingly endless winning streak that got them into the playoffs. I wouldn't expect them to be as bi-polar this season, but rather to continue that run of great form all the way to a 2016 division title. - Jacob Louque

The Chiefs had the second-best turnover differential (+14) in the league last season, that may prove difficult to duplicate. A healthy season from stud pass rusher Justin Houston, who missed five games last season, will boost the pass rush along with ends Allen Bailey and rookie Chris Jones. Eric Berry is a star at the free safety spot, but the loss of corner Smith could leave the pass defense vulnerable to vertical passing threats. RB Charles, WR Maclin and TE Kelce give the Chiefs quality offensive weapons, and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz will improve the OL. However, Alex Smith simply does not have the arm talent required for a deep playoff run. - Vasilis Lericos

Second Place : Oakland Raiders

The rebuilding in Oakland is complete. With the trio of Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and Latavius Murray, the offense will put up points in bunches. But what puts them over the Broncos is their offseason additions. Kelechi Osemele and Bruce Irvin are studs that provide instant improvements on both sides of the ball. First round pick Karl Joesph will find it hard to step into Charles Woodson’s shoes, but he a future star. Oh yeah, and they have one of the top three defensive players in the NFL in Khalil Mack. - Matt Cohen

On paper, the Raiders look like the most talented team in the division. Yet, they went 1-7 against playoff teams last season and lack big game experience. Khalil Mack is poised to become the premier pass rusher in the NFL. The pass defense should be very good with Irvin bookending Mack, Sean Smith matching up with #1 receivers and Reggie Nelson covering up the back end. The WR duo of Cooper and Michael Crabtree along with the OG duo of Gabe Jackson and Osemele are the strengths of the offense. It could take a season for all the new players to assimilate, but Oakland should be a juggernaut in 2017. - Vasilis Lericos

The Raiders enter the 2016 season with the most optimism this franchise has had in a LONG TIME. The die hard fans of the Silver and Black can finally have a season to look forward to thanks to a 7-9 record in 2015 that showed some of the talent they have on the roster like quarterback Derek Carr, wide receiver Amari Cooper and defensive end Mack. The Raiders then went out and signed Kelechi Osemele, Bruce Irvin, Sean Smith, and Reggie Nelson. Latavius Murray also emerged by rushing for 1,000 yards and 6 touchdowns. Head coach Jack Del Rio's Raiders are primed and ready for the teams first playoff appearance since winning the AFC Championship in 2002. They will have to truly earn a playoff berth, fighting with the Chiefs for the division crown and an AFC field that will be better. - Evan Mazza

Third Place : Denver Broncos

This team won the Super Bowl with the worst quarterback in the NFL last season, thanks mostly to their stifling defense. They should still be good on the defensive side in 2016, but the loss of Danny Trevathan and Malik Jackson shouldn't be totally overlooked.  I still can't be sold on Mark Sanchez leading them to anything more than a wild card berth. - Jacob Louque

The defending champs retain most of their historic defense and the majority of the core on their offense. The biggest hole for them is at the most important position, quarterback. Mark Sanchez and Paxton Lynch are not the most appealing options. But Brock Osweiler and Peyton Manning never played exceptionally well last year, and the team still won a Super Bowl. Maybe this new group of quarterbacks can get the job done for the boys in orange. - Matt Cohen

Predicting the trajectory of the defending champs is difficult. Even after the free agent departures, their defense should be fierce with a quartet of edge rushers in Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Shaq Barrett and Shane Ray complimented by a trio of shutdown cornerbacks, including Aqib Talib, Chris Harris and Bradley Roby. The weak OL was addressed with veteran tackles Russell Okung and Donald Stevenson. The potential for the offense will be ultimately be determined by receiver Demaryius Thomas.  If he can rebound from a down season last year, he can make Sanchez or Lynch look capable, just like he did for Tim Tebow in 2011. - Vasilis Lericos

Fourth Place : San Diego Chargers

They get Keenan Allen back from injury this year, but there are just so many holes. They will fight with Cleveland for the worst record in the AFC. - Matt Cohen

2015 first round pick Melvin Gordon was a disappointment last year as he did not get 100 yards rushing in a single game last year, or score a single rushing touchdown. I don't put it all on him because the Chargers offensive line was decimated with injuries last year. If they can stay healthy, look for Gordon to show why the Chargers drafted him with the 15th overall pick a year ago. Melvin Ingram, coming off a 10.5 sack season, is going to get help on the opposite end with the draft pick of Joey Bosa. The Chargers will score some points on offense led by Phillip Rivers. He will be throwing to weapons like old reliable Antonio Gates, wide receiver Allen and the newly acquired Travis Benjamin. This is a wait and see year for The Bolts, as they hope that some of their young pieces like Bosa and Gordon can come together to form a contending team in the next few years.- Evan Mazza

I liked what the Chargers did this offseason, but they still strike me as a somewhat soulless team. Phillip Rivers is fantastic, but Melvin Gordon and the San Diego defense need to step up in a big way if he is to ever get the supporting cast he deserves. - Jacob Louque