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2018 NFL Forecast: AFC West Roundtable

NFL: San Diego Chargers at Indianapolis Colts Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Top to bottom, the AFC West is perhaps the toughest division to peg. The Raiders have a new coach, both the Chiefs and Broncos traded away their top corners and the Chiefs also jettisoned their starting quarterback. Expect all four teams in the division to remain competitive throughout the season.

In 2017, the Chiefs won the West with 10 wins, but bowed out in the wildcard round. The Chargers just missed out on the postseason, while the Raiders regressed from 2016 by six wins. Denver has traditionally been a force with five division titles since 2011 and 22 total playoff berths.

Jake’s Predictions:

1. Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs are in a clear transition period. Alex Smith is headed to Washington, bringing an end to a successful, but frustrating period under Andy Reid. Reid will turn to Patrick Mahomes, who some believe could help take them to the next level after there was a defined ceiling with Smith under center. I’m not sure I buy them as an immediate Super Bowl contender with Mahomes; he was known as a wild man on the field for Texas Tech, and that could translate to some growing pains. Still, I do not believe the the AFC West will be very challenging this season, so I expect them to remain atop the heap.

2. Oakland Raiders

Similar to Dallas, everything that could’ve gone wrong did in Oakland last season. As a result, I’m expecting things to stabilize a bit with a hopefully fully healthy Derek Carr. I’m not sure how far they will tilt back into the positive direction as Jon Gruden has them heading into unknown territory after a puzzling offseason. Some of the pieces they’ve brought in are a strange fit and I’m not sure what their new coaching staff will make of them. I’d expect the Raiders to end around 10-6 or 9-7 though, as I feel a big time bounce-back from Carr coming, which is really all you need to post double digits in the win column these days.

3. Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers have one of the strongest rosters in the AFC this year. So why do I have them at number three? Because I want them to go out and finally make good on all the praise they annually receive in the spring/summer. Every year we hear a breakout is coming with this team, and every year they seem to disappoint over a long stretch that ends up costing them in the big picture. In short, I very much believe they have the talent, I just want them to prove it. If they do, they could go a far as the Super Bowl. Until they do? Third in the AFC West.

4. Denver Broncos

This one rides on how everything shakes out with Case Keenum at the controls. He was a great story last year, but right now I’m not optimistic it’s going to go great with him in Denver. The Vikings were the perfect situation for him, and the fact that he took them all the way to the conference championship last season and they still let him walk should tell you all you need to know. It’s an unfortunate situation; Keenum is a true underdog who anyone can get behind. I’m just not sold that Denver’s coaching staff gets the best out of him.

Vasilis’ Predictions:

1. Los Angeles Chargers

Anthony Lynn’s Chargers are the most talented team in the division. On the defensive side of the ball, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram rate among the best bookend pass rushers in the league. Rookie Derwin James could be the steal of the first round, and he joins a talented secondary that features lockdown corner Casey Hayward. Steady quarterback Phillip Rivers and tailback Melvin Gordon should benefit from an upgraded offensive line that added Mike Pouncey and a healthy Forrest Lamp to a left side of Dan Feeney and Russell Okung. The loss of ascending tight end Hunter Henry will hurt the passing game, but in Keenan Allen and the talented Mike Williams, Rivers has plenty big receivers to target. Overall, Los Angeles’ well rounded roster should win the division.

2. Kansas City Chiefs

All eyes will be on Patrick Mohomes this season, but is is hard to argue against Andy Reid’s track record with quarterbacks. The second year signal caller will be able to spread the ball around to a plethora of game breakers in Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and the newly signed Sammy Watkins. And tailback Kareem Hunt hopes to build on an impressive rookie campaign. However, the Chiefs defense is poised to take a step back following the trade of ballhawking corner Marcus Peters. Ultimately, the availability of elite but injury prone edge Justin Houston and safety Eric Berry will determine if Kansas City earns a wildcard bid or is an also-ran.

3. Oakland Raiders

The Raiders lured Jon Gruden out of retirement with a ridiculous 10-year, $100 million contract, but Gruden’s comments since he took over the team have led some to speculate the game has passed him by. Oakland spent their first round pick on Kolton Miller, bolstering an already mauling offensive line. Franchise quarterback Derek Carr hopes to rebound from a down season. Veteran receiver acquisitions Jordy Nelson and the explosive Martavis Bryant should help Amari Cooper see more single coverage. Nonetheless, the key to the season will be improving their 23rd ranked defense. Stud end Khalil Mack cannot do it alone. There is a wide range of possibilities for the 2018 Raiders.

4. Denver Broncos

The Broncos defense should continue to rack up sacks with Von Miller, Shaq Barrett and rookie Bradley Chubb, yet it remains to be seen if their secondary can capitalize on the pressure after trading top corner Aqib Talib. GM John Elway aimed to bolster the offensive side with well rounded running back Royce Freeman and possession receiver Courtland Sutton. Still, new quarterback Case Keenum has to prove his strong season last year with the Vikings was not an anomaly. Despite recent investments, Denver’s offensive line remains a vulnerability and top wideout Demaryius Thomas is trending downward. The Broncos will need many variables to break in their favor in order to push for a wildcard spot.

Sage’s Predictions:

1. Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs played an integral role in the shake up of NFL quarterbacks this offseason. With Alex Smith now suiting up for the Redskins, Patrick Mahomes will get the keys to Chiefs Kingdom, after being selected 10th in the 2017 draft. In his final season at Texas Tech, Mahomes threw for 5,052 yards, completed 65.7 percent of his passes, threw 41 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. While Mahomes will face a learning curve as a first-year starter, he benefits from learning the offense last season, and more importantly, he is flanked by break out offensive weapons in Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt. Kansas City also signed elite wide receiver Sammy Watkins this offseason, who will be a reliable target for the young quarterback. The defense will need to fill the void of losing their leader in interceptions, corner Marcus Peters, especially since the Chiefs allowed 247 passing yards per game in 2018 (ranking 29th in the league for passing defense). A transitioning offense will need the defense to take steps forward if the Chiefs plan to claim the divisional title for the third year running.

2. Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers finished second in the division in 2017, despite going 3-3 against AFC West opponents. For Los Angeles to maintain their rank this season, they will need to have a winning record in the division as fans should anticipate that the Raiders and Broncos will improve on their dismal 2017 showings. With Philip Rivers entering his 15th NFL season and on the back end of his thirties, the Chargers have an abbreviated window with the veteran quarterback at the helm. Luckily, Rivers has a talented, youthful supporting cast in Melvin Gordon (age 25) and Keenan Allen (age 26). Gordon rushed for a career-high 1,105 yards last year and Allen lead the team in receiving yards (1,393), which was also the highest total of his five seasons in the league. On defense, defensive end Joey Bosa has lived up to his third overall selection in the 2016 draft, leading the Chargers in sacks at 12.5 in 2018. The Chargers will hope safety Derwin James came make the same kind of immediate impact. The 17th pick in this year’s draft, James recorded 84 tackles (5.5 for loss), two interceptions, 11 pass break-ups, and a blocked kick in his final season with the Seminoles.

3. Oakland Raiders

The Raiders have brought back former head coach Jon Gruden under a 10-year, $100 million deal. Gruden previously coached the Raiders from 1998 to 2001, finishing with a 59.4 regular season win percentage and a .500 record in the playoffs. Gruden will have to hope his decision to cut Michael Crabtree in favor of former Packer Jordy Nelson proves to be wise. Derek Carr was able to relatively maintain his stats in 2017, despite having suffered a broken fibula in Week 16 of the 2016 season. Oakland just barely edged out the Broncos to avoid the basement of the division last year, and will struggle once again to compete with the fire power of Los Angeles and Kansas City. For the Raiders to make an impact, they will look for Amari Cooper to return to his 1,000 yard receiving form and will continue to rely on the efforts of defensive end Khalil Mack, who lead the team in sacks and racked up Oakland’s second most in tackles in 2017.

4. Denver Broncos

The Broncos finished last in the division with a 2-4 record in the AFC West last season. While the defense improved from fourth in 2016 to third in total defense and made a big jump from 28th to fifth in rushing defense in 2018, it is clear that life after Peyton Manning is filled with trials. Now with Case Keenum taking over, there is some hope that the journeyman quarterback will be able to replicate his surprising success with Minnesota. With Von Miller approaching thirty and entering his eighth season in the league, the Broncos may be wasting the last few prime years of a stifling defense. While Keenum will provide some stability for receivers like Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, who both declined in productivity in 2017, the Broncos are still far away from regaining the strong hold they had over the division from 2011 to 2015.


Who will win the AFC West

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    (154 votes)
  • 16%
    (85 votes)
  • 29%
    (150 votes)
  • 22%
    (113 votes)
502 votes total Vote Now