NFL Preview: AFC West

Let’s ditch our boots, 10-gallon hats, and pistols and throw on a nice floral shirt, because (spoiler alert) this year the West is won in San Diego.


2017 Standings:

  1. Kansas City 10-6
  2. San Diego 9-7
  3. Oakland 6-10
  4. Denver 5-11

The best team in the West does not always win the West. That’s rule number 1. Last year, the best team in the West also had the worst kicking game in the West. Which ultimately was how the West was won. The Chiefs overperformed behind the stellar rookie season of Kareem Hunt and the stellarly average but serviceable quarterback play from Alex Smith (now an R-word) and won the division. The Chiefs were then beaten by the worst team to ever make the playoffs in any major sport, in any era, ever. They will not win the division again this year.

The Chargers were the best team in the West last year, and they will be again this year. The Raiders severely underperformed and thus Jack Del Rio saw his last game as a head coach in the NFL. The Broncos were terrible with a hodgepodge quarterback situation, and until they get that figured out (spoiler, Case Keenum is not the answer), at the bottom of the West is where they will reside. Let’s ditch our boots, 10-gallon hats, and pistols and throw on a nice floral shirt, because this year the West is won in San Diego.

San Diego Chargers

Key Addition: Any kicker

The Chargers were easily the best team in the league that did not make the playoffs last year, and quite honestly they were better than about half of the teams that did make the playoffs. The glaring weakness on the roster was a kicker that could make clutch field goals in-game winning situations. Caleb Sturgis and Robert Aguayo were brought in to battle it out during camp. Sturgis has been ok in his time in the NFL and Aguayo has been bad. The former second round pick, Aguayo, was let go by the Bucs because he was terrible. It seems like a second chance here for Aguayo is what he needs. His kicking talent is there, a change of scenery and maybe a change in mindset may be what he needs to get back on the right path.

Eye Test: Tunnel Vision

These guys are focused and ready to break through. Last year was a huge disappointment when you consider the Chargers were one of the hottest teams in the league at the end of 2017, and 5 of 7 of their losses were by one possession. The kicking game will be better (it can’t get any worse) and the division as a whole is not great. Philip Rivers is running out of room in his house with 8 kids, and needs to fill that last bedroom with a Lombardi trophy. The haters will say the Chargers are too old, but they are wrong. Monster years from Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, and yes, Antonio Gates will lead this Chargers team to a first-round bye.

Prediction: 12-4

Los Angeles (or is it still Oakland) Raiders

Key Addition: Jon Gruden

An uber-talented Raiders team fell far short of expectations last season and Mark Davis decided to go ahead and bring ol’ Chucky out of retirement. The Raiders also added key contributors in the passing game with receivers Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant, and punt return specialist Ryan Switzer. Jordy Nelson is not what he used to be, Martavis Bryant is still exceptionally skilled but an off the field liability, and Switzer is good at returning punts. So the responsibility lies on Gruden to bring out the best in each of them while minimizing their glaring weaknesses. Gruden has been out of the game (as a coach) since being fired by the Buccaneers following the 2009 season. The game has changed a ton since he last coached and I don’t think he’s going to win any Super Bowl’s with a quarterback the level of Brad Johnson anytime soon, so he’s lucky to have Derek Carr.

Eye Test: 20/40

This team could be a quick fix and a few months away from really hitting its stride, or it could be a train wreck led from the top down. Jon Gruden jumped from coaching into the booth and quickly became a fan favorite color guy on Monday Night Football. I don’t think his jump back into coaching is going to be as smooth. This team is incredibly talented, but a riff with star DE Khalil Mack could be early signs of things to come, and I believe Mack will be gone by week 1. The Raiders are one of the toughest teams to predict, but a disappointing year last year and a fresh start this year has me thinking that the Raiders will be near the top of the AFC West.

Prediction: 10-6

Kansas City Chiefs

Key Addition: Sammy Watkins

Pat Mahomes has a rocket of an arm. He can sling it all over the field and we got a little glimpse of that last year in week 17. Sammy Watkins was brought in to anchor the receiving corps and provide that consistent long ball and red zone target that the Chiefs expected Dwayne Bowe to be all those years ago. It could work. Sammy Watkins has always been talented, and until he found himself on an LA Rams roster midway through last season, had never had a quarterback under center that could truly throw it around. Now he’s got the chance to prepare an entire offseason/preseason and build rapport with a young arm that should be able to put this passing game back on the map.

Eye Test: Near-Sighted

I think that Pat Mahomes is better than what the average fan may think. Honestly, the average fan has no clue who Patrick Mahomes is and I think he and the Chiefs prefer it that way. Andy Reid always gets the best from his teams, even when he may not have the most talented roster. This division is not getting any easier, and that will make it hard for the Chiefs to stay near the top and in playoff contention. This squad is still a couple of years away, but could surprise some folks and beat some solid teams.

Prediction: 7-9

Denver Broncos

Key Addition: Case Keenum

The Denver defense got better with Bradley Chubb falling to #5 in the draft, but the real key here is having a solid #1 option at quarterback coming into this season. The downside here is that the solid #1 option at quarterback is Case Keenum. Sure, he took a Minnesota team that lost their star rookie running back and made it to the NFC Championship. But that was part luck and part incredible defensive play. Denver is definitely stronger on the defensive side of the ball, but they lost playmaker Aqib Talib and the receiving corps anchored by Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders isn’t getting any younger.

Eye Test: Far-Sighted

This team is a long ways off from contending again.  An average backfield will eat up some yards and take the pressure off of Keenum a bit, but this division is locked-in and going to put points on the board. I think Elway’s got some work to do over the next few years to put together an offense that will compete with the rest of the league. I could be wrong about Denver, but probably not.

Prediction: 5-11

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