Los Angeles Chargers – 1st in the AFC West
Last Season Record: (9-7)
Key Additions: Virgil Green, Mike Pouncey, Derwin James, and Caleb Sturgis. The addition of Virgil Green at tight end gives the aging Philip Rivers another weapon on offense. Mike Pouncey is an experienced player who can lead the offensive line alongside Russell Okung and Dan Feeney. Derwin James, the first-round draft pick at safety, will be an excellent boost of youthful energy. At 6’2” and 215 pounds, James will be an immediate impact on the defensive side of the ball. Caleb Sturgis at kicker literally can’t be any worse than recent kickers for the Chargers.
Key Losses: Antonio Gates, Matt Slauson, and Jeremiah Attaochu. Antonio Gates will be considered a legend in Chargers history as one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the game. Losing him will be hard to overcome on and off the field. Matt Slauson’s absence will mean that Mike Pouncey has to step up big for his new team and Dan Freeney will need to continue displaying the All-Rookie talent he showed last season. Losing Attaochu likely means the Chargers will depend more on Denzel Perryman who has not shown that he can be an exceptionally outstanding linebacker.
Prediction: (9-7) I spent fifteen minutes looking back and forth between my spreadsheet of every NFL game this season and the NFL tiebreaker rules to figure out who tops the division between the Chargers and the Raiders. I made it all the way to the “best winning percentage in common games” section before being able to crown Los Angeles as the champions of the AFC West; that’s how wide open this division is. Philip Rivers will turn 37 during the upcoming season, but with options like Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Virgil Green, it shouldn’t take a career year from Rivers for the Chargers to do decent. Melvin Gordon will also take some of the pressure off Rivers and hopefully somebody other than Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Casey Hayward can step up and shine on defense. Wins should come in a hot streak at the beginning of the year against Buffalo, San Francisco, and Oakland. The second half of the season will contain most of the losses with opponents like Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Denver.
Oakland Raiders – 2nd in the AFC West
Last Season Record: (6-10)
Key Additions: Doug Martin, Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant, Kolton Miller, Ryan Switzer, Tahir Whitehead, Derrick Johnson, Emmanuel Lamur, and Rashaan Melvin. The Raiders had an extremely busy offseason. Acquiring Doug Martin is a great way to take some of the workload off Marshawn Lynch’s shoulders. Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant will be great weapons for Derek Carr, assuming that they can stay on the field for the whole season. Kolton Miller was drafted in the first round and should have an immediate impact on the offensive line. Ryan Switzer made the All-Rookie team last season and will be a great special teams/receiving option. Tahir Whitehead, Derrick Johnson, and Emmanuel Lamur should all be starters at linebacker as soon as the season starts. Rashaan Melvin will be able to fill the gap at corner left by T.J. Carrie.
Key Losses: Michael Crabtree, T.J. Carrie, Denico Autry, and David Amerson. Losing Crabtree was big blow for the Raiders offense, but hopefully the addition of Bryant and Nelson can overcome that. T.J. Carrie and David Amerson were both significant losses at corner, but that may not be such a bad thing considering that it led to Rashaan Melvin being signed. Denico Autry gone means that Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin will have even more pressure on them to continue performing at a high level, although I think they can both handle it.
Prediction: (9-7) For the majority of the Raiders new signings, character issues and off the field problems might get more attention than their performance in the games, but don’t count this team out so soon. Derek Carr has proven that he can play at an elite level and as long as he has some help, there’s no reason why the Raiders shouldn’t be able to finish with a winning record. Gruden knows a lot about football and I have complete faith in him as a head coach. A schedule that isn’t too challenging will allow the Raiders to get wins against teams like Cincinnati, Baltimore, Miami, and Cleveland. However, I don’t think they’re quite ready for tougher teams like the Rams, Steelers, and Chargers just yet.
Kansas City Chiefs – 3rd in the AFC West
Last Season Record: (10-6)
Key Additions: Sammy Watkins, Xavier Williams, Anthony Hitchens, Kendall Fuller, and David Amerson. Sammy Watkins has the potential to be one of the top receivers in the league, assuming he stays helathy for the entire season. Xavier Williams is likely going to be starting at NT when the season starts, or at least splitting heavy minutes with Derrick Nnadi, one of the players drafted by the Chiefs this year. Anthony Hitchens, Kendall Fuller, and David Amerson are all going to be a force at linebacker and corner on an already solid defense, with the loss of Marcus Peters being the only major hole to fill.
Key Losses: Alex Smith, Zach Fulton, Albert Wilson, Bennie Logan, and Marcus Peters. Losing Alex Smith was a big deal for Kansas City. They’re choosing to put their faith in Patrick Mahomes, the 23-year-old out of Texas Tech that has only played one game for the Chiefs, has more interceptions that touchdowns, and only got a 58.2 QBR against a Denver team that went 5-11 last year. Losing Zach Fulton on the offensive line won’t help Patrick at all either. The departure of Albert Wilson should be manageable as long as Sammy Watkins can stay on the field. Without Bennie Logan, the majority of the defensive linemen for the Chiefs will all be youthful players with less experience. Marcus Peters was a major loss at cornerback, obviously, but the Chiefs have a decent replacement in David Amerson.
Prediction: (8-8) This upcoming season for the Chiefs completely depends on the performance of Patrick Mahomes. The defense is solid and Mahomes has an arsenal of weapons around him in Hunt, Kelce, Hill, and Watkins. He seems to be the only questionable key component of the team. Unfortunately, I don’t have as much faith in this quarterback as the Kansas City front office. The pieces around him can only carry him so far and that destination is a mediocre 8-8 record. A tough schedule means you can expect the Chiefs to lose to teams like Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, New England, and the Chargers. However, the people around Mahomes should be able to carry him to a win against teams like Denver, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Arizona.
Denver Broncos – 4th in the AFC West
Last Season Record: (5-11)
Key Additions: Case Keenum, Royce Freeman, Courtland Sutton, Jared Veldheer, Bradley Chubb, and Tramaine Brock. The Case Keenum deal was great for the Broncos, in my opinion. Keenum had a career year on a very talented Minnesota team. He now has the opportunity to continue to prove himself with this Denver team that has a great defense and desperately needs an offensive threat. Royce Freeman will likely be splitting carries with Devontae Booker. Courtland Sutton, Denver’s second-round draft pick, will be a top three option at wide receiver this season. Jared Veldheer brings experience to the offensive line and is expected to be a starter. Tremaine Brock will be a solid option at corner after the loss of Aqib Talib. And, of course, the big man himself; Bradley Chubb will be a force alongside Von Miller on the defense.
Key Losses: C.J. Anderson, Donald Stephenson, and Aqib Talib. The Broncos were lucky that they didn’t have to suffer quite too many losses this offseason. Unfortunately for them, most of the losses they will have to endeavor are nothing small or to be overlooked. They lost their starting running back in C.J. Anderson and a starting cornerback in Aqib Talib. Donald Stephenson has been role player his whole career and his veteran experience will surely be missed in the locker room.
Prediction: (8-8) The Broncos have a solid defense that has established players, such as Von Miller and Chris Harris, and young guys with extremely high ceilings, such as Bradley Chubb and Justin Simmons. If Case Keenum can have just half the season that he had in Minnesota last year, then the Broncos will be just as good as last year. I don’t expect him to be the breakout star that he was last season, but don’t be surprised if Keenum plays at an above average level. The only thing holding him back is the lack of offensive weapons around him. A subpar run game, aging wide receivers, lackluster tight end options all mean that Keenum will struggle to find the rhythm that he had last year. Expect losses to come against basically any team with an above average squad and wins against teams like Baltimore, New York, Arizona, and Los Angeles.