Before every NFL season begins we have a good idea which teams will be competing for that top spot in each division, but that prediction remains a tough one in the AFC West this season. The Broncos, Chargers, Chiefs, and Raiders all have a shot to make the playoffs this year.
The Broncos finished 5-11 last season but have made some huge improvements during the offseason. They’ve upgraded at the quarterback position by adding Case Keenum to the roster. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders return has the top two receivers for the team, and the team used their second round draft pick to draft Courtland Sutton.
The defense is still led by Von Miller, who will also be mentoring the fifth overall draft pick Bradley Chubb. Cornerback Aqib Talib is now gone, but the Broncos should be just fine with Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby covering opposing receivers.
Many people aren’t giving the Broncos a chance at winning the division, but they have just as good of a chance as anyone else. This Broncos team was very bad last year but have made huge strides during the offseason and may be one of the most improved teams in the league.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are at the top of many experts’ predictions this season. The pass defense was great last year with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram attacking quarterbacks. The defense held opposing teams to only 197.2 passing yards per game last season (ranked 3rd in the NFL). However, the rush defense wasn’t as good as they gave up 131.1 rushing yards per game (ranked 31st). After signing Brandon Mebane, maybe the Chargers will can clean up the rush defense and become one of the best defenses in the league.
The offense will bring back veteran quarterback Phillip Rivers along with one of the NFL’s best receivers in Keenan Allen and a top running back in Melvin Gordon.
Bad news for the Chargers: they will most likely be without cornerback Jason Verrett and tight end Hunter Henry for the season with knee injuries.
The good news: with one of the league’s most balanced teams, they have the chance to compete for a playoff berth.
Kansas City Chiefs
After winning the division last season, the Chiefs have handed the reigns to second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes after trading Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins. Mahomes will be surrounded by some explosive players in Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and now Sammy Watkins. A cannon arm on Mahomes and his speedy receiving unit could be fun to watch.
The Chiefs lost Marcus Peters to the Los Angeles Rams but acquired Kendall Fuller in the Alex Smith trade. The Chiefs will also have Eric Berry back after missing nearly all of last season.
There’s a lot of risk to trading a quarterback such as Alex Smith after winning the division with him, but the Chiefs are confident in Mahomes as their QB. The Chiefs have the ability to take the division again, but that’s only if Mahomes lives up to what Kansas City expects.
The question with the Raiders is when will Amari Cooper play like the receiver everyone thought he would be? He had five games last season where he finished with single digit receiving yards and only eclipsed the 100-yard mark twice. The Raiders really need more production out of him in order to be a huge threat on the offensive side.
The Raiders have one of the best defensive players in the league in Khalil Mack, but will he remain a Raider all season? The Oakland Raiders and Mack haven’t been able to come to terms on a contract extension. According to OddsShark, Mack has a better chance at ending the season as a Packer or Bear than he does at finishing it as a Raider.
Other new faces to join the Raiders this offseason are wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant, as well as new head coach Jon Gruden.
Honestly, I have no idea who will come away as the division winner. Any four of these teams have the potential to do so. The Broncos now have answered their question at the quarterback position and improved their defense through the draft. The Chargers, who have been deemed favorites, will bring back a well-balanced team. The Chiefs have moved on from Alex Smith and added another speedy playmaker in Sammy Watkins. The Raiders bring in a new coach and have a great young quarterback in Derek Carr to help them lead the team to the top of the AFC West.
The AFC West is about to have a wild, wild season and the division is arguably the most open.