AFC West Preview
The AFC West has the look of a very competitive division for this upcoming season. Denver won’t only be looking to repeat as division winners, but are also the defending world champions. Kansas City will be out to make the playoffs for the third time in four years under veteran head coach Andy Reid. Oakland seems to be a consensus pick as a playoff sleeper, and that’s usually a curse instead of the alternative. Head coach Mike McCoy and his Chargers will try avoid missing the playoffs for a 3rd consecutive season, and prove last year’s 4-12 record was a fluke.
2017 Futures Odds to Win AFC West
- Denver Broncos (+190)
- Kansas City Chiefs (+220)
- Oakland Raiders (+220)nfl
- San Diego Chargers (+650)
Note: All betting odds in this article are courtesy of BoDog.
The biggest question mark for Denver heading into this season is at the extremely important quarterback position. The current trio of an erratic Mark Sanchez, unproven Trevor Simien, and rookie draft choice Paxton Lynch leaves a lot to be desired. Lynch figures to be the future franchise quarterback, but is far from NFL ready at this particular juncture. Denver picked Trevor Simien in round seven of the 2015 draft, and he’s yet to attempt a NFL regular season pass. Then there’s Mark Sanchez, who owns a poor 56.7% career completion rate, and has thrown 86 touchdowns versus 84 interceptions. Those aren’t exactly eye popping numbers. Nevertheless, Sanchez has started in six postseason games as a member of the Jets. Unfortunately, those playoff appearances occurred during the first two years of his career, and he was a beneficiary of an outstanding Jets defense similar to what he’ll have in Denver.
The Broncos have a very good pair of wide receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. They just need a quarterback to deliver them the ball with consistent accuracy. However, there’s very little quality depth behind those two pass catchers.
Despite losing some key defensive personnel to free agency this offseason, Denver’s defense should once again be an elite unit. They’ll have to especially carry the load early on until the offense develops some chemistry with whomever the new quarterback will be.
Kansas City Chiefs
There’s a lot to like about the Kansas Chiefs chances this year. If healthy, their defense has the potential to be a NFL top five unit. Nonetheless, there are some concerns in that regard. Star linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali are both presently on the physically unable to perform list. Safety Eric Berry hasn’t reported to training camp due to not receiving an extended contract, and being hung with the franchise tag.
The Chiefs offense from a season ago was far from dynamic. Although, they were exceedingly efficient, and very seldom were careless with the football. Jamaal Charles returns from a season ending knee injury last year, and the jury will be out on if he’ll return to his previous all-pro form. Travis Kelce has developed into one of the league’s best tight ends. Besides Jeremy Macklin, there’s absolutely no quality depth to speak of at the wide receiver position. Alex Smith doesn’t receive a lot of accolades, but he’s quarterbacked teams to the playoffs on four separate occasions. The Kansas City offensive line won’t exactly be categorized as elite, although they’re a rock solid group barring first team injuries.
I’m not buying the Kool-Aid that others are guzzling in regards to Oakland. Yes, I can certainly see why some may be enthralled with their current roster. Furthermore, I’ve always admired Jack Del Rio as a NFL player, defensive coordinator, and head coach. Yet, when pundits start predicting them to be a playoff team, I don’t share their opinions.
The Raiders haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 2003. Let me refresh your memory, that postseason run was culminated by a Super Bowl 48-21 blowout loss to Tampa Bay. Since that time, they’ve gone a combined 59-133 (.307), and that includes a brutal 26-70 (.289) in away games. That horrible road mark is a relevant one, considering three of their first four games this year will take place in enemy stadiums. Granted, a vast majority of this present roster had very little if anything to do with the franchise’s recent past futilities. Nevertheless, until a winning culture is established, I’m not going anywhere near the Raiders bandwagon.
The Raiders do possess a promising young quarterback in Derek Carr. The 25-year-old gunslinger out of Fresno State has shown flashes of brilliance at times, and has also displayed his fair share of youthful mistakes. Nonetheless, Carr exhibited a marked improvement last season, throwing for 3987 yards, completing 61.1% of his attempts, and he accrued an impressive 32 touchdown passes. Carr has proven to be extremely durable, starting all 32 games in his two-year career, and that’s despite playing behind a suspect offensive line. On a negative note, Carr has also been intercepted 25 times, and lost 10 fumbles during his young NFL tenure.
Carr will once again rely on a talented pair of wide receivers in Michael Crabtree and second year pro Amari Cooper. The now 28-year-old veteran Crabtree is coming off a terrific year, racking up 85 receptions for 922 yards and 9 touchdowns. The former Alabama star Amari Copper put together an inspiring rookie campaign. Cooper hauled in 72 pass receptions for 1070 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns.
Starting running back Latavius Murray rushed for 1066 yards last season. Although, he did average 1.2 yards per carry less compared to what he ran for in 2014. Murray is a vastly underrated back who’s put up more than respectable numbers running behind an offensive line with glaring deficiencies. The depth at running back leaves a lot to be desired.
I love linebacker Khalil Mack who’s on the cusp of super stardom. This year’s projected starters in the secondary can potentially be a top notch unit. Nonetheless, I’m not enamored whatsoever with their defensive line, and I’m predicting that will be an exposed weakness all season long.
San Diego Chargers
It seems like quarterback Philip Rivers has been around forever. Rivers will be entering his 13th NFL season, and he turns 35 this coming December. Yet, he continues to be a highly productive player. The Chargers endured a horrible 4-12 season a year ago. Despite their struggles, Rivers still threw for 4792 yards, and did so with an offensive unit that was decimated by injuries. His favorite wide receiver target Keenan Allen returns from last year’s injury that cut his season considerably short. Additionally, the Chargers brought in former Browns big play wide receiver Travis Benjamin. I love the 2016 second round pick of tight end Hunter Henry out of Arkansas. He’ll provide a nice security blanket for Antonio Gates who’s been frequently injured over the past couple of years, and is nearing the end of an illustrious career. I’m going to go out on a limb, and forecast San Diego to have the most improved offensive line in the NFL this year. That should coincide with running back Melvin Gordon having a bounce back year, compared to a disappointing campaign he experienced a season ago.
The defense did lose perennial all-pro safety Eric Weddle to offseason free agency. However, the secondary will still be able to hold its own. The huge concern for me regarding San Diego’s defense relates to their front seven. If that group can step up their game, San Diego’s defense can potentially be a respectable unit that can at least hold serve, and compliment an offense capable of scoring a plethora of points.
Quite frankly, I’m more inclined to pick San Diego as a playoff sleeper team rather than Oakland. When it’s all said and done, it’ll come down to Denver and Kansas City battling it out for the division crown. My early lean is towards the Chiefs prevailing, and it’s based on Denver’s uncertainties at quarterback.