2017 AFC West Projections

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X-Kansas City Chiefs 10-6

Andy Reid’s run as the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs has a familiar feel to his time with the Philadelphia Eagles as well as that of former Chiefs head coach Marty Schottenheimer. In four seasons in Kansas City, Reid has led the Chiefs to the playoffs three times which included ending the franchise’s postseason victory drought during the 2015 National Football League season. Last year the Chiefs won the AFC West for the first time since 2010, but they would lose at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round in controversial fashion. The last two years have seen the Chiefs eliminated from the postseason by the New England Patriots and Steelers respectively as they have been the premier teams in the AFC for more than 20 years. And for the Chiefs to reach their first Super Bowl as members of the National Football League, these are the team’s that Reid’s squad must go through in order to get to Minneapolis in February.

Alex Smith

For Reid, Alex Smith has been his guy in regards to being his starting quarterback with the Chiefs. In 2013, one of Reid’s first moves in Kansas City after finding out about the city’s great barbecue was to acquire Smith from the San Francisco 49ers. In Kansas City, Smith has enjoyed immense success which has included three playoff appearances, and two Pro Bowl selections. Smith has developed a reputation of being a “game manager” and he is known to not force the football, while relying on his athleticism and smarts. But being that Smith has never been known for having a strong arm, is he the guy at quarterback to help the Chiefs take the next step?

Last year the Chiefs were 15th in the National Football League while they also failed to produce a 1,000-yard ball carrier. But a staple of Reid’s offense is also to get his running backs involved in the passing game. Losing running back Spencer Ware to an injury changes what the Chiefs are able to do, but it gives running back Charcandrick West and rookie Kareem Hunt more opportunities to show what they can do. And I guarantee that Reid will find creative ways to get West and Hunt the football this season.

In limited action last year wide receiver Tyreek Hill showed his potential to be an impact player on offense for Kansas City as well as special teams. Hill is one of those players who excels in space, while I see Reid getting him the football on various plays such as reverses and screens.

Travis Kelce

When the Chiefs used a third-round draft pick on tight end Travis Kelce in 2013, he was an afterthought. However Kelce has continued to improve in each season with the Chiefs as some folks in the National Football League see him as the poor man’s Rob Gronkowski. Last season Kelce became the first Chiefs tight end to gain at least 1,100 yards receiving in a season and his ability to split the seams, while also constantly demanding a double team will open things up for other players at the skill positions.

The Chiefs have one of the more underrated offensive lines in the National Football League which includes the likes of left tackle Eric Fisher. Kansas City was able to add to that depth when they acquired Cam Erving from the Cleveland Browns this summer. Erving has the versatility to play multiple positions on the line which means that quality line play should never skip a beat for the Chiefs.

There is no underscoring the fact that the loss of defensive tackle Dontari Poe in free agency will hurt the Chiefs, as he was the perfect fit at nose tackle due to his ability to consistently command a double team. But now the Chiefs will also have to do it without the services of free safety Eric Berry who was lost for the season with an Achilles injury as he and Poe were solid anchors for the defense. Kansas City still maintains one of the strongest linebacking units in the National Football League which is led by inside linebacker Derrick Johnson who has quietly become one of the best defensive players in the franchise’s history. And the smarts of Johnson on the football field, along with his leadership ability will be needed more than ever to somewhat offset the loss of Poe and Berry.

It’s hard to believe, but the Chiefs have never won the AFC West in consecutive years which means that Reid and his team will have their work cut out for them in order to make it happen this season.

Y-Oakland Raiders 10-6

2016 saw the long awaited re-emergence of the silver and black as the Oakland Raiders appeared in the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Jack Del Rio delivered on his promise of reversing the fortunes of the Raiders as he was able to return the team to the postseason in just his second season with the franchise. The Raiders revival once again sparked a fan base that has suffered through losing seasons and bad draft picks as the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum was once again a raucous place for opponents to visits.

However all of this goodwill was thrown out of the window in late March when it was announced that the Raiders would soon be leaving Oakland in favor of Las Vegas, Nevada. This has left a bitter taste in the mouths of Raiders fans as this now marks the second time that the City of Oakland has been burned by the silver and black. The Raiders intend to play in Oakland for the next two years, but will they be able to succeed on the field in spite of the ill will between the fans, the city, and team owner Mark Davis?

Regardless of the Raiders preparing to leave Oakland, they have one of the best young quarterbacks in the National Football in Derek Carr. In 2014, Carr had all of the tools necessary to be selected in the first round of the National Football League Draft. However Carr was forced to wait with a team such as the quarterback needy Houston Texans passing up on him twice. Carr would find a home with the Raiders and he has a chance to be the franchise’s best quarterback since Ken Stabler.

Derek Carr

Carr was in the running to be the National Football League’s MVP last year until he suffered a broken fibula in Week 16. Subsequently Carr would be unavailable for the Raiders during their foray into the postseason as a team that was once viewed as a Super Bowl contender was now one-and-done in January.

But now as the new season is set to begin, Carr is once again someone who should be in consideration to be the MVP of the National Football League. The Raiders also believe in Carr and his ability as this summer saw them give him a five-year deal for $125 million.

Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree

Carr has a talented combination of wide receivers to throw the football to in Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. Last season both Cooper and Crabtree gained more than 1,000 yards receiving and in the process they became the Raiders first duo of wide receivers since Jerry Rice and Tim Brown in 2001 to pull off the accomplishment. And with Carr entrenched as the Raiders starting quarterback, don’t expect the level of productivity for Cooper and Crabtree to fall off.

Marshawn Lynch

The Raiders were sixth in the National Football League in rushing last year and they’ll get a boost this season with the addition of running back Marshawn Lynch. Lynch developed a reputation for being one of the best power backs that the game has ever seen and in the process he helped the Seattle Seahawks win their first and only Super Bowl Championship in franchise history. However in 2016, Lynch decided to retire from the NFL at the age of 29, it took some people by surprise. But Lynch has always been an unpredictable person, and this year he once again developed the inch to play football. Lynch decided to give the NFL another try, but since he was still under contract with the Seahawks, the Raiders had to compensate their former AFC West rivals which saw Seattle receive a fifth-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft. The year away from the game should provide Lynch with some fresh legs, while he will look to get it done in his hometown of Oakland.

Since Reggie McKenzie has taken over as the general manager of the Raiders, he has taken great pride in building Oakland’s offensive line as he himself played on the O-line in the National Football League. The Raiders offensive line produced three Pro Bowlers last season in left tackle Donald Penn, center Rodney Hudson, and guard Kelechi Osemele. The offensive line of the Dallas Cowboys gets a ton of attention and rightfully so, but the unit of the Raiders isn’t exactly chopped liver.

The Raiders were 26th in the National Football League in total defense last season and they got exposed once Carr went down with the injury. The Raiders do have defensive end Khalil Mack who is a premier edge rusher, while outside linebacker Bruce Irvin is solid as well. However the Raiders were 24th in pass defense last year and their secondary must improve if they want to be a Super Bowl contender.

It’s good to see the Raiders once again relevant in the National Football League, but you have to wonder if the upcoming move to Las Vegas as well as a suspect secondary will hurt their chances here in 2017.

Denver Broncos 7-9

From 2006-2010, the Denver Broncos failed to make the playoffs which was their longest stretch without being able to play football in January since 1976. In 2011, former Broncos quarterback John Elway would return to the organization as the team’s executive vice president of football operations. Elway would rapidly begin to revitalize the Broncos roster and in his first season, the Broncos would win the AFC West. With Elway leading the charge, the Broncos were once again a title contender and in just five years he led them to their first Super Bowl Championship since he played for them.

Last year would see the Broncos go 9-7 as they would lose four of their final six games which included being swept by the Kansas City Chiefs for the first time since 2000. And in the process Denver would be watching the postseason at home for the first time under Elway’s watch.

But the 2017 Broncos will look very different and have a new feel to them as opposed to the team that played last season. Health issues have forced Gary Kubiak to step down as Broncos head after two years. However Kubiak will always be remembered for helping the Broncos get another Super Bowl Championship. Kubiak has been replaced by Vance Joseph who joins the Broncos after spending last season with the Miami Dolphins as their defensive coordinator.

Joseph is seeking to put his stamp on the Broncos and his first order of business was to switch Denver’s base defense from a 3-4 to that of a 4-3 which made defensive coordinator Wade Phillips expendable.

Over the last 35 years, Phillips has built a reputation for having one of the sharpest minds in the National Football League in regards to coaching defensive football. Phillips believes in putting consistent pressure on an opposing team’s quarterback, while his players would run through a wall for him. And when Phillips decided to leave the Broncos organization following Joseph’s arrival, it marked the end of an era, while Joseph will have a tough selling job ahead of him in regards to making the defensive players in Denver believe in his system.

Von Miller

But with Joseph set to begin his run with the Broncos, one thing that he has going for him is outside linebacker Von Miller. Since Miller entered the National Football League in 2011, he has played like a man possessed. Miller plays with a high motor and although that he only weighs in at 250 lbs., he has been known to make some of the best left tackles in the NFL look bad. Miller flourished in the 3-4 scheme of Philips, however his versatility allows him to be successful in any system that he is in. And if Miller buys into what Joseph is selling, the Broncos defense should continue to be one of the top units in football.

Miller will have to carry the load for the beginning of the season as his tag-team partner in outside linebacker Shane Ray will miss roughly two months as he is recovering from a torn ligament in his wrist, while Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. continue to operate one of the best cornerback tandems in the National Football League.

The Broncos defense should once again be solid, but for this team to be a postseason contender, their offense must improve. Last year Denver was 27th in the National Football League in total offense which included them failing to score at least 20 points in three of their last four games. Two years ago Elway used a first-round pick on quarterback Paxton Lynch, but he has yet to show that he can be the guy. In 2015, Elway drafted quarterback Trevor Siemian who was an afterthought when he was taken in the seventh round. But Siemian who does have a reputation as being game manager has become the more viable option for the Broncos at quarterback in spite of the fact that he doesn’t possess a big arm like Lynch. And whereas Siemian might not be able to win the game for Denver, he won’t lose it either.

Trevor Siemian

Siemian will be the Broncos starting quarterback this season and he’ll have a pair of talented wide receivers to throw the football to in Emanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. Both Sanders and Thomas gained more than 1,000 yards last year receiving, however it will be difficult for them to match those numbers due to the struggles of Denver’s rushing attack.

Last year the Broncos were 27th in the National Football League in rushing, and it marked the third consecutive year in which they failed to produce a 1,000-yard running back. The Broncos will once again rely on a “running back by committee” which C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles more than likely getting the bulk of the carries. But if the Broncos are unable to effectively run the football, it will put their offense in a bind.

Fans in the Rocky Mountains are not accustomed to seeing the Broncos partake in losing seasons. However this could be the case in 2017 as Denver appears to be a team that is in limbo.

Los Angeles Chargers 6-10

It will definitely take some time to get adjusted to referencing the Chargers as being from Los Angeles. For more than 50 years the Chargers called San Diego home as it was hard to think of one without the other. But the finances and politics in the National Football League reign supreme as the City of San Diego and the Chargers would prepare for a very messy divorce. For years Chargers owner Dean Spanos has attempted to get a new stadium for his team, but he was unable to secure the funding from the City of San Diego in order to make it happen. And with the NFL hell bent on putting two franchises in Los Angeles, Spanos decided to pack up his team for a three-hour trip north on Interstate-5 to join the Rams in Hollywood. Now the Chargers are in Los Angeles which is the city that they came into existence in 1960 as members of the American Football League. However times have changed in Los Angeles as this is a city that only supports winners which means that the Chargers who lost a combined 23 games over the last two years must find a way to get things turned around in a hurry.

Upon making the journey to Los Angeles, the Chargers decided to hire a new head coach in Anthony Lynn. Lynn played in the National Football League for six years which included winning a pair of Super Bowl Championships with the Denver Broncos. Lynn has spent the last 17 years as an assistant coach in the NFL for six different teams, but now he has his opportunity to be the man in charge (no pun intended).

Philip Rivers

Lynn can sleep a little bit easier at night knowing that he has a quality veteran quarterback that he can rely on. Philip Rivers has been the Chargers starting quarterback for the last 12 years and in the process he has become the most prolific quarterback in franchise history. Rivers found a way to do the impossible as he has broken the major passing records that were set by Dan Fouts with the franchise as he has thrown 314 career touchdowns passes, while also throwing for 45,833 yards heading into this season. Eight of the last nine years have seen Rivers pass for at least 4,000 yards, and now he is closing in on being the only player in franchise history to pass for 50,000 yards. And even at the age of 35, Rivers can still sling the football around with the best of them.

Rivers’ go-to-guy throughout his career with the Chargers has been tight end Antonio Gates. Gates is set to begin his 15th season with the Chargers and although that he no longer has the physical tools that he had a decade ago, he is still a leader for this club. Gates is 37-years of age, and all signs point to this being his last year in the National Football League. Gates has clearly lost a step, but if Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is able to use him properly which means getting him consistent action in the red zone, he can still be effective.

Injuries have forced wide receiver Keenan Allen to miss a combined 38 games over the last three years which includes him dealing with a kidney issue over the past two seasons. Allen still possesses explosiveness while giving Rivers a big target to throw to, but it doesn’t help if he is consistently not available.

Allen’s absence has given wide receivers Tyrell Williams and Dontrelle Inman the opportunity to become impact players in the Chargers passing game. Like Allen, Inman and Williams are big wide receivers who generally have a size advantage versus most defensive backs that they face which gives Rivers an advantage when throwing the football up for jump ball situations.

But whereas Rivers has shown the ability to put the Chargers offense on his back, he cannot do it all by himself as Los Angeles needs to improve the running game. Last year the Chargers were 26th in the National Football League in rushing which includes them not having a running back gain at least 1,000 yards in a season since 2013. In 2015, the Chargers used a first-round pick on running back Melvin Gordon who has failed to live up to the hype due to the fact that he has been unable to remain healthy. When healthy Gordon is supposed to be an explosive player that can provide the Chargers with speed as a ball carrier along with being a pass receiver coming out of the backfield. And hopefully 2017 is the year where Gordon is able to put it all together.

The Chargers offensive line has been a burdensome group for this organization for the past few years which can illustrated by seeing Rivers run for his life at times. The Chargers attempted to remedy that during the off-season by signing offensive tackle Russell Okung. Okung is a former Pro Bowler who is a solid left tackle which will be relief for Rivers as he needs someone to protect his blindside.

Things didn’t work out for Gus Bradley during his tenure as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars as he was 14-48, however things could be different for him as the defensive coordinator of the Chargers. The Chargers have a stout defensive line which is led by defensive end Joe Bosa. Last year Bosa was named as the National Football League in spite of the fact that he only appeared in 12 games. Bosa tallied 10.5 sacks and he has the makings of being a poor man’s J.J. Watt. Aside from Bosa, the Chargers have defensive end Melvin Ingram, along with defensive tackle Corey Liuget as Los Angeles will be a much tougher team in the trenches this season.

The transition from San Diego to Los Angeles will not be an easy one for the Chargers as this season will be full of growing pains for them.

X-Division Winner

Y-Wild Card

Source: Pro-footbal-reference.com

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