The 2016 season in the AFC West was a memorable one. The Kansas City Chiefs ended up winning this division. Head Coach Andy Reid coached one the leagues fiercest defenses and some timely offense to a 12-4 record. The resurgent Oakland Raiders made a playoff berth for the first time since their super bowl defeat after the 2002 season. Finishing at an impressive 12-4 along with the Chiefs, the Raiders had their best season in a long time. They also announced that the team will be moving to Las Vegas in 2020. The Denver Broncos were the defending Super Bowl champions but Peyton Manning retired and QB Tevor Siemian never got the offense rolling. The defense could not over come the offense, but the Broncos had a chance to get to the playoffs until the end of the year. Finally, the San Diego Chargers were crushed by injuries and still were competitive all season. This collection of teams are the deepest and make it the best division in football. The 2017 season in the wild AFC West should be fun. So here is my predictions for the upcoming season.
1. Oakland Raiders: 12-4, second in the AFC West, Lost in the Wild Card
Key Additions: RB Marshawn Lynch, TE Jared Cook, WR Coradell Patterson, CB Gareon Conley (R)
Key Losses: RB Latavius Murray, S Nate Allen, DT Stacey McGee, CB Dj Hayden,
The Oakland Raiders are back baby! The team starts with their young gun QB Derek Carr (who had the richest contract for about one month) who threw for almost 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns. WR Amari Cooper and the reinvigorated WR Michael Crabtree led an explosive passing attack for the Raiders. Carr was the least sacked QB in the league. However, on one of the few times he was sacked he broke his leg in week 15. The running offense wasn’t enough to carry the team. Also their defense gave up a ton of big plays. So to remedy the situation the retired RB Marshawn Lynch joined his hometown team. Also the additions of TE Jared Cook and WR Cordarrelle Patterson add to an already explosive offense. In the draft the Raiders addressed their number one need with drafting CB Gareon Conley. If the defense can slow teams down the sky is the limit for the black hole. The Patriots must know that the Raiders are their toughest opponent in preventing a repeat. I fully expect a Raiders vs. Pats AFC Championship game with home field advantage being super important.
Best W-L record 13-3
Worst W-L record 8-8
2. Kansas City Chiefs 12-4, first in the AFC West, Lost in Divisional Round
Key Additions: QB Patrick Mahomes (R) , DL Bennie Logan
Key Losses: RB Jamaal Charles, DL Dontari Poe
The Kansas City Chiefs were the top of the heap that was the AFC West last year by winning close games. Six of their wins were by a score or less, another two by less than ten points. An impressive win over the NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons and sweeping the Oakland Raiders helped give the Chiefs the edge. Known as a strong defensive team, the defense ranked 24th in yards given up but 7th in points allowed. There were times where the defense looked unstoppable. A few times the defense looked disinterested and it cost the team. QB Alex Smith has been much maligned since he entered the league. Head Coach Andy Reid, who is known as a QB guru, has kept Smith afloat. The offensive options were limited with Charles being hurt and Maclin not being effective. So enter QB Patrick Mahomes from Texas Tech, a gunslinger and a good talent, and he will be breathing down Smith’s neck. RB Spencer Ware is now the feature back but has some health issues. The defense looks to be dominant again as will need to carry the offense until it gets sorted out. With the offensive uncertainty, the Raiders will get the division but look for a wild card for the Chiefs.
Best W-L record: 11-5
Worst W-L record: 7-9
3. Los Angeles Chargers 5-11, fourth in the AFC West, Missed Playoffs
Key Additions: Head Coach Anthony Lynn, Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley, WR Mike Williams (R), OT Russell Okung, OG Dan Freeney (R) , OG Forrest Lamp (R)
Key Losses: Head Coach Mike McCoy, Defensive Coordinator John Pagano, LB Manti Te’o, CB Brandon Flowers, OT King Dunlap, RB Danny Woodhead
The Los Angeles Chargers ( I know that’s weird to type) in 2016 were a mess. There were so many health issues this team could never get on track. Offensive line issues were the main culprit, with QB Phillip Rivers being a magician in the pocket. However, disregard the record because the Chargers games with within one score in 13 of 16 games. They played hard and were a tough game for anybody. That was not enough though as Head Coach Mike McCoy and Defensive Coordinator John Pagano both lost their jobs. The upcoming 2017 season has the potential to be a rebirth for the franchise. New head coach Anthony Lynn has rebuilt the offensive line adding veteran Russell Okung, and drafting Dan Freeney and Forrest Lamp. This new line should continue to open holes for Melvin Gordon, who in 13 games was almost a 1,000 yard rusher. WR Mike Williams of Clemson was drafted to join WR Keenan Allen (coming off of injury), WR Tyrell Williams, and the ageless one, TE Antonio Gates. The defense under new coordinator Gus Bradley, will be more aggressive and should take a step forward. Waiting on their shared stadium to be built, the Chargers will be playing in the StubHub Center which holds 27,000. I see good things on the horizon and the second wild card birth right here. Of course that all depends on health.
Best W-L record: 10-6
Worst W-L record: 7-9
4. Denver Broncos 9-7, third in the AFC West, Missed Playoffs
Key Additions: Head Coach Vance Joseph, Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy, OT Garrett Bolles (R) , OG Ronald Leary, DT Domata Peko, OLB DeMarcus Walker (R), OT Menelik Watson
Key Losses: Coach Gary Kubiak, OT Russell Okung, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, OLB DeMarcus Ware, NT Sylvester Williams
What happened to the Denver Broncos? They were the defending super bowl champions in 2016. However the great Peyton Manning retired after the super bowl. He wasn’t playing at the level of his earlier career, but his knowledge and experience were invaluable. The defense was at its usual disruptive level, LB Von Miller and company had the 4th ranked defense in the league. Head Coach Gary Kubiak and Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips have both left the team. New head coach Vance Joesph and Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy will have to put a good enough offense together to be able to compete. QB Trevor Siemian won the starting job over Paxton Lynch, and the prodigal son Brock Oswiller was resigned after being released from the Browns. RB Jamaal Charles comes over from Kansas City to add to a running game with C.J. Anderson. The defense added a few pieces but lost DE DeMarcus Ware. Also the loss of Wade Phillips can not be understated, as he left to join his son’s staff. I see another dominant defensive year but sadly the Broncos will not be able to score enough points to win. Playoff is possible but not likely.
Best W-L record: 10-6
Worst W-L record: 5-11