2017 NFL Season Preview: AFC West

The focus is on the emerging Raiders, and whether or not they can make the push to the big time

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Our look ahead to the 2017 NFL season continues today with a look at what many consider to be the most competitive division in pro-football; the AFC West.

Denver

Key Additions 

RB Jamaal Charles, G Ronald Leary, OT Garrett Bolles, T Menelik Watson

Key Departures

T Russel Okung, LB Demarcus Ware, NT Sylvester Williams

What does a successful season look like?

After a terrible Super Bowl hangover in season 2016, the Broncos will picture a successful season as a trip back to January football, which won’t be easy in a crowded division. GM and Mr. Bronco himself John Elway will be desperate for one of either Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch to claim the starting job during train camp (preferably the former first round pick, Lynch). If Lynch can emerge as the clear front runner behind a remade offensive including rookie Garrett Bolles and canny free agent pickup Ronald Leary at guard, the Broncos could finally put out an attractive offense unseen at Mile High since the aquasiton of you know who. In his second season, Bronco fans would love to see Paxton Lynch show the football world what all the fuss was about when he was drafted in the first round two years ago. On defence, Shane Ray will be expected to lesson the blow of losing veteran Demarcus Ware to retirement, and if he can improve on a surprisingly productive second season, the Broncos defense could be poised to reclaim the title of the leagues best. If the defense can hold sway, and Denver sort out their offensive line play that has plagued them for a while now, double digit wins and playoff football could be on the cards once again.

What does a disastrous season look like?

Despite finishing with a Winning record last season (9-7), 2016 was still deemed a failure in many fans eyes. The things that stood in their way last season very much look to be the same things in 2017: Questions at QB, shuffling offensive line, non existent ground game, lack of continuity on defense. If the offense struggles again, it could put too much strain on a defense that needs to find more playmakers after losing quite a few the last two offseasons (Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan, Demarcus Ware, Sylvester Williams). This is still a defense that is awesome on its day, but the offense has to come along in leaps and bounds for this team to be there in Minnesota for Superbowl 52. If the offensive line woes continue and CJ Anderson can’t recapture his best form, the Broncos may be resigned to the AFC West cellar.

Cold Hard Truth

After winning a Lombardi trophy just two seasons ago, Denver enter season 2017 with the most question marks in the division. The defense will keep them in games one again, but there’s simply too many question marks on the other side of the ball. 9-7 may be reachable again, which could possibly be enough in some divisions. Not the AFC West.

Kansas City 

Key Additions 

NT Bennie Logan, RB CJ Spiller, QB Pat Mahomes

Key Departures 

RB Jamaal Charles, WR Jeremy Macline, DE Jaye Howard, NT Dontari Poe

What does a successful season look like?

The Chiefs have been playoff mainstays since the arrival of Andy Reid as Head Coach in 2013, missing the playoffs just once (2014). They will be confident of being there again this season, despite the loss of a few key personnel. Alex Smith is one of the most underrated QB’s in the game, and will be working with plenty of offensive weapons again in 2017. There are some question marks on who the lead running back will be this season with Jamaal Charles now gone, but there’s no shortage of competition between Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West and exciting rookie Kareem Hunt. Smith has an abundance of weapons at his disposal (including rookie sensation Tyreek Hill), so moving the chains shouldn’t be an issue this season. On defense, the Chiefs having playmakers on all three levels, be it Chris Jones on the line, Justin Houston rushing from the outside or Eric Berry and Marcus Peters in the secondary, this is going to be another very good defense this season. The Chiefs used their first round pick to move up and get their next QB in Pat Mahomes this offseason, which did raise eyebrows as this is a defense that could have used some help opposite Marcus Peters or right in the middle of their defense. Despite that, this has the look of a Chiefs outfit that is destined for the playoffs again. This division doesn’t get any easier, though the Chiefs are good enough to collect as many as 12 wins.

What does a disastrous season look like?

If the Chiefs were to miss the playoffs this season it would be seen as a major disappointment. Alex Smith has weapons on offense, and despite having a great Tight End in Travis Kielce, the Chiefs lack a true WR1 after the surprise cut of Jeremy Maclin . Tyreek Hill, Chris Conley and rookie Jehu Chesson are all talented receivers, but none are true alpha dog number 1’s. As mentioned above, this is a talented defense, however could be in trouble if injuries hit due to this being a defense that is top heavy, particularly the secondary. There’s also the elephant in the room that is rookie QB Pat Mahomes. If Smith struggles down the stretch this season, there will be calls for the rookie to take over by the Arrowhead faithful, which could cause as a distraction if they let it. This Chiefs team is too talented to miss the playoffs, and a losing record is almost inconceivable for any Andy Reid lead team. 8-8 might be worst case scenario, and would also mean a holiday in January for KC players and staff.

Cold Hard Truth

The Chiefs have lost some talent over the offseason, however they’re still certainly a team capable of double digit wins, despite the competitive division. Realistically, the AFC West looks like a division that could send 3 teams to the tournament, and the Chiefs would be expected to be one of them. 11-5 or around the mark would be enough for a wild card, but enough for division championship?

LA Chargers

Key Additions 

Head Coach Anthony Lynn, T Russel Okung, WR Mike Williams, G Forrest Lamp

Key Departures 

G DJ Fluker, LB Manti Te’o, RB Danny Woodhead, CB Branden Flowers

What does a successful season look like?

Despite the controversial move up the highway from San Diego to Los Angeles, there is an unfamiliar air of optimism surrounding this Chargers team. After being crueller by injuries for what feels like the last 400 seasons, the football world is waiting to find out just how good this team really is. If veteran QB Phillip Rivers can pick up where he left off with WR Keenan Allen, and Melvin Gordon can continue his ascension into the  top 10 running back conversation, this offense could quickly become a must watch unit. Of course, a revamped offensive line which will likely start two rookies at both guard positions could hold the key to the whole thing. Switching to a 4-3 defense could do wonders for 2016 defensive rookie of the year winner Joey Bosa, and if new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley can get the best out of Bosa and Melvin Ingram off the edges, look out. Adding a healthy Jason Verrett  to combine with last seasons interception leader Casey Hayward makes this defense, on paper, look incredibly competitive. Nobody knows just how good this Chargers team could be, so a prection of 9 or 10 wins could look foolish cone seasons end.

What does a disastrous season look like?

The Chargers are desperate to gain a foothold in the cut-throat environment that is Los Angeles. If injuries dog another Chargers season, it may prompt Rivers to think about retiring prematurely. Rookie Mike Williams’ back concern looks to hinder the early portion of his rookie reason, and if he and Keenan Allen cant get back to their best this season, Rivers could be forced to throw the ball to Hunter Henry and a bunch of quick but unreliable receivers all season. If Melvin Gordon regresses and the offensive line doesn’t sort itself out, there could be major issues once again. If Bosa’s fantastic rookie season proves a flash in the pan, there could be too much pressure on Melvin Ingram and Denzel Perryman to produce in a front 7 that must protect a secondary that looks good on the perimeter, but seriously lacks talent at the safety position. Will we see the Chargers swim, or sink and play like the only team that lost to the Browns last season? 6-10 would be dreadfully disappointing.

Cold Hard Truth

There may not be a team in the NFL that has such an enormous gap between their ceiling and floor. There’s a lot of luck neeeded on the injury front, luck that has avoided them for a while. This Chargers team looks more like a wild card team than a division winner, but they could trouble anyone and everyone if everything falls into place this season. 10-6 in a tough division would be a great outcome.

Oakland

Key Additions 

RB Marshawn Lynch, TE Jared Cook, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, QB EJ Manual

Key Departures 

RB Latavius Murray, LB Malcolm Smith, OT Menelik Watson

What does a successful season look like?

After such an exciting season in 2016 ended in an anticlimax after QB Derek Carr broke his leg, the Raiders are out for redemption in 2017. After breaking his injury and having to watch his teammates lose in the Wild Card round to the Brock Osweiler led Texans (the ultimate insult), Derek Carr will be jumping out of his skin to start week 1 and get things rolling. The addition of Marshawn Lynch to this emerging Raiders team feels like a dream that Raider fans are soon to wake up from, and if he can have a season everybody knows he can running behind a top 3 offensive line, this could be a fun season in the black hole. There are slight queries on defense, where Coach Jack Del Rio will be desperate to find pass rush help opposite defensive Goliath Khalil Mack. Mack would benefit immensely by a great season from veteran Bruce Irvin or breakout seasons from someone like defensive end Mario Edwards or linebacker Shelique Calhoun. Oakland have quickly established a young, exciting secondary (safeties Karl Joseph and Obi Melifonwu and cornerback Gareon Conley) and if they can gel and exceed expectations this season, this could be a real title contender from the Bay Area. The Raiders finished with a 12-4 record last season and had to settle for a wild card berth, a similar record could be on the cards. If they can split a tough divisional schedule at 3-3, 13-3 isn’t out of the question.

What does a disastrous season look like?

It all starts with Derek Carr. If the chosen one struggles with his serious leg injury and misses a large portion of season, Raider nation would have to put up with Connor Cook or even EJ Manuel under centre (now that would be a disaster). The Marshawn Lynch “experiment” could fall flat, which could leave the Raiders with an uninspiring back field given that Latavius Murray bolted for Minnesota in the offseason. Behind gun wide receiver Amari Cooper, there’s not a lot of quality, but Carr is the sort of QB who can make average pass catchers look good. On defense, there is some pressure on Oaklands young players in the secondary to perform right a way, and if they don’t, this is a defence that could struggle, particularly in a division with such great receivers. This is as talented a Raider team the NFL has seen this century, but it’s a roster not without its issues. Anything less than 9 wins would be bitterly disappointing.

Cold Hard Truth

This is an Oakland team that deserves to be favourites to win arguably the hardest division to win in pro-football. After such an exciting 2016 campaign ended abruptly, this looks like a roster that has an ideal blend of youth and experience. It will be an interesting race between them and the Chiefs for the division, and a record of 12-4 should be good enough this year for these Raiders.

 

 

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