NFL Football 2017-18 Season
AFC West Division Preview
With the days and weeks of summer ticking by, the arrival of a new NFL season continues to approach. Fans still have to wait until September 7th for Kansas City and New England to kick off in Gillette Stadium, but they don’t have to wait any longer for pre-season football at FanPicks. NFL pre-season Week 2 is in two days (Enter Now). To get you ready for the new season, here’s an outlook of AFC West teams.
The Broncos’ offense was forever developing last year but never emerged. Denver had the fourth-most three-and-out drives and ranked 27th in rushing yards and 26th in red-zone touchdowns.
This season figures to be less futile. The optimism begins at quarterback. Trevor Siemian, 8-6 as a first-year starter with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, underwent surgery on his non-throwing left shoulder but missed no offseason workouts. He earned teammates’ respect with toughness and for his ability to digest the playbook and apply information quickly. The belief is that the new offense will benefit with 2016 first-round draft pick Paxton Lynch more than Siemian. Lynch impressed teammates with his maturity in the offseason. After what amounted to a near-redshirt season, Lynch believes he can win the starting job in an offense that has deep ball routes and spread formation concepts more similar to what he used in college.
Running back C.J. Anderson is like a bowling ball with legs. He excels in yards after contact. Anderson enters a crossroads season. Can he be a bell cow or just a complementary back along with former Utah star Devontae Booker and newly acquired Jamaal Charles? The addition of Charles, a five-time 1,000-yard rusher in Kansas City, gives the Broncos a veteran who can diversify the offense with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
Expect a steady diet of bubble screens to receiver Demaryius Thomas and more motion and varied routes from Emmanuel Sanders. Thomas will need to shrink his number of drops to regain his star status in the NFL. Sanders has been the Broncos’ most reliable weapon. For Sanders and Thomas to realize their potential — say, 1,200-plus yards receiving — they need help in the red zone. That’s where the selection of Michigan tight end Jake Butt comes into play. If he recovers from his second ACL surgery and returns in October, Butt provides size and mismatches inside the 20 that have been lacking since the departures of Julius Thomas and Wes Welker.
Kansas City Chiefs
Quarterback Alex Smith is a polarizing figure in title-starved Kansas City despite a 41-20 record in four seasons. Only New England’s Tom Brady (47) and Seattle’s Russell Wilson (45) have more wins during that span. Still, fans openly wonder if Smith, who is regarded as a risk-averse game-manager, can win a Super Bowl.
Smith threw for a career-high 3,502 yards last season, but his touchdown (3.1) and interception percentages (1.6) were his worst under Andy Reid’s coaching. Nonetheless, Smith’s age and big cap number drove the Chiefs’ decision to draft a quarterback — Texas Tech gunslinger Patrick Mahomes II — in the first round for the first time since 1983. Mahomes isn’t ready to start, but the Chiefs are gambling on him for the future. The idea is that after studying under Smith and learning from Reid for at least one season, Mahomes can become the franchise quarterback. Meanwhile, Smith remains the best hope for a Super Bowl run in the short term.
First-team All-Pro Travis Kelce headlines the pass-catching corps and shows no signs of slowing down. He led all NFL tight ends with 1,125 yards last season, but the Chiefs need more production from their wide receivers. Chris Conley (44 catches for 530 yards) or Albert Wilson (31 catches for 279 yards) will need to take a step forward after the release of Jeremy Maclin.
The wild card is receiver Tyreek Hill, a speedster who racked up 61 catches for 593 yards with six scores and added 267 yards with three touchdowns rushing plus incredible special-teams value. It will be a treat to watch Reid deploy Hill now that the coach has a feel for all that he can do.
Hill will remain a factor in an otherwise pedestrian ground game. Running back Spencer Ware was fine with 214 carries for 921 yards and three touchdowns. Unfortunately,backup Charcandrick West didn’t reach the same expectation. He averaged only 3.3 yards on 88 carries. That’s a big reason why Kansas City invested a third-round pick in Toledo’s Kareem Hunt. Don’t be shocked if Hunt assumes a feature role now that the franchise’s all-time leading rusher, Jamaal Charles, is gone.
Los Angeles Chargers
There’s a lot to like about the Chargers’ offense, if only it could stay healthy. There are plenty of playmakers, but they can’t seem to stay on the field together very long.
The one guy the Chargers can ill afford to lose, for any length of time, is quarterback Philip Rivers. While he doesn’t seem overly excited about the move to L.A., Rivers is willing to give it a go and is trying to win the support of new fans. Despite coming off another 4,000-yard passing season, he led the NFL with 21 interceptions. It’s something Rivers will need to reduce in order to help give the Bolts a chance.
Rivers showed his usual leadership as he tried his best to hold things together as the receiving corps was depleted by a season-ending knee injury to Keenan Allen in Week 1. The Chargers gave Rivers another playmaker when they took Clemson receiver Mike Williams with the seventh overall pick in the draft. Williams is a definite upgrade and will start opposite the oft-injured Allen, who has been limited to nine games and four TDs in the last two seasons (knee injury in 2016, lacerated kidney in 2015).
There should be nothing but positives from running back Melvin Gordon, who bounced back from a woeful rookie season to rush for 997 yards and score 12 touchdowns. But his season was cut short by hip and knee injuries. The Bolts are certainly going to miss backup Danny Woodhead’s change-of-pace play, both rushing and receiving, although he was injury-prone. Star tight end Antonio Gates returns for his 15th season, as motivated as ever to win an elusive championship. His next TD catch will be his 112th, giving him sole possession of the NFL record for tight ends. If this is Gates’ final season, the Chargers are in good shape, because Hunter Henry had a strong rookie season with 36 catches for 478 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Raiders had one of the NFL’s top offenses last season, and it could be even better this year with the addition of former Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. The powerful Lynch ended his one-year retirement and signed a two-year deal with his hometown team after being traded to Oakland. Lynch has rushed for 9,112 yards and 74 TDs in nine seasons. He retired after an injury-plagued 2015 season, but if he stays healthy and recaptures his Beast Mode form, Lynch will be an upgrade from Latavius Murray, who signed as a free agent with Minnesota. The combination of Lynch and scatbacks DeAndré Washington and Jalen Richard gives Oakland three dangerous weapons in the backfield. Make that four counting Jamize Olawale, a battering-ram fullback with some running skills.
Quarterback Derek Carr was putting up MVP-like numbers before his season-ending injury. He threw for 3,937 yards with 28 touchdowns and six interceptions. Carr’s passer rating has gone from 76.6 as a rookie to 91.1 in 2015 to 96.7 last season, showing his steady improvement. Carr signed a five-year contract extension in June to make him the NFL’s highest-paid quarterback, for now at least. The deal could be worth as much as $125 million in total with Carr guaranteed to receive at least $70 million.
Carr’s top two receivers — Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree — each had over 1,000 receiving yards and combined for 172 catches last year. The trio of Carr, Cooper and Crabtree should only get better in their third straight season together. The Raiders gave Carr another inviting target when they signed free agent Cordarrelle Patterson. The 6’2″, 220-pound Patterson caught 52 passes for 453 yards — both career highs — last season for Minnesota, which drafted him in the first round in 2013. The Raiders’ tight end corps should be better this year with the addition of former Packer Jared Cook. Cook has 303 career catches for 3,880 yards and 17 touchdowns in eight NFL seasons.