NFL Football 2018 Season Preview: AFC West
Complete AFC West Preview
Here is a look at what you can expect from the Broncos, Raiders, Chargers and Chiefs this season…
Los Angeles Chargers
It seems like it happens every season: The Chargers get hot late in the year, and some pundit somewhere says, “Boy, I wouldn’t want to face the Chargers in the playoffs.” And then just like that, the Chargers miss the playoffs. And every year, the Chargers can painfully point to one or two games, or even one or two plays, that cost them a postseason berth.
Last year it was an ugly 0-4 start that ultimately doomed the Chargers, with kicking woes costing them dearly. But there was also the mind-numbing 20-17 overtime loss at Jacksonville in which the Chargers intercepted Blake Bortles twice inside of the final two minutes and still lost thanks to a penalty, a turnover of their own and then a game-winning kick by former teammate Josh Lambo.
So while winning six of their last seven games still gave them playoff hopes, they missed the postseason because they didn’t control their own destiny. That’s got to be foremost in QB Philip Rivers’ mind, as he’s seen that picture before and doesn’t want to repeat it yet again as his career winds down. That’s why winning the AFC West is paramount, with its guaranteed playoff berth, rather than putting their fate in the hands of the always-wild scramble for a Wild Card berth.
Kansas City Chiefs
Coming off consecutive AFC West titles for the first time in franchise history, the Chiefs remain contenders to win the division, but the rest of the division is looking stronger. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has to prove he can manage an NFL offense — protect the football, make good decisions and master coach Andy Reid’s verbiage-intense playbook — as well as Alex Smith did for five seasons. The Chargers, Broncos and Raiders all improved significantly on paper. With a first-year starter at quarterback and a retooled defense, the Chiefs face plenty of questions entering 2018. It remains a hopeful time for the Chiefs Kingdom, but Mahomes has a long way to go to live up to the hype.
The Raiders still have most of the key players who helped the team finish 12–4 two seasons ago. If QB Derek Carr gets back on track and new head coach Jon Gruden quickly gets back up to NFL coaching speed, then the Raiders should be able to contend for a playoff spot. Tennessee and Buffalo earned AFC Wild Card berths last season with nine wins apiece, giving the Raiders a reasonable goal to shoot for.
Can this team return to prominence, win an AFC West road game for the first time since Peyton Manning retired and finally boast a reliable offense? The key remains for offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave ability to design an attack around QB Case Keenum’s skill set, keeping it simple with doses of creativity. Keenum has shown he can make big plays, but not if he’s throwing 30 times per game. Denver scares no one offensively, but that could change if the team becomes more physical up front and keeps its quarterback upright.
The body language of the defense slumped after every offensive turnover last season — 34 in all. The Broncos expect that figure to be sliced in half, or close to it.
Even with Keenum stabilizing the quarterback spot and the defense deeper, the Broncos face an uphill climb to .500. The sense of urgency is real, though. Every week will be a referendum on head coach Vance Joseph’s job and Keenum’s future.