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.

Oakland Raiders

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.

Denver Broncos

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.

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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.

Denver Broncos

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.

Oakland Raiders

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.

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AFC West biggest needs in the 2017 NFL Draft

The right addition by any team could be the difference in the NFL’s most competitive division

The AFC West was a two-team race for the most part in 2016, with the then-defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos ending up in third place. The talented and now newly re-located Chargers pulled up the rear with a 5-11 record that was not necessarily indicative of how talented their roster was.

Heading into 2017, the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs are looking to make a move or two during the NFL draft on April 27th, that would keep them in the fold of AFC front-runners. Denver is trying to keep the championship window open for one of the league’s best defenses and the Chargers are looking to build a corps of player who will lead the franchise into the future in their new city.

 Denver Broncos

The Broncos came into the 2016 season in a weird spot. They were the defending Super Bowl champions, but they also were trying to move on from and replace an NFL legend at quarterback. All in all, their season was not terrible. Unfortunately for Denver, the team was competing in a division with two of the NFL’s hottest up-and-coming teams. Their veteran leadership was not enough to overcome injuries and the distraction — as minor as it ended up being — of the quarterback transition.

If the Broncos truly think they have their quarterback of the future on the roster — and it sounds like that is the case — their biggest need is without a doubt at offensive tackle. They have no true long-term answers on either side of the offensive line, and that’s bad news for a team about to plug in a young quarterback.

First-round pick: No. 20 overall

Potential Picks: It must be an offensive tackle. There are enough talented options in the draft for Denver to land a solid option and a mainstay at the spot for a decade at the No. 20 spot. If the Broncos don’t walk away with Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk, Utah’s Garrett Boles or Alabama’s Cam Robinson, I’ll be stunned and their fans should be irate.

 Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs won the AFC West on the back of great defensive play and an electrifying rookie playmaker in Tyreek Hill. The lack of a true, consistent threat at the receiver position seemed to be the biggest limiting factor for Andy Reid’s club, as they lacked the firepower to get past the Steelers at home in the playoffs. As much as Kansas City could use that wide receiver, the Chiefs need playmakers at all three levels of the defense in order to remain in the conversation of the AFC’s elite teams. Linebacker, cornerback and nose tackle are all positions where Kansas City needs help.

First-round pick: No. 27 overall

Potential picks: You can expect the Chiefs to take a long, hard look at Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan if he’s available. He would be the perfect long-term option to replace Derrick Johnson. If they go corner, I like Colorado’s Chidobe Awuzie as an option.

 Los Angeles Chargers

A tumultuous 2016 preseason — thanks in large part to the Joey Bosa contract fiasco — didn’t get the Chargers off on the right foot. It was another year where Philip Rivers was obviously in need of more consistent targets in the passing game. Bosa ended up being the bright spot on a defense that had a hard time keeping opponents out of the end zone. The Chargers have a talented young running back in Melvin Gordon, they just need a line for him to run behind. Both guard and tackle are positions of need. On defense, a good shutdown corner would make things a whole lot easier for Bosa and the rest of the front seven.

First-round pick: No. 7 overall

Potential picks: All of the top tackles and guards should be available when the Chargers select in the first round. that said, I’m just not sure any of them merit being taken with the seventh overall pick. For that reason, San Diego likely goes corner in the first round and focuses on offensive line after that. The most likely options are Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore or Alabama corner Marlon Humphrey.

 Oakland Raiders

It looked as if the Raiders were on a collision course with the New England Patriots to battle it out for AFC supremacy until Derrick Carr injured a finger on his throwing hand. Oakland was never quite the same team after the fact. Then after Carr broke his leg, they stood almost no chance versus the Houston Texans in the AFC Wild Card game.

Oakland has talent on both sides of the ball, but the Raiders still need more depth on defense. Linebacker and defensive tackle are both on top of the list of necessities that need to be addressed. An injury in any of these position groups could derail another championship-caliber season. The team also needs a legitimate replacement at running back for the recently departed Latavius Murray.

First-round pick: No. 24 overall

Potential picks: Michigan State defensive tackle Malik McDowell would be a nice fit in Oakland’s defensive scheme if he’s available when the Raiders pick. You also could see general manager Reggie McKenzie pull the trigger on Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham or Temple’s Haason Reddick at outside linebacker — either or which would create a dangerous duo with Khalil Mack.

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Fantasy Football Draft

AFC West

We are almost there, the day before the NFL draft. Things have been crazy with predictions on whom will be picked during the draft. But one thing is for sure, and that’s the fact that both the city of San Diego and Oakland will live to see another draft pick coming to play in their home stadiums. The AFC West Chargers had an unsuccessful 2015 season and will select early in this draft (3rd pick), unlike their divisional rivals and Superbowl champion Denver Broncos. The Manning-less team will be the last team to choose in the first-round, due to their post-season conquest. FanPicks gives you the chance to win $100,000 with their 2016 NFL Fantasy Football Draft Frenzy contest. Click on the link and follow the instruction to be part of the biggest NFL event of the summer.

Denver Broncos

Things doesn’t look as smooth with no Peyton Manning, and even Brock Osweiler in the Broncos lineup. They have yet to fill a starter for next season in that spot. Well, there no place like any to start looking than at the draft. Denver could look to add-in some help at guard and tackle within the initial four rounds. The losses of DT Malik Jackson and LB Danny Trevathan should be something to look at as well.

Top 2 round picks: 31st and 63rd selections.

Kansas City Chiefs

The re-signing of Tamba Hali allows the Chiefs to maintain a solid asset at linebacker position. But the future still needs to be addressed and a perfect fit could come knocking on Hali’s door. Another high-end defensive linesman could be useful K.C. The loss of Chase Daniels as the backup QB will need to be taking care of.

Top 2 round picks: 28th and 59th selections.

Oakland Raiders

Adding Kelechi Osemele to their ranks will certainly fortify the interior Raiders O-line. Yet, they will still need to improve at the tackle spot. Stabilizing the back-end with another tailback shouldn’t be hard to find in this draft. Okland will need to replace CB Sean Smith and S Charles Woodson. Bruce Irvin will add even more juice to the Raiders’ pass rush, but a little help at middle linebacker could be looked at in the middle-rounds.

Top 2 round picks: 14th and 44th selections.

San Diego Chargers

Philip Rivers can count on his fingers how many receivers he threw to over the last few year. One of his main target is NFL 13-years veteran Antonio Gates. In fact, they hold the NFL record for most TD’s between a quarterback to tight end. Unfortunately for them, this union has run his course and it could be time to find Gate’s replacement. The Chargers added safety Dwight Lowery to replace the departed Eric Weddle. Is that enough though? For the rest, San Diego will need to upgrade their offensive and defensive line for this season.

Top 2 round picks: 3rd and 35th selections.

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