2016 AFC West Preview and Predictions
Denver Broncos (2015 record: 12-4): Say it with us: This was NOT Peyton Manning’s team last year…this was NOT Peyton Manning’s team last year. No, Denver won the title because of its stunning defense. They completely obliterated the best offense and the best offensive player by owing the line of scrimmage. Von Miller and company return mostly intact; they did lose two key pieces in DE Malik Jackson and LB Danny Trevathan. While the list of potential replacements isn’t very appealing, there is enough talent to cover a slight decrease in production from those two spots. They’ll rival the Cards for the best squad in the league.
The offense will be led by Trevor Siemean. That’s ok; we’d never heard of him either. Apparently, he was a 5th round pick in 2015. We know that he’s just keeping it warm for Paxton Lynch who shouldn’t see the field this year if at all possible. The line lost some key pieces in Evan Mathis and Louis Vazquez and though Russell Okung was signed, he’s missed a lot of time over the past few seasons. The rest of the line could prove to be problematic; not good for a new QB. Poor line play will also hamper a suspect running game, though rookie Devontae Booker could prove to be a steal. They’re fine at WR with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. The Broncos should be ecstatic that they won last year; the rest of the division is catching up to them.
Kansas City Chiefs (2015 record: 11-5): So we finally saw Alex Smith toss some touchdown passes to wide receivers. Looks like there’s hope for Kansas City after all. Jeremy Maclin proved to be a great fit for Smith, as he nabbed eight of Smith’s 11 WR TDs last season. TE Travis Kelce enjoyed a tremendous breakout season as well, and it should be the first of many fine efforts for him. Unfortunately, they’ll need to repeat last year’s success as the rest of the receiving corps wasn’t upgraded at all. The RB position looks to be a three-headed monster, as Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware showed that they can run the rock just fine when Jamaal Charles can’t. Hopefully it’ll mean fewer touches for Charles, prolonging his exciting career. The line lost stud guard Jeff Allen, but should still be above average.
The defense, not quite on par with Denver’s, is top notch. They’ve got a quartet of bona fide studs in Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, and Eric Barry – but will miss Justin Houston for nearly half of the season as he recovers from ACL surgery. They’re very strong on the line as well, especially if Dontari Poe reverts back to his 2014 self. His back looks healthy, so we’re expecting a nice return to form. The Chiefs should have no problem returning to the playoff hunt and could even make a deep run if the offense can keep up.
Oakland Raiders (2015 record: 7-9): A return to glory isn’t far off for the Silver & Black, as they look like they’re ready to take the next step and become relevant for good rather than gross. Led by Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and Latavius Murray, the offense was finally fun to watch again – and should be even better this year. Oakland struggled a bit upfront but G Kelechi Osemele will plug the deficiency nicely and should make everyone around him better. Cooper and Carr look like they were made for each other’s game, and we see a big rise in the former’s counting stats. He had a bad foot for the last quarter of the season – he’s back to 100% and could hit superstar status.
The defense, which struggled for much of 2015, made some really nice additions. LB Bruce Irvin will add to a stale of excellent linebackers and will be a nice three-down player. They addressed secondary concerns by adding Karl Joseph in the draft and signing Sean Smith away from the rival Chiefs. While the former may not start right away, he’ll add depth to a squad that sorely lacked it last season. All of these upgrades will only help All-World DE/LB Khalil Mack become that much more of a dominant force. He simply can’t be stopped. It’s going to be fun watching this team grow up and mature, hopefully as soon as this year.
San Diego Chargers (2015 record: 4-12): The bottom fell out for the Chargers last year, as their refusal to protect QB Philip Rivers on the field finally bit them. Hard. It looks, though, like they finally realized that if they want to win, Rivers needs to stay upright. They brought in Matt Clauson and kept Joseph Barksdale, two huge signings. Now if King Dunlap can stop resembling a human turnstile at left tackle, the line could be in for a nice renaissance. It would be nice, seeing as though the Chargers also upgraded the receiver position by nabbing Travis Benjamin. He’ll be a great complement to Keenan Allen, as long as the latter can stay on the field for more than half of the season. The running attack, however, could be abysmal. Melvin Gordon was wretched and is coming off of microfracture surgery. He showed absolutely nothing as a rookie, and never once even found the end zone. The position wasn’t addressed at all, leaving Danny Woodhead as the next best option.
The defense was an abomination last year, and we don’t see enough significant changes to make enough of a difference. Joey Bosa was a nice draft pick, but he’s not the 2nd coming of JJ Watt like many think. He was a late arrival due to a holdout, so don’t expect him to start right away. The outside linebackers behind him are the squad’s strength. Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaochu had fine seasons and should provide great stability in the middle of the defense. The secondary took a big hit when the front office decided to treat Eric Weddle like garbage; they let him go without even a wave goodbye. The secondary will definitely struggle without him.
Kansas City 11-5
San Diego 5-11