After looking closely at the NFC West, South, North, and East, it’s now time to switch gears and look at the AFC. It’s a lot of fun to pick who will win the Super Bowl, but if you like a long shot, though odds can be juicy, your chances of cashing a ticket are slim. By carefully examining individual divisions, your strong angles can come to fruition much more easily.
So do you think the problems at quarterback for the Broncos are fixed, or that the Chiefs are ready to ascend to the top? Or even that the lame duck Oakland Raiders are the class of the West? We break it down for you and tell you what you need to know.
Who will win the AFC West? Here’s our analysis.
The biggest off-season news in the league was the Raiders move to Las Vegas. However, they will still be playing in Oakland this year, and though the Bay Area seems excited about what could be the best team they’ve seen in a while, if things start to go bad, the support could easily turn.
The reason for excitement is the return of quarterback Derek Carr. The Raiders were 12-3 when Carr was knocked out for the season with a broken leg during their Week 16 victory over Indianapolis. Without Carr, Oakland lost the division in a lopsided setback against Denver in Week 17, and were not competitive against Houston in the playoffs.
On paper the Raiders still have holes at linebacker, but they should be improved in the secondary after drafting Gareon Conley in the first round and Obi Melifonwu in the second. The youngsters replace DJ Hayden and Nate Allen.
It is impossible to know how much tread Marshawn Lynch has left on his tires, but a battered running back feels like a good fit for an offense that is dangerous on every drop back.
For a franchise known for being boring and producing consistent results, this was a chaotic summer in Kansas City. Though he isn’t likely to play much in 2017, QB Patrick Mahomes was added in the draft in exchange for Kansas City’s 2018 first-round pick. After the draft, KC parted ways with John Dorsey, the GM who made the deal. They stuck with coach Andy Reid, though, who’s led the team to nine or more wins in each of his four seasons. Playoff success has been harder to come by for Reid, who has a 1-3 postseason record with the Chiefs, including a tight 18-16 home loss to Pittsburgh in the Divisional Playoffs last year.
Changes come on the defensive line with Bennie Logan and second-round draft pick Tanoh Kpassagnon replacing Dontari Poe, and long-time running back Jamaal Charles heading to Denver. It’s a safe bet the Chiefs will be pretty good, particularly on defense, but it’s unclear whether that’s good enough to win this tight division.
Two years ago, the Broncos won the Super Bowl with a decaying Peyton Manning at quarterback thanks to a great defense. They still managed to win nine games last year with an inexperienced Trevor Siemian under center for most of the year, but it wasn’t enough to crack the postseason field.
Vance Joseph now steps into the large shoes left by retired coach Gary Kubiak, hoping that either Siemian or 2016 first-rounder Paxton Lynch can provide better QB play. Whoever wins the starting job should at least get better protection than last year, with the Broncos investing a first-round pick on offensive lineman Garrett Bolles and signing Ronald Leary from Dallas.
How good will the defense be? It’s still filled with absolute studs, including Von Miller, Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, Brandon Marshall, and TJ Ward. (Evidently, if you’re not paying much for a QB, there is a lot of money for the rest of the roster.) But unless the offense takes major strides, the D will have to be historically dominant to lead the team to a division title given the quality of the AFC West.
It’s the understatement of the century to say that the Chargers franchise is in flux. The team has moved north (from San Diego to LA) and will play in a temporary home (StubHub Center) under a new coach (Anthony Lynn); that upheaval comes after suffering through an 11-loss campaign filled to the brim with horrendous injury luck. The team was constantly using third and fourth-stringers, particularly on the offensive line. Free-agent addition Russell Okung and draft picks Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney should help improve protection for Phillip Rivers. Mike Williams is an athletic new target for the veteran QB, as well. The secondary must improve, and very well could with high hopes for rookie Desmond King. But even with all that, a lot will have to fall into place to win the AFC West this year.
All in all, the Broncos are the best value play.
The Raiders have a ton of talent but it’s tough to take a short price given (a) their lame-duck status and (b) questions around how effective Carr will be after his injury. Kansas City is the reigning champ, but didn’t really improve versus last year. The Chargers, meanwhile, have a lot going on, but probably need another year to put everything together. Plus you can basically bank on significant injuries befalling the team.
That leaves Denver, a team that won it all just two years ago and has much of that nucleus back. The Broncos’ young quarterbacks (at least one of them) should be better and John Elway has proven to be a master roster-builder. At over 3/1, trusting the living legend is the smartest play.
Photo credit: Zennie Abraham (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/]
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