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2018 Preview – AFC West

In the run up to the 2018 NFL season, we’re previewing each division. Have a read of our other previews here. Last one up: AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes’ alma mater is Texas Tech, a team famous for partaking in offense-driven shootouts. Presumably Kansas City have decided the best way to make Mahomes feel at home is to adopt this as a strategy. Because though the Chiefs have gone from dreary to thrilling on offense these last five years, the defense has tanked. Marcus Peters may not have been a personality fit but he starred on a defense now lacking stars. Justin Houston and Eric Berry are still here, but not getting any younger. There are decent starters like Kendall Fuller, Dee Ford and Chris Jones, but this defense will get beaten often.

So you juxtapose this explosive, dynamic offense, and the Chiefs could be a neutral’s favourite this year. Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt constitute a terrifying trio, but beyond that depth includes quality proven talent. Sammy Watkins has never lived up to his draft slot but here he’ll have opportunities. Spencer Ware is as good a #2 back as you’ll find.

And then there’s Mahomes himself. A lot of people, based off a week 17 performance and an inconsistent-but-flashy preseason, have anointed Mahomes as lord and saviour. The really is, we genuinely don’t know how good he’ll be. We know there’ll be jaw-dropping big plays, and we know there’ll be some scattergun interceptions. We just don’t know the ratio. For the fun of the game – and Mahomes could become fantastically entertaining – let’s hope for former over latter.

Los Angeles Chargers

If anyone turns up to watch the Chargers this year, they’re going to see one of the NFL’s best teams. Presumably through years of being snake-bitten by injuries, they’ve amassed a deep, talented roster capable of going a long way. Philip Rivers might be very good rather than elite, but he has a talented receiving corps, even without Hunter Henry. Keenan Allen was one of the league’s best last year. Former top-ten pick Mike Williams is finally healthy Melvin Gordon doesn’t have a great yards-per-carry but provides a nice rushing counterpoint in this offense.

A breakout sophomore season from Mike Williams could make the Chargers’ O very scary. (Kelley L. Cox/ USA Today Sports)

The defense holds up their end of the bargain, too. ProFootballFocus had Casey Hayward as the best cornerback in the league last year. Derwin James will be the most fun rookie bar none to watch. In Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa – either potential shouts for Defensive Player of the Year – they may have the best edge rushing tandem in the league. Anthony Lynn has a rich roster at his disposal and he should expect to take it far.

Except when it comes to kicking, anyway. Last year they used four kickers: Younghoe Koo, Nick Novak, Travis Coons and Nick Rose. None stuck, so now we have former Dolphins kicker Caleb Sturgis. Sturgis was never particularly good, but he beat out Roberto Aguayo in preseason. Yep, it’s come to that.

Oakland Raiders

America is enduring an era of unilateral decision-making made by powerful men with dubious haircuts. Decisions are made despite consensus to the contrary and those other than the decision-maker take the blame for shortcomings.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

New $100m head coach Jon Gruden has returned to the league after 10 years of fair-to-middling colour commentary. And he’s come to pick fights with both colleagues and players. So GM Reggie McKenzie has been blamed for player failings. Oakland’s one elite player Khalil Mack is now in Chicago. Their other starting pass rusher, Mario Edwards, is cut.

In have come veterans like Jordy Nelson, Leon Hall and Frostee Rucker. Aging players who hit high peaks in the league, but those peaks seem increasingly distant. There is still quality on the roster, of course – Derek Carr is a good quarterback, Amari Cooper is one of the best slot receivers around, Kelechi Osemele one of the best guards. There are good players.

But when the drafted players are hyper-athletic, technically-flawed projects like Kolton Miller. And when the head coach has players watching tape from the 1970s for…what purpose exactly? You see that, and you genuinely don’t have a clue what is happening to the Raiders.

In some of the more psychopathic areas of business, the action of making strong decisions is prized moreso than the content or consequence of said decision. Ladies and gentlemen, the 2018 Oakland Raiders.

Denver Broncos

Don’t look now, but Denver might challenge for the biggest improvement in record without seeming to do much in the offseason. The moves they’ve made are smart, may prove to be lucky, and seem to have addressed the most gaping holes.

Case in point: the Siemian-Lynch-Osweiler cerbreus has gone, replaced by a clear starter, Case Keenum, backed up by Chad Kelly. If Keenum can keep up similar form to last season, Denver suddenly look a whole lot better. Denver let CJ Anderson go in free agency, but snagged Royce Freeman in the third round. That’s an immediate boost and a reprieve for what looked like a dubious move.

Elsewhere, Denver have never really replaced Demarcus Ware. Now, with Bradley Chubb taken with the fifth overall pick, they have a potential edge terror to pair with Von Miller. Anything to keep Shane Ray from regular snaps is a good thing. And there are still quality players across the roster – Chris Harris, Brandon Marshall, Emmanuel Sanders et al. The offensive line still worries me, but Keenum thrived behind Minnesota’s last year, so he’s got experience surviving it. They’ve done little flashy, but quietly Denver may have gone from top-5 pick to wild card team.

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