I was having a discussion in one of the sports groups I’m a part of on Facebook about which divisions have the best chance to send three teams to the postseason. There were two that I think have the potential to do that. The first division was the subject of my first “Division Prediction” article, the NFC North. The second division is the subject of this article, the AFC West.
Headed by the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, the AFC West has two other teams that I believe could be participant in this year’s playoffs: the Kansas City Chiefs and, this isn’t a typo, the Oakland Raiders. I believe the Chargers could make that jump and be in the discussion next year and I’ll explain why later in the article. So, let’s get into it!
1. Oakland Raiders 11-5
Rejoice, Raider fans! After 13 years without any postseason appearances, if this noob sports fan is correct, that drought will end this season. The Raiders took a step in the right direction last season, and after a very active and productive off-season, I think they take an even bigger step this season. Offensively, the Raiders are headlined by 3rd year quarterback Derek Carr, 2nd year WR Amare Cooper and a now elite offensive line that was beefed up in the off-season by GM Reggie McKenzie. Carr took a huge step forward in his 2nd season. He threw for 32 TDs to only 11 INTs and over 3,900 yards. Some of the credit for Carr’s step forward has to go to 2015 rookie WR Amare Cooper. The two reportedly built a bond quickly during training camp and it translated onto the field during the season. Cooper displayed a very polished skill set for a rookie as he went on to catch 72 passes for 1,070 yards and 6 TDs in his rookie year. The big surprise for the Raiders was the resurgence of WR Michael Crabtree, who led the team with 9 TD receptions. Latavius Murray proved to be a reliable runner in the backfield, rushing for over 1,000 yards. And the reason I believe this offense will take the next step will be the upgraded offensive line. The Raiders added the top offensive lineman in last year’s FA class, G Kelechi Osemele. Adding him to a line that already has Rodney Hudson, Donald Penn and Austin Howard gives the Raiders a line that may be the best of any team not named the Dallas Cowboys.
Defensive is where the Raiders made their biggest splash in free agency. They added LB Bruce Irvin, CB Sean Smith and S Reggie Nelson. Irvin and my pick for 2016 Defensive Player of the Year, Khalil Mack, should give the Raiders a dynamic rush that will wreak havoc on offensive lines. A much improved secondary should help this defense take the next step and help the Raiders return to the postseason.
2. Denver Broncos 10-6
Defense. A really, really good defense. That was the calling card of the Denver Broncos during their run to the franchise’s 3rd Super Bowl. Peyton Manning was a shell of his former self. He was so bad that the Broncos started QB Brock Osweiler for 4 games last season. Manning eventually got the starting job back and did enough to help the Broncos win it all. Now Manning is retired and Brock Osweiler signed a big deal with the Houston Texans. John Elway traded for Mark “Butt Fumble” Sanchez and drafted QB Paxton Lynch in the 1st round of the 2016 Draft. So going into the 2016 season, Denver has a QB situation that rivals that of the Cleveland Browns. But wait, are the Broncos still fine? With the way their QB’s performed last season and they still ended up winning it all, I say yes. After all, Mark Sanchez was in a similar situation with the Jets and played in 2 AFC Championship games. And I believe he is in a better situation now. DeMaryious Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are a formidable 1-2 punch at receiver. The offensive line is going to need to come together and improve quickly, seeing as Denver will most likely be a run-first team with the Sanchize at the helm.
Defensively, Denver will still be among the best in the league, despite losing Danny Trevethan and Malik Jackson in free agency. The depth is there, and they have arguably the best defensive coordinator in the NFL, Wade Philips, calling the shots. The best secondary in the NFL will be intact for the upcoming season as well. With the question marks that Denver has on offense, their defense is without question still going to be good enough to get them back into the playoffs this season.
3. Kansas City Chiefs 10-6
To call the Chiefs’ 2015 season a roller coaster would be a massive understatement. They started out 1-5 and lost star RB Jamaal Charles for the season due to a torn ACL in a Week 5 loss vs. the Bears. Those first 6 weeks of the season couldn’t have gone any worse. Most teams would have packed it in and started planning for the off-season. What do the Chiefs do? They win their last 10 regular season games, beat the Texans in the Wild Card round, giving them their first playoff win in 22 years, and gave New England all they could handle in the Divisional Round. They finished the season with a franchise record 11-game win streak.Ending the season as strongly as they did should give this team plenty of confidence going into the 2016 season. Kansas City had a fairly quiet off-season. They resigned TE Travis Kelce, RBs Chandarick West/Spencer Ware and OT Eric Fisher. The team also designated S Eric Berry as their franchise player and signed QB Nick Foles. The strength of this team on offense will clearly be their RBs. With the return of Jamaal Charles along with the way West and Ware filled in for him last season gives the impression that Kansas City has quite possibly the deepest backfield in the NFL. WR Jeremy Maclin had a very solid 1st season with the Chiefs to the tune of 87 receptions, 1,088 yards and 8 touchdowns. He provided Kansas City with a much needed threat on the perimeter after the team’s WR’s failed to catch a TD in over a season before his arrival. One of the major deficiencies of the Chiefs’ offense is the severe drop off in WR talent after Maclin. Albert Wilson and De’Anthony Thomas are the projected 2nd and 3rd wide-outs on the team and neither will make any defensive coordinators lose any sleep. TE Travis Kelce put together a nice season himself, which didn’t come as a surprise given that Alex Smith targets his TE’s almost more than any QB in the league.
Most of the Chiefs core defensive players will be back (S Eric Berry is currently holding out). Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali and Justin Houston will all be back along with 2015 Defensive Rookie of the Year Marcus Peters. I expect Berry and the Chiefs will come to a resolution on the holdout before the season so the Chiefs defense should be stout again this season. Kansas City is one of the more talented teams in the AFC and I expect the team be in the thick of the playoff hunt at season’s end.
4. San Diego Chargers 6-10
The 2015 season for the Chargers left their fans wishing Agents Kay and Jay would arrive to their homes and deneuralyze them. The injury bug hit the Chargers harder than any team in the league, especially on offense. The offensive line and receiving corp was unrecognizable late in the season. Despite that, QB Philip Rivers still finished 2nd in the NFL in passing yards. As for the off-season, the Chargers just getting healthy was the biggest thing for them. They used the #3 pick in the draft on Ohio State defensive lineman Joey Bosa, who is currently holding out from the team. Yes, a rookie, who isn’t a QB, who hasn’t played a down of NFL football, who has zero leverage, is holding out. Quite possibly the biggest joke of the offseason. Anyhow, as we were. The Chargers weren’t very active at all in free agency. They signed two ex-Packers: CB Casey Heyward to a 3-year contract and WR James Jones to a 1-year contract. They also added speedy WR Travis Benjamin. So, going into 2016, the Chargers have a fresh slate health-wise and improve upon a dismal 2015 campaign. Their offense is headed by Rivers, who I feel continues to be very underappreciated by fans around the league. In addition to Rivers, future hall of famer Antonio Gates continues to produce at a high level. Wide-outs Keenan Allen and Travis Benjamin should give opposing secondaries plenty of problems with their blazing speed. On the offensive line, C Matt Slauson is one of the best at his position in the league. It’s the other 4 lawn chairs that are one of the reasons why I don’t think San Diego will be much better next season. While I expect San Diego’s offense to be good, they don’t have overall quality on the offensive line that could make them a great/elite offense.
Defensively, the Charger’s strength are their CBs led by Jason Verrett. Heyward left a crowded secondary in GB and will have a much more important role on the Chargers D. OLB Melvin Ingram turned in a solid season with 10.5 sacks. Outside of the three players I named, there isn’t much to write home about. They have by far the worst defense in the division and could very well have one of the worst in the league. Even if healthy and if they get another great season from Philip Rivers, the Chargers just have too many holes on both sides of the ball to be a threat this season.
Huge Bucks, Packer, Brewer, Predator and Badger fan. But above all, just a lover of sports in general. Can’t wait to bring you some sports articles from a serious, yet humorous, perspective.