Wednesday, August 17, 2016

AFC West Preview

Derek Carr & Kahlil Mack will be the stars of the division

Kansas City Chiefs

Last Season Record:  (11-5)

Key Acquisition(s): Rod Streater

Key Loss(es): Sean Smith, Chase Daniel, Donald Stephenson

The KC Chiefs had one of the most interesting regular seasons you’ll see in the NFL.  They started out the season 1-5, then came thundering back to win 10 straight games. Most closely responsible for the turnaround was the defensive effort the Chiefs received. After giving up 30+ points in three of their first four games, the team never surrendered more than 22 for the remaining of the season.  They’ll miss Sean Smith, a rangy corner that was one of the better guys at his position last season.  They’ll still have Eric Berry (who was franchised this offseason) will have to lead that secondary—which includes the defensive player of the year Marcus Peters.  On the front end, the Chiefs still have Tamba Hali…but fellow pass rusher Justin Houston could very well miss the entire season with injury and will start on the PUP list.  The defense was 3rd in points allowed per game, with two major components missing how will they respond?

What will Jamaal Charles give them off his second ACL injury? David E. Klutho (Sports Illustrated)

Somehow the team lost its most potent weapon and managed to succeed.  Jamaal Charles was recently removed from the PUP list and can resume full participation in practice.  They replaced Charles with Knile Davis, Charcandrick West, and Spencer Ware. QB Alex Smith was his usual self, right on his KC averages in terms of TDs, INTs, and yards per attempted pass. The Chiefs (even without their starting runner for the majority of the season), were 29th in pass attempts per game, 30th in yards, and 26th in total pass TDs.  Smith is who he is, a steady (KC had the least INTs of any team) captain on a talented team.

Prediction: There’s no reason to think this team won’t be good again.  Defense and running (they were 6th in yards and first in rushing TDs) travels well; their defense won’t be quite as good so I predict they will compete for a wildcard berth in what will be an extremely competitive division in football.

Denver Broncos

Last Season Record: (12-4) Super Bowl Winner

Key Acquisition(s): Russell Okung, Donald Stephenson, Mark Sanchez

Key Loss(es): Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan, Brock Osweiler, Peyton Manning (retire)

I didn’t get an appreciation for exactly good the defense was until the QB play became deplorable. At every level of the defense the Broncos sported extreme talent.  But as with any successful team, it was difficult to keep personnel.  Jackson (defensive tackle) and Trevathan (linebacker) are gone and corner Aqib Talib is recovering from…uh…something. Von Miller will have to be just as dominant as he was last season to create the requisite havoc for the opposition. Without major contributors, can this defense be good enough to supplement a changing and, perhaps, diminished offense?

Can Sanchez manage this team well enough to return to the postseason? 

The drama surrounding the team (other than the Miller holdout) was the complete overhaul of the quarterback position. Manning retired, and it was thought that Osweiler (after having some starts last season) would come into camp as the starter.  A game of Free Agent Chicken resulted in Osweiler departing and Sanchez coming in.  Trevor Siemean will compete as well.  Both will be keeping the seat warm for Paxton Lynch, who the Broncos took in the first round of the draft. 

Prediction: The defense won’t be as good, there are real question marks about who will head the offense.  I hope the Broncos fans enjoyed the Super Bowl run last year, because they won’t make the playoffs this season.

San Diego Chargers

Last Season record: (4-12)

Key Acquisition(s):  Travis Benjamin, Brandon Mebane

Key Loss(es): Eric Weddle, Malcolm Floyd, LaDarius Green

Not a lot of reason to smile from Philip Rivers

Last season was a disappointment on a large scale.  With a potential looming move to LA, it felt like the Chargers were going to say goodbye to San Diego on a sour note. The team never came together and puttered to a 4 win season, easily the worst wins total of Philip Rivers’ career. Rivers still put together a solid season even with the losses, he simply didn’t have the weapons at his disposal necessary to win.  It was a bit surprising that the Chargers let promising TE Green go, as Antonio Gates enters the winter of his career. Floyd is retiring, so they will need a big season out of Benjamin—it’ll be interesting to see if he was held back in the tumultuous conditions of Cleveland.

Weddle was a stalwart of that team and defense.  His departure wasn’t a surprise given his age, but it does mark the end of an era.  They were one of the worst against the run last season, so enter in Mebane—a talented nose tackle to sure up a defense that gave up 30th most yards per rush attempt. If they don’t sure up the run defense, it’ll be another dismal season.

Prediction: No playoffs again for the Chargers. They were bad last season, and they’ll be bad again this season.  It really feels like Rivers is doomed to waste the rest of his HoF talent with a ineffectual team.

Oakland Raiders

Last Season’s Record: (7-9)

Key Acquisition(s): Sean Smith, Bruce Irvin, Reggie Nelson

Key Loss(es):   Rod Streater, Charles Woodson (retired), Justin Tuck (retired)

Derek Carr continues to make large improvements from year to year. They were 31st in points per game and 32nd in yards two seasons ago, and last season were 17th and 24th respectively.  Another year should see Carr improve, especially as he builds chemistry with WR Amari Cooper. Running back LaTavius Murray is the presumed starter (coming off his first 1,000 yard season), but keep an eye on 5th round selection DeAndre Washington out of Texas Tech who is making waves leading up to the regular season. They’ll need to improve running the ball, because the team was in the bottom third in terms of rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.  According to Pro Football Focus (people who pay close attention to offensive line play) the Raiders could have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL this season.  Another year under offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave (one that saw the Raiders make franchise history with the first season that had a 4,000 yard passer, 1,000 yard rusher, 1,000 yard receiver) will likely see an improvement on this side of the ball.

As much promise as the offense holds, the defense is the more star-studded side of the ball. Kahlil Mack continues to prove he’s one of the best pass rushers in the League. They’ve added Irvin to bolster the attack and 2nd round pick Jihad Ward is flashing signs of real promise that he will contribute in his first season. The secondary lost Charles Woodson and his experience, and has replaced him with Reggie Nelson and 1st round pick Karl Joseph at the safety positions.  2013 draft pick DJ Hayden looks like he’ll make an impact alongside David Amerson, to totally revamp the lagging secondary.  If they can get Aldon Smith back (he will have an opportunity to apply for reinstatement in November), then this defense can be the best in the League.

Prediction: The Oakland Raiders will win the AFC West. There isn’t a ton of players with winning experience on the team with Tuck and Woodson departing, but there’s just too much talent for me to go anywhere else for this pick.

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