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2018 AFC West Preview: Chargers Still Favored Despite Injuries

Eric Rosales

by Eric Rosales in NFL Football

Jul 30, 2018 · 9:37 AM PDT

LA Chargers QB Philip Rivers
LA Chargers QB Philip Rivers. Photo by Jeffrey Beall via Wikimedia Commons.
  • Philip Rivers and the Chargers are in pole position for the AFC West crown
  • How will Case Keenum and Pat Mahomes fare in new beginnings?
  • Can the Raiders rise again under new coach Jon Gruden

Welcome to the wild AFC West, where you better have your offensive line in sync and your defensive coverage and alignment correct, or you can watch your quarterback, scoreboard and your season crumble in the blink of an eye.

Such is the life in the division where some of the very best sack artists in the NFL roam, where big play technicians are ready to get into space and make things happen, and where every team feels good about their chances in the division.

The Chiefs won the west, the only team to top double-digit wins last season. But their hold on the crown is shaky, at best, as they hand the reins under center to a fresh face.

Ditto for the Broncos, who hope that a pivot switch and a draft home run on defense can launch them back to prominence.

Meanwhile, the Raiders are looking for a bounce back, with a familiar favorite re-staking the sidelines and hoping to ignite that old Silver and Black lore.

And in Los Angeles, there’s something brewing with the suddenly talent-rich Bolts.

Let’s dissect the West.

Odds to Win the AFC West

Team Odds at Sportsbook 1 Odds at Sportsbook 2 2017 SU Record 2017 ATS Record 2017 Division Rank
Los Angeles Chargers +135 +155 9-7 8-7-1 2
Kansas City Chiefs +250 +260 10-6 10-6-0 1
Oakland Raiders +300 +325 6-10 5-9-2 3
Denver Broncos +525 +400 5-11 4-11-1 4

Los Angeles Chargers

Vegas is identifying the Chargers as the favorite on the same things that we’re seeing, via a process of elimination. Basically, who’s the best quarterback in the division?

Derek Carr may be the most talented, but he’s coming off an inconsistent down season. Case Keenum has had one good year, and Pat Mahomes has had one good start.

Philip Rivers is one of only two quarterbacks to throw for over 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns the last three seasons.

Old Man Philip Rivers? He’s one of only two quarterbacks to throw for over 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns the last three seasons. He’s actually done that nine of the last 10 years. Stability never looked so good.

Melvin Gordon emerged as a legitimate star running back. His 1,15 yards on the ground and eight majors (as well as 476 yards receiving and four more TDs) kept the opposition honest.

And then that defense. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are terrifying bookends that live in the opposing backfield. They combined for 23 sacks on the year, which  ranked second in the NFL.

Throw in a deep secondary that just got a star with the draft of uber-talented Derwin James, and they’re a nice pick for the division.

I wanted badly to ignore the hard luck persona the team has faced the last few years, with the injuries and the crushing losses in close games. Alas, it struck again, right before press time.

Chargers’ Key 2018 Additions/Departures

Chargers’ Key 2018 Additions Chargers’ Key 2018 Departures
Mike Pouncey (C) Antonio Gates (TE)
Virgil Green (TE) Matt Slauson (G)
Caleb Sturgis (K) Jeremiah Attaochu (DE)
Derwin James (S) – Rookie

Kansas City Chiefs

Alex Smith wins wherever he goes. So if your NFL team is toiling and lives in five-win land, Smith’s headiness and leadership should get you at least nine wins.

But if you want to take it to the next level? Well, not so much.

The Chiefs decided ten regular season wins and postseason flameouts weren’t doing it for them, so they dealt the veteran, and handed the reigns to second-year man Patrick Mahomes.

One start is a pretty small sample size, so they made sure that he was armed with as many assets as possible. Tyreek Hill was built to take the top off a defense, and that will allow Travis Kelce – arguably the toughest cover in the division – to roam free across the middle.

And in that intermediate space? Enter Sammy Watkins, who should be among the best third options in the NFL.

Second year man Kareem Hunt will handle the heavy lifting in the backfield, and he’ll try to improve on an electrifying 1,327 yard, eight TD campaign.

Defensively, Justin Houston will set the tone and crash from the edge, wrecking plans as teams try to open up the game, presumably because they’re being outscored.

Big play safety Eric Berry will stabilize a secondary that lost Marcus Peters, but that’s one that will sting, if none of the replacements via draft or free agency fill that void.

As of this writing, there appears to be a big addition pending.

Chiefs’ Key 2018 Additions/Departures

Chiefs’ Key 2018 Additions Chiefs’ Key 2018 Departures
Sammy Watkins (WR) Alex Smith (QB)
Anthony Hitchens (LB) Zach Fulton (G)
David Amerson (CB) Albert Wilson (WR)
Kendall Fuller (CB) Bennie Logan (DT)
Tamba Hali (DE)
Marcus Peters (CB)

Oakland Raiders

It’s hard to say that the Raiders will be better this season, if you were judging on their offseason work. Jordy Nelson is on the wrong side of 30, Doug Martin is trying to shed the washed-up label, and Martavis Bryant was not exactly a happy camper in his last locale.

But there’s something enticing about Jon Gruden returning to coaching with Derek Carr as his quarterback. He’ll try to inject life into a stagnant offence that scored just under 19 points a game (23rd) and finished outside the top-15 in almost all passing categories. This coming from a unit that only allowed 24 sacks on the year, tied for third fewest in the NFL.

The Raiders were one of ten teams in the NFL to average less than 100 yards per game on the ground in 2017.

Reviving the running game will help too. They were one of ten teams in the NFL to average less than 100 yards per game on the ground.

With a pop gun offense, it won’t matter how well Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin chase down the opposition – they’re going to be on the field too long to be effective.

Raiders’ Key 2018 Additions/Departures

Raiders’ Key 2018 Additions Raiders’ Key 2018 Departures
Doug Martin (RB) Michael Crabtree (WR)
Jordy Nelson (WR) Denico Autry (DE)
Martavis Bryant (WR) T.J. Carrie (CB)
Tahir Whitehead (LB) David Amerson (CB)
Derrick Johnson (LB) Sebastian Janikowski (K)
Rashaan Melvin (CB) Marquette King (P)
Daryl Worley (CB)
Marcus Gilchrist (S)

Denver Broncos

You know you need to make changes at quarterback when this is the most memorable pass any of the quarterbacks threw last year.

John Elway’s skimping at the most important position in football philosophy is over, and he went big game fishing. He returned with Case Keenum.

In his fifth year, Keenum finally broke through the journeyman/backup path he was heading down with a big year in Minnesota. He threw for nearly 3,600 yards and completed at a clip of 67.6%, tossing 22 TDs to just seven interceptions and led the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game, on the strength of this prayer getting answered:

Even competent QB play would be a massive upgrade for the Broncos, and that will hopefully unlock the elite receiving duo of Demariyus Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

They’re also high on a draft that netted them receiver Courtland Sutton and running back Royce Freeman, who could be immediate impact players from the jump.

Losing Aqib Talib was big, but drafting Bradley Chubb fifth to rush opposite Von Miller could be the shot in the arm a still-talented defense needs to get back to elite status.

Broncos’ Key 2018 Additions/Departures

Broncos’ Key 2018 Additions Broncos’ Key 2018 Departures
Case Keenum (QB) C.J. Anderson (RB)
Clinton McDonald (DT) Donald Stephenson (LT)
Tramaine Brock (CB) Aqib Talib (CB)
Marquette King (P)
Bradley Chubb (LB) – Rookie
Courtland Sutton (WR) – Rookie
Royce Freeman (RB) – Rookie
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