Reigning Champs of The West
Can the Kansas City Chiefs, repeat winning the conference? The Chiefs lost to eventual Super Bowl Champions the New England Patriots 37-31 in the conference championship. After being one of the most productive offenses in the league, the Chiefs were unable to score in the first half of the game. As the year went on, Patrick Mahomes was sensational and Andy Reid showed some ingenuity of his offense and new quarterback. The team went 12-4 and scored the most points in the division at 565.
The Chief’s Struggles
At the end of the year, the struggles began. In the last games, it seemed that teams had enough tape on Patrick Mahomes to slow him and the offense down. At the end of the year, opposing teams seemed to figure out the offense. The teams of note toward the end of the year include losses to the Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Chargers, Seattle Seahawks and of course, the New England Patriots. At the same time, the Chiefs scraped by the Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens. The team would likely have more issues scoring this year.
Who’s Coming and Going?
The team had more issues with the loss of Kareem Hunt after an alleged assault of a female in a hotel. Hunt was cut from the Chiefs and joined the Cleveland Browns with an 8 game suspension. Justin Houston, defensive end, and Eric Berry, safety, were both released in the off-season. Spencer Ware did not receive a contract extension. Darron Lee, linebacker, was brought in from the New York Jets for a 2020 6th round draft pick. The Chiefs also drafted Mecole Hardman with a pending suspension for Tyreek Hill that never came. The team also brought in Carlos Hyde from the Jacksonville Jaguars.
What to expect?
With the injury issues already popping up in Kansas City, the Chiefs will likely be forced to throw more. Andy Reid has come out and said that the Chief’s will use a running back by committee. The standout players haven’t changed with Patrick Mahomes firing away at QB and Travis Kelce being an elite tight end. The team also has a solid wide receiver corps with Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman. After watching the preseason game, Mecole Hardman and Darwin Thompson were standout players and become added threats to the offense.
Maybe a committee
The team has also made small steps in improving the defense. Chiefs also seemed to think ahead to not run into the problem it had last year after the loss of Kareem Hunt. Kansas City has plenty of depth at running back with Damien Williams, Carlos Hyde, Darrel Williams, Darwin Thompson and Tremon Smith. This team should have no issue having at running back, while it is not Andy Reid’s forte, the team can be successful using a running back by committee.
Never a bride
Moving on to the team with the second best year, the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers had the same record as the Chiefs ending the season 12-4, the Chiefs clinched division by going 5-1 in conference compared to the Chargeres 4-2 record. The Chargers were successful in a different way compared to the Chiefs by allowing the least amount of points scored 329 while scoring the second most amount of points at 428 points. A not so surprising piece of information, the Chargers were better on the road last year. Unfortunately, the Chargers even though they were “at home” had more fans from the opposing team at the games. They made it into the wildcard and held the Baltimore Ravens in check until the last quarter to win. Chargers lost to eventual Super bowl champion New England Patriots.
The Chargers Debacle
Melvin Gordon’s holdout is the biggest issue right now for the team. The team will not spend up for Gordon, especially after his injury late in the season that potentially ended up the Chargers playoff hopes. Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson will likely split work 70-30 with Ekeler getting a majority of the work. Gordon is hoping for $13-15 million a year, the Paganos being notoriously cheap offered $10 million. The Paganos having known when to move on at that position seem to have that are on their mind. The Chargers could easily trade for a veteran running back and draft or make an off-season trade for a younger back after this season.
Who is in and who is out?
In the off-season, the biggest move was picking up a great backup in Tyrod Taylor and bringing in depth and skill on the defense. The team also let Tyrell Williams become an unrestricted free agent vacating 65 targets. In the draft, the Chargers picked up Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, and Nasir Adderley, safety in the first two rounds. The team also tried to improve the offensive line and added Trey Pipkins. These players being added to a good defense can only help. The defense is successful with Russell Okung, Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Derwin James. If these players can remain healthy up front, the team usually has decent success against most offenses. A common issue the Chargers have is spending money the right way and staying healthy.
The passing game
After being sidelined with injury and flashing in 2017, Hunter Henry is set up for success at the tight end position. Antonio Gates will not be there and have all the targets going to Henry. Keenan Allen is another solid player consistently averaging 9 targets a game. Mike Williams is a huge red zone target, being 1 of 5 players targeted 18 times in the 0 to 10 yards. Phillip Rivers at quarterback is a leader. He plays with full intensity wants to win every game as a leader does. Phillip Rivers has been a consistent player, but is a game manager. Rivers follows his coaching staff and game plan to perfection. The issue comes when the team is behind, while he runs a great two-minute drill. He often makes little mistakes that cost the team.
The Denver Broncos
The bottom half of the AFC West, the Broncos finished 6-10 with Case Keenum at QB coming off a hot year in Minnesota. With a solid wide receiving corps consisting of Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas, and Courtland Sutton. The drafting of Royce freeman and the addition of Phillip Lindsay at running back really displayed the year as a rebuilding one. Maintaining the big names from the defense, and refreshing the offense. Unfortunately, midway through the season, the team decided to trade Thomas and later suffered an injury to Sanders. The win-loss record is surprisingly good based on the critical pieces being lost.
Can the Broncos improve?
The Broncos started in the right area, by mixing up the coaching staff. First off, the team hired the Chicago Bears defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio. Rich Scangarello was hired from San Francisco 49ers quarterback coach. He will likely focus on more short plays and running the ball. After the issues in the Tight End area, the first round the picked up Noah Fant and in the second round picked up an offensive tackle, Dalton Risner. Beyond that, the team also acquired Joe Flacco from the Baltimore Ravens. The veteran quarterback should be able to use great pieces around him and the strong running back committee behind him. These are great stride and no one should be surprised that the Broncos allowed the second fewest points at 349.
Hard Knock life
The final team in the division is the Oakland Raiders. Last year, this team finished 4-12. Jon Gruden overhauled the team last year by trading away the star linebacker Khalil Mack and wide receiver, Amari Cooper for 3 first round picks. After struggling with a muddied backfield that included Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington. Lynch sustained a groin injury in the sixth game of the season.
This is a mostly new team. The Raiders were able to steal Antonio Brown from the Steelers to be that powerful wide receiver. They added two field stretchers in Tyrell Williams and J.J. Nelson. After Marshawn Lynch announced his retirement, the team was able to use their second first round pick to add Josh Jacobs, a well rounded running back. This happens after the team signed a one-year deal with Isaiah Crowell, who went down with a torn ACL. Beyond that, Gruden focused on the defense using his picks to beef up the defensive line. The Raiders added 3 defensive ends and made some changes at the offensive line. In that same light, the team also signed a troubled, but probowl caliber linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
With all the publicity from HBO’s hard knocks, Antonio Brown has really walked away the star. In the first episode, he shows his feet that look almost to be being eaten away by a fungus. The viewers soon find out that it is from not wearing the appropriate footwear in a cryotherapy machine causing him to have frostbite. Moving forward, Antonio also filed a grievance with the National Football League, as the helmet he has worn for 10 years is no longer being allowed. The NFL threw out the case, as the reason for the change is the improvement of helmets to better protect players. Brown’s issue comes from his alleged inability to have the same peripheral view.
Antonio Brown after being filled with controversy is still a bright spot in the offense. The Raiders have a lot of new and skilled players that could very easily make this team a championship caliber team. The team should have focused on an offensive line to protect Derek Carr and open up better holes for the running backs. This year Derek Carr could easily be a top 15 quarterback.
Going out on a limb, the AFC West will likely have the teams that no other division or conference wants to take on. The high-powered offenses and stable defenses could cause troubles for opposing teams. This division is likely going to have 3 times at 12-4 in the Chiefs, Chargers and the Raiders. While everyone seems to think that the Chiefs will repeat, the Chargers actually have been the most stable and improved the defense. Of course, in the AFC West all teams will be close games likely having 1 loss to each other and potentially one other out of conference.
Focusing on fantasy
With such a stacked AFC West, there are a lot of useful pieces. Patrick Mahomes and Phillip Rivers are likely top 8 quarterbacks in fantasy, especially if Melvin Gordon does not play and is not traded. If Gordon plays, he would be the running back to own, otherwise stick with Josh Jacobs. Both players will be top 24 at the running back position. Wide Receiver upside is definitely with Antonio Brown, but he could be an up and down player. Keenan Allen will again be the most consistent wide receiver with Mike Williams being a great piece to get in the later rounds. At the tight end, Travis Kelce will be at the top. Going early in fantasy drafts and will perform as such, the better value going later is Hunter Henry. Henry has the ability to finish in top 8 at the position. Good luck and happy reading.