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The AFC West in 2019 is a tale of the haves and the have nots. Two teams, the Los Angeles Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs, have serious Super Bowl aspirations. The divisions other two teams, the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos, are just hoping to be competitive. Their best hope at meaningful victories this season will be trying to derail the Chargers and Chiefs respective runs towards the postseason.
Record in 2018: 6-10
Key Player: Quarterback – Joe Flacco
Player to Watch: Tight End- Noah Fant
The Broncos have had one majorly nagging question since Peyton Manning retired after winning the Super Bowl in 2016: who is the next franchise quarterback? John Elway hopes he has found the quarterback of the future in rookie Drew Lock. There are doubts if Lock is NFL ready, so new addition Joe Flacco will be a bridge quarterback.
Hopefully Flacco can breathe a little life into what has been an anemic passing attack in recent years. Offensively, the Broncos will lean on last year’s breakout running back Phillip Lindsay. Rookie tight end Noah Fant should be a nice counter punch to Lindsay off of play action.
Despite offensive struggles, the Broncos defense remains impressive, anchored by the pass rushing tandem of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. They’ll need to force as many turnovers as possible. Flacco may be on the back nine but he can still be effective when given a short field. Prediction: 6-10
Kansas City Chiefs
Record in 2018: 12-4
Key Player: Runningback- Damien Williams
Player to Watch: Defensive End: Frank Clark
Patrick Mahomes set the NFL on fire in his first season as a starter, throwing for over 5000 yards and 50 touchdowns with only 12 interceptions. He took home MVP honors to boot. Now the pressure is on Mahomes to come close to, if not duplicate last year’s performance.
It won’t be easy. Kareem Hunt was present for most of the regular season before being released due to an off the field incident. Damien Williams will have big shoes to fill as the lead back. Additionally, star receiver Tyreek Hill could still face charges for child abuse. Should Hill become unavailable at any point, even more pressure will be put on Mahomes and star tight end Travis Kelce.
The Chiefs’ defense has little pressure on them. With one of the most high powered offenses in football, they can win most games with a “bend don’t break” mentality. However, new additions Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu are known for making big plays. They could make this defense as dangerous as the offense. Prediction: 13-3
Los Angeles Chargers
Record in 2018: 12-4
Key Player: Tight End- Hunter Henry
Player to Watch: Defensive Tackle-Jerry Tillery
The Chargers need to win now if they’re ever going to get a championship with Phillip Rivers under center. Rivers has been one of the league’s best signal callers his whole career but still doesn’t have a ring, unlike draft classmates Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning (who each have two).
He’ll have plenty of help. With talented wide outs Keenan Allen and Mike Williams on the outside, the middle of the field should soften up for tight end Hunter Henry. Henry has shown he has top-tier talent but can’t seem to shake the injury bug. Star runningback Melvin Gordon has demanded a trade, so Rivers may be even more dependent on Henry, Allen and Williams.
Defensively the Chargers will terrorize opponents up front. Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and Brandon Mebane were already formidable. Rookie Jerry Tillery is going to get favorable matchups because of them and may pop in his first year. The Chiefs have the style but the Chargers may have more substance. Prediction: 12-4
Record in 2018: 4-12
Key Player: Wide Receiver- Tyrell Willams
Player to Watch: Defensive End- Clelin Ferrell
It’s hard to know what to make of the Raiders. Last season, they traded away franchise cornerstones in Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper for draft picks. This screams rebuild. Then, they go out and trade for Antonio Brown. Brown is arguably still the best receiver in the game but he’s also 31. So is this team rebuilding or does John Gruden have something else up his sleeve?
With the addition of Brown, more opportunity arises for Tyrell Williams, another new face. He showed flashes of ability with the Chargers. Can he capitalize on soft coverages as defenses focus on Brown? Derek Carr will have arguably the best wideout duo he’s had during his tenure, so this is the year he has to prove to Gruden he is the quarterback to lead this franchise when they move to Las Vegas.
Defensively, this group is very young and will make mistakes. However, they will also grow together and could become a solid unit in two to three years. The Raiders are hoping first round pick Clelin Ferrell can become this defense’s foundation. Hopefully he’s cool under pressure: he’s trying to fill a Khalil Mack sized hole. Prediction: 5-11