2018 NFL Preview - AFC West

by Ryan McCarthy, BBM Staff Writer

Los Angeles Chargers - Wait, the team that currently occupies a soccer stadium? Yes, that team. After starting the season 0-4 in 2017, the Chargers reeled off nine wins in their final 12 games, narrowly missing out on a playoff appearance to Buffalo. QB Phillip Rivers returns to the Chargers for his fifteenth season and he’ll have plenty of weapons with RB Melvin Gordon and WRs Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. On defense, DLs Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram were linchpins to a defense that finished tied for fifth in the league in sacks last season. The Chargers barely missed the playoffs last season, but it wasn’t because of their pass defense. Their pass defense was one of the best in the league in 2017, finishing third in allowing only 197 passing yards per game and tied for sixth with 18 team interceptions. So, why not continue to improve? The Chargers selected Derwin James out of Florida State for their first overall pick in 2018. The Chargers will be playing some of the league’s best quarterbacks this season and someone with James’ versatility can help the Chargers a lot.

Denver Broncos - Last season, Broncos head coach Vance Joseph had a devil of a time trying to find stability at quarterback, going through three during the course of the season. This season, he will have the luxury of having stability with Case Keenum, who had a breakout season with the Minnesota Vikings and lead them to the NFC Championship Game. He’ll have weapons such as WRs Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to throw to and rookie RB Royce Freeman to depend on to strengthen the running game. Freeman broke several rushing records while at the University of Oregon, including the freshman rushing record and the career rushing record and rushing touchdowns. He was ranked as the eighth best running back in the 2018 draft and was the Broncos’ third-round selection, but could be the steal that helps the Broncos become a division darkhorse.

Oakland Raiders -  Oakland Raiders. Head coach Jon Gruden was convinced to come back into coaching. He stepped into a messy situation with his best player on defense holding our and subsequently traded. So, now that that’s over, what will happen next? Gruden has some talent on offense with QB David Carr returning and the acquisition of WR Jordy Nelson should take a load off of fellow receiver Amari Cooper. The Raiders’ offensive line was one of the better lines last season, only surrendering 24 sacks during the season, good enough to be tied for 27in the league. The Raiders will, however, be facing some of the best defenses in the league this season that feature rather prolific pass rushers. To bolster their line protection, they drafted one of the best offensive linemen available in UCLA’s Kolton Miller. How many sacks did Miller allow in 2017? Two. Miller will protect Derek Carr’s blindside, which should help Carr have a better season in 2018. But the bugaboo for the Raiders will be a tough schedule. They will face all four NFC West teams as well as three AFC Central teams, including Pittsburgh,  Cincinnati, and much-improved Cleveland. 

Kansas City Chiefs - The 2017 season started out with the Kansas City Chiefs shocking the defending champion New England Patriots in Foxboro. After a bumpy ride throughout the season, which included losing six of seven in the middle of the season but the Chiefs still prevailed as the division champion. Even with that the Chiefs made some overhauls on both sides of the ball this offseason, trading QB Alex Smith and CB Marcus Peters. Head coach Andy Reid thinks that Patrick Mahomes is ready to lead the offense. He’ll have some weapons around him with RB Kareem Hunt, WRs Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins, and TE Travis Kelce. The big question mark will be on defense, particularly on the corners, where they have been trying to fix some instability in the preseason. But if the Chiefs can figure things out in the first month, they could be better than we think. Their defense improved greatly when they drafted Derrick Nnadi. Nnadi, an interior defensive lineman, is expected to help a run defense that finished that finished 25th in the league in 2017. Nnadi was a third-team conference selection in the ACC, collecting 56 tackles in 2017 for Florida State. Although he had what was considered a lackluster combine, Nnadi is considered a hard worker, even fighting through injury to help his team. He’ll start the year off of the bench, but can make a big impact on third and short.

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