Even though the AFC West has been a pretty competitive division throughout the years, this division has seen many teams repeat as division winners since the 2000 season. The Oakland Raiders had a three year streak of winning the division from 2000-2002, the San Diego Chargers had a four year run where they were division champions from 2006-2009, the Denver Broncos won the division five years in a row from 2011-2015, and the Kansas City Chiefs have won the division the past two seasons and are poised to make it three in a row in 2018.
The AFC West may be a streaky division, but there have been plenty of years where this division took more than one team to the playoffs. Since the start of the 2000 season, there have been seven different seasons where one of the AFC wildcard qualifiers came from the AFC West and it is looking like that may happen again in 2018.
- Kansas City Chiefs: 11-5
For the third year in a row, the Chiefs will win this division even though they have a new inexperienced quarterback in Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs traded up in the 2017 NFL Draft to take Mahomes with the 10th overall pick as Mahomes had a great college career at Texas Tech. and has incredible arm strength with great capability of throwing the ball deep and accurate.
A big reason why the Chiefs have won the division each of the past couple seasons is because they had an explosively fast offense headlined by wide receiver Tyreek Hill, tight end Travis Kelce, and running back Kareem Hunt had a breakout rookie season last year for the Chiefs. And on top of those three, the Chiefs brought in free agent wide receiver, Sammy Watkins who also has explosive speed, making him and Hill potentially the fastest 1-2 wide receiver duo in the NFL in 2018. When you got not just one, but two speed burners like that at wide receiver who can blow past opposing secondaries and make big plays, that is really going to help Mahomes who’s arm strength is more than capable of getting the ball that deep down the field.
Even though the Chiefs were a good team the past few seasons under veteran quarterback Alex Smith, he was too much of a conservative quarterback who lacked the potential to throw balls deep down the field for his speedy wide outs, which could have been why they couldn’t get past the divisional round of the playoffs during the past three seasons. Mahomes may be much more of a risk taker and turns the ball over more than Smith, but I think Mahomes will be a successful quarterback with the Chiefs in 2018, mainly because he has such an explosive offensive unit around him, it makes him pretty hard to fail.
Last season, the Chiefs defense was towards the bottom of the league in points and yards allowed after having a few seasons where their defense was pretty solid. However, a year ago they lost a couple of their big name defenders for multiple games due to injuries such as safety Eric Berry who only played one game last season before tearing his Achilles in Week 1 and linebacker Tamba Hali most games last season due to knee issues. That right there is two of the Chiefs best defenders but with them both expected to be back in 2018, the Chiefs defense can only go up this season from last season. Chiefs win the division for the third year in a row thanks to an explosive offense and the return of their defensive cornerstones.
- Los Angeles Chargers: 10-6
Even though the AFC West winner is most likely going to be a toss-up this season between the Chiefs and Chargers this season, I just think there are two things the Chargers lack that the Chiefs have. One is that the Chiefs have a much more experienced head coach who has had previous success in Andy Reid while the Chargers have an inexperienced head coach in Anthony Lynn who will be entering his second season. Prior to being hired by the Chargers, Lynn has never been a head coach and sure he had a successful rookie year as he led the Chargers to a 9-7 record, but I think his inexperience may cost his team from winning the division.
The second thing the Chargers lack compared to the Chiefs is an explosive wide receiver and tight end unit. I know their number one receiver, Keenan Allen nearly had 1,400 receiving yards and six touchdowns on 102 catches a year ago, but let’s not forget that Allen has suffered season ending injuries in back to back seasons in 2015 and 2016, so who knows if he can sustain that type of play for a second consecutive season. Also, their number two wide receiver Mike Williams had a very disappointing rookie season in 2017 as he only appeared in ten games and only catching for 95 total yards with zero touchdowns. I just think the Chargers heavily lack depth in their receiving core which doesn’t do many favors for their franchise quarterback Phillip Rivers who is going to be 36 years old entering this season.
While the Chargers may have some big questionmarks with their wide receivers and if quarterback Phillip Rivers can still play at a high level at age 36, there are two things that the Chargers have a huge strength in, running game and defense. Their running back, Melvin Gordon has improved each year since the team drafted him in 2015 as he had 12 total touchdowns in each of the past two seasons and has seen his total rushing yards increase from 641 to 997 to 1105 from 2015 through 2017, so expect Gordon to continue to play at a high level in 2018.
As for their defense, for the first time in a while the Chargers have some stability on the defensive side of the ball and aren’t as reliant on the offense to put up 30+ points per game to win football games. The Chargers defense allowed the third fewest points in 2017 and are a core that is very young and good for the long term. They may have the best defensive front duo in the league with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram and have a pretty solid cornerback duo as well with Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward and also just drafted safety Derwin James with their first round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Chargers defense will certainly help them win games in 2018, but because they lack an explosive offensive passing arsenal around quarterback Phillip Rivers, they fall just short of winning the AFC West.
- Oakland Raiders: 7-9
It was just two seasons ago where the Raiders were the talk of the league as they were one of the best teams in the AFC for most of the 2016 season before their quarterback, Derek Carr suffered a season ending leg injury, costing them a potential Super Bowl run as they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Last season they dropped down to 6-10 in a year where just about everything went wrong for them.
In 2018 with new Head Coach, Jon Gruden I think they win one more game than they did a year ago. Their quarterback Derek Carr is a proven NFL starting quarterback as he has thrown at least 3,200 yards, 21 touchdowns and less than 15 interceptions in each of his first four NFL seasons. However, the talent around him has declined since the great 12-4 season the Raiders had in 2016. Their main running backs consist of Marshawn Lynch who is 32 years old and past his prime and Doug Martin who is injury prone and played all 16 games in a season just twice since getting drafted in 2012. At wide receiver, Amari Cooper had a very disappointing season (48 catches, 680 yards and 7 TD) after making at least 70 catches and 1,000 yards in each of his first two NFL seasons. They brought in the 33 year old Jordy Nelson and who knows how he will play with this being his first season with Aaron Rodgers not throwing him the football and also acquired Martavis Bryant from the Pittsburgh Steelers who has gotten suspended by the league a couple times in the past for drugs. So even though the Raiders have a reliable quarterback in Derek Carr and a solid offensive line, I just think they have too many questionmarks around them on offense to succeed in 2018.
While their defense isn’t much better as their defense was in the bottom third of the league a year ago in yards and points allowed. Sure they have one of the best defensive players in the game in Khalil Mack, but other than Mack this defense lacks some pieces to succeed, especially in their secondary. Even though the Raiders have Mack up front and some other decent defensive lineman such as Bruce Irvin and Derrick Johnson, their secondary looks like an absolute mess. The Raiders could have potential to be a good team in 2018, but I just think this team has too many questionmarks around new head coach, Jon Gruden which is why I have them at 7-9.
- Denver Broncos: 5-11
Since winning Super Bowl 50 behind an elite defense and Peyton Manning’s final NFL season, the Broncos have missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons and have had trouble finding a replacement at quarterback. The Broncos have had three different starting quarterbacks since the start of the 2016 season, but heading into the 2018 season they think they may have found their solution by signing veteran journeyman, Case Keenum to a two year deal. But I got a newsflash, he is not going to be the solution.
Keenum is 30 years old and last season was the first time he found any form of success in the NFL and was put in the most perfect position possible for any quarterback to succeed. He was on a very talented Minnesota Vikings team that had the #1 defense in the league, a great wide receiver duo with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, and a pair of good veteran running backs in Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon.
Even though the Broncos also have a top tier defense, their offense lacks the type of play makers that the Vikings had last season when Keenum was there. The Broncos have one of the worst offensive lines in football, two wide receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders that are both declining players on the wrong side of 30, and have very inconsistent and inexperienced running backs with Devonate Booker and Royce Freeman. I just think the Broncos offense around Keenum heavily lacks the type of playmakers they need in order for an average quarterback like Keenum to succeed. If you have an above average quarterback in Denver such as Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, or Matthew Stafford than maybe they become a playoff contender, but unfortunately that is not the case.
The Broncos still have one of the more elite defense’s in the league as they still have one of the best linebackers in the game Von Miller, a pair of solid defensive ends in Derek Wolfe and rookie Bradley Chubb, and a pretty solid secondary with Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby. I think the Broncos defense will be in the top 10 in the league once again in 2018, but will fall in last place in their division as they lack a reliable NFL offense.