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All-32 Series: AFC West Team Outlooks for 2018

Updated: Aug 2, 2019

Artwork by Robert Robinson, @badasskidsent

Written by The Blitz Team

The NFL regular season is almost upon us! For all the fans that have been waiting to put the 2017 season behind them, besides Eagles fans, of course, this will give everyone a chance at another run at the Lombardi Trophy. For this month’s All32 series, we are giving an outlook on what to expect from each team and give an idea how the season may turn out. The preseason gave us a little glimpse of how some players and teams are looking so far in 2018, but, that is in the past and ‘real football’ is back again. We don’t know about you, but, The Blitz Team is beyond excited that the 2018 season is here!

Denver Broncos

The Broncos will be entering the 2018 season with much more optimism then they had in 2017, mainly because of their new quarterback Case Keenum. While Keenum is no Aaron Rodgers, he still is a significant upgrade over the QBs Denver had on the field last year. Keenum is coming off a career year and should give Denver a much-needed jolt to their offense. Their receiving corps is loaded as well. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are still staples in the offense, and they will be joined by rookies Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton, who both should make life easier on the veterans. Devontae Booker and Royce Freeman will be splitting touches out of the backfield to start the season. I believe Freeman will eventually be the lead back as he showed his potential all throughout the preseason. This unit should be able to help the Broncos put up points all season long, as long as Keenum does prove last year wasn’t a fluke.

Denver has been known for having one of the stingiest defenses in the league, and with an improved offense, they shouldn’t find themselves getting worn out in 2018 from being on the field so much. Von Miller and 1st round pick Bradley Chubb should be giving quarterbacks nightmares all season long, and also provide flexibility for the players around them. Chris Harris Jr. is still the best slot corner in the NFL. After the departure of Aqib Talib, it will be on Bradley Roby to take the next step by becoming the corner the organization drafted him to be. If this unit can gel quickly, then they should be one of the better defenses in the league.

While the offense is much improved, and the defense should be able to return to being one of the best, I am unsure if I can trust Vance Joseph to get the job done. He seemed over his head at times and some of his decisions thus far have me wondering if he may hold the Broncos back. I have Denver finishing right outside the playoff picture with a 7-9 or 8-8 record.

- Cody Manning

Kansas City Chiefs

Coming into 2018, the Chiefs look to turn their offense into a juggernaut with weapons galore and the transition from Alex “checkdown” Smith to Patrick “air-it-out” Mahomes. Andy Reid has a tremendous cast to work with from Kareem Hunt and Travis Kelce to Tyreek Hill and newly-signed weapon Sammy Watkins. Schematically, the Chiefs will look to attack both deep over the top of the defense and underneath with Kareem Hunt, keeping the defense honest. I love the prospect of Pat Mahomes, but I’m hesitant because he doesn’t have high-level decision making yet or an understanding of NFL defenses. He also hasn’t seen any real schemes in the preseason like he will in the regular season.

Defensively, the Chiefs are are a work in progress and will have to find a way to replace Marcus Peters, an elite cornerback, and are still looking to improve their front seven. A massive positive is getting safety Eric Berry back. Ultimately, the Chiefs will have an up-and-down year as far as I can tell. Some games will be incredible, with Mahomes going off and all weapons clicking, but there will also be weeks when he turns the ball over and the defense gets outplayed. The Chiefs are playoff viable this year as long as Mahomes is consistent and they can generate a pass rush.

-Nick Van Fossen

Los Angeles Chargers

For the past few years the Chargers have been the most injury prone team in the league, and since the move to Los Angeles, nothing seems to have changed. Throughout the course of the 2018 offseason, the Chargers have managed to lose tight ends Hunter Henry and Austin Roberts and starting cornerback Jason Verrett for the season. Although the other injuries haven’t been threatening to the season, Joey Bosa’s foot and Casey Hayward’s hamstring will need to be monitored prior to their week one contest verse the Chiefs. Although the injury bug seems to wreak havoc on the new Los Angeles natives, they still possess one of the most well-rounded teams in the league.

They are led by a future Hall of Fame quarterback, Philip Rivers (no, he will not be first ballot, but his stats are worthy of the HOF). Melvin Gordon is healthy and ready to take on a monster workload out of the gate behind one of the best offensive lines the Chargers have had since the days of LaDainian Tomlinson. Combine those three factors with Keenan Allen, the best route runner in the game, and a healthy version of the 2017 7th overall pick, Mike Williams, and you're looking at a potential top five offense.

Now flip to the other side of the ball. One of the best pass rushing tandems in the league is featured on the Chargers defense. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are both elite players at their respective positions and could both earn double-digit sacks during their 2018 campaign. In fact, it is expected. The Chargers also boast Casey Hayward, one of the best corners in the league, and although they lost his running mate in Verrett for the year, Trevor Williams should serve as a solid replacement. Added to the mix this year is first-round pick Derwin James, who will be looking to lock up a safety role in LAC. Now with Caleb Sturgis, they can hopefully get some help in their kicking game, too. They have a well-rounded squad that should challenge for and potentially win the AFC West crown.

- Jason Feiner

Oakland Raiders

The return of Oakland’s former head coach Jon Gruden has had both Chucky and the Raider Nation as excited as can be about the upcoming season. Well, that was at until Kalil Mack was traded to the Chicago Bears today. The team’s best player has been shipped out of Oakland due to the franchise simply not having the money allocated to pay him the $23M a year he’s expected to make. After a disappointing 2017, the Raiders decided to cut ties with HC Jack Del Rio, bringing Gruden out of the television booth and onto the sidelines for the first time in a decade. Many critics are skeptical as to if the head coach still has what it takes to win in the NFL, and don’t believe he’ll be able to relate to the new generation of millennial football players. Only time will tell, but it’s highly doubtful he’ll be calling plays from ancient Sumerian scrolls like the naysayers would lead you to believe. Yes, he’s had quite a long layoff, but he’s never stopped being a student of the game. However, he’ll likely still bring an old school approach to his coaching style. The man’s the epitome of a perfectionist, and perfection beats a laid back (Del Rio-like) coaching approach every time.

Khalil Mack’s departure is going to have a massive effect on the team’s defense, but like his now former HC said, even with Mack on the field last season, the Raiders defense was atrocious. They finished 23rd overall, allowing an average of 350.1 yards and 23.3 points per game. They were dead last in interceptions with a grand total of five and finished 29th in passes defended. Understandably, Gruden and GM Reggie McKenzie cleared house in the secondary this offseason. Starters Sean Smith, David Amerson, and D.J. Carrie were all cut and replaced with Rashaan Melvin, Dominique Rodgers Cromartie, and Daryl Worley, to go along with last year’s 1st round pick Gareon Conley. They added quality linebackers Tahir Whitehead and Derrick Johnson, as well as multiple 1st round caliber talents to the defensive line in Maurice Hurst and Arden Key. Simply put, the Raiders have attempted to get better at every position on defense, (minus DE/OLD of course). The defense has been the team’s Achilles heel for years, and now without arguably the best pass rusher in the game, it’s hard to believe they’ll be better without him on the field. Having a healthy Derek Carr and a plethora of weapons, the Raiders could surely turn it around in year one of the Gruden 2.0 era, at least in terms of offensive production.

There are so many question marks associated with Oakland this season. It’s hard to believe they’ll win the AFC West, especially with the Chargers having arguably the most talented roster in the entire league. That isn’t to say the playoffs aren’t realistic for the Raiders. It was only two years ago that Derek Carr led a far less talented roster to a 12-4 record and the postseason. With a solid rotation of running backs, a wide receiving corps full of talent, and a Derek Carr that’s being molded by a true QB guru, this team will go as far as the offensive line will allow. Veteran tackle Donald Penn has been moved to the right side to make room for Raiders’ first rounder Kolton Miller, a lengthy tackle from UCLA. Neither has looked the part through the preseason, and the production of the offense solely lies in their ability to protect Carr. The Raiders 2018 outlook can be summed up in the trenches — if the O-line can step up and the team can collectively replace Mack’s presence on the D-line, the team could surprise some people. The Oakland Raiders’ talent could easily amount to at an 8-8 record. If not, and the offensive line struggles, the entire team will follow suit and finish well below .500.

- Jack Bourgeois

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