2018 NFL Predictions: AFC West

Los Angeles Chargers
IMG_2426” by Nathan Rupert is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Cullen Jekel


1. Kansas City Chiefs

2017 Offseason & Review

Record: 10-6

Postseason Result: In Alex Smith’s last game under center for Kansas City, the Chiefs managed to blow an 18-point lead at home against the Tennessee Titans, losing 22-21.

Offseason Acquisitions: 

  • Signed free agent WR Sammy Watkins away from the Rams and ILB Anthony Hitchens from Dallas.
  • Overhauled the CB position by signing David Amerson (Raiders) and Orlando Scandrick (Redskins, though he never played a down for them) and traded for Kendall Fuller (Redskins).
  • Drafted DE Breeland Speaks (Ole Miss) in the second round before adding DT Derrick Nnadi (Florida State) and OLB Dorian O’Daniel (Clemson) in the third.

Offseason Departures: 

  • Traded Alex Smith to Washington as part of the Fuller deal.
  • Traded Marcus Peters to the Rams.
  • Defensive veterans Tambi Hali, Derrick Johnson, Ron Parker, Bennie Logan, and Darrelle Revis are gone.
  • Three other CB’s signed elsewhere, including Phillip Gaines, who left for Buffalo.
  • Lost OL Zach Fulton to the Texans.
  • Assistant head coach Brad Childress retired only to later re-surface as the head coach of the Atlanta franchise in the start-up league, Alliance of American Football.
2018 Preview/The Big Question

The West is there for the taking once again. This team, leaning on second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, may experience more bumps in the road than they’d like, especially with an offensive line that has looked rather porous so far this preseason.

As a unit, however, this offense is supposed to light up the scoreboard with the big-armed Mahomes calling the shots and Watkins and Tyreek Hill on the outside. Travis Kelce is the best tight end in the league outside of Boston, and second-year running back Kareem “The Dream” Hunt looks to build on his stellar rookie campaign. If the line holds up, and it should do so just enough, then the Chiefs will roll up the points.

The question lies on the defensive side of things. Will this secondary unit, rebuilt seemingly on the fly, be able to thwart opposing aerial attacks? Landing Fuller in the Smith trade was great, as was nabbing Amerson from Oakland and later Scandrick off the scrap-heap, but this unit would be so much better had the Chiefs kept Marcus Peters. Outside of Eric Berry (coming off a major injury, mind you), the safeties are thin. This team will depend on a pass rush that managed only 31 sacks last year, good for just 24th in the league.

There could be a lot of high-scoring games this year. Mahomes, who only started one (meaningless) game last year, needs to have it together as soon as the season kicks off.

Prediction: 10-6


2. Los Angeles Chargers

2017 Offseason & Review

Record: 9-7

Postseason Result: N/A

Offseason Acquisitions: 

  • Signed C Mike Pouncey away from Miami while adding TE Virgil Green from Denver.
  • Added back-up QB Geno Smith and K Caleb Sturgis.
  • In the draft, they went heavy on defense, using their first rounder on S Derwin James (Florida State), a second round pick on OLB Uchenna Nwosu (USC), a third round pick on DT Justin Jones (North Carolina State) and their fourth rounder on S Kyzir White (West Virginia).

Offseason Departures: 

  • Though he had considerably slowed down, it will be weird to watch a Chargers offense without TE Antonio Gates.
  • Lost some depth both on the offensive and defensive side of the football.
2018 Preview/The Big Question

The Chargers are notorious for having players who are unable to stay healthy. This year is no different, with free-agent acquisition S Jaylen Watkins already ruled out of the year with an ACL injury. Joining him is CB Jason Verrett with an Achilles injury. It’s not good to have that depleted of a secondary before, you know, the season starts.

But I’m looking at Philip Rivers. How much does he have left in the tank? The dude’s 36 years old (37 in December), entering his 15th season. He’s started every single game since he took over for Drew Brees at the start of 2006.

In 2015 and 2016, the Chargers won a combined 9 games. They matched that last year. But was 2017 a mirage or the real thing?

Sure, Rivers has stud WR Keenan Allen and Swiss Army Knife Melvin Gordon out of the backfield, but it feels like time is catching up with Rivers. I think he slows down this year, putting some urgency on the front office staff to look at drafting a QB sooner rather than later.

Prediction: 7-9, missing the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.


3. Oakland Raiders

2017 Offseason & Review

Record: 6-10

Postseason Result: Ha. Good one.

Offseason Acquisitions: 

  • Most importantly (to them), they (re-)hired Jon Gruden, who coached them from 1998-2001, a tenure that included two playoff wins. Gruden helped build a team that would reach Super Bowl XXXVII. Gruden brought in his own coordinators, too, with Greg Olsen on offense and Paul Guenther on defense.
  • The team was busy in adding players too, trading for wide receiver Martavis Bryant from Pittsburgh. They also added WR Jordy Nelson in free agency from the Packers.
  • RB Doug Martin comes over from Tampa Bay to back-up Marshawn Lynch.
  • Defensive additions include CB Rashaan Melvin (Indy), MLB Derrick Johnson (Kansas City), and OLB Tahir Whitehead (Detroit).
  • In the draft, they primarily addressed their lines, taking OT Kolton Miller out of UCLA in the first round, followed by DT P.J. Hall (Sam Houston State) in the second and DE Arden Key (LSU) in the third.

Offseason Departures: 

  • Cleaned out the coaching ranks with none bigger than canning Jack Del Rio, who had been the head coach there since 2015.
  • They cut Michael Crabtree, who landed in Baltimore.
  • Longtime kicker Sebastian Janikowski is now in Seattle.
  • Punter Marquette King is now in Denver, while CB David Amerson joined the Chiefs.
2018 Preview/The Big Question

Really, the AFC West is there for the taking. However, the Raiders have a stench about them. A 4-12, 5-11 kind of stink that always seems to come to Oakland. For all the makeover in the offseason, the offensive line still looks weak and they’ll still be depending on a washed-up Beast Mode. Their franchise QB, Derek Carr, regressed last year, and top WR Amari Cooper has trouble catching the football.

The defense, despite having perhaps the best edge rusher in the league in Khalil Mack, hasn’t been solid in years, and it in no way, shape, or form improved over the past six months.

However, the move to hire Jon Gruden away from ESPN is baffling. It’s not as if Gruden rode off into the sunset at his last head coaching job before joining The Mothership. No, he flamed out in spectacular fashion with the Buccaneers–and that was in 2008. The game has changed a lot since then. Yes, Gruden had a front row seat to that evolution, but it’s different watching the game from the broadcast booth than from the sidelines.

This hire may work. It may not. With the team moving to Las Vegas in the near future, owner Mark Davis wanted a splashy, showman leading his team. He got one, but everyone’s pretending Gruden’s still a head coach.

Gruden went 38-26 in four seasons with the Raiders in his first tenure there. Expect this one to be shorter, and also less successful

Prediction: 5-11, missing the playoffs.


4. Denver Broncos

2017 Offseason & Review

Record: 5-11

Postseason Result: N/A

Offseason Acquisitions: 

  • Brought in QB Case Keenum from the Vikings.
  • Signed punter Marquette King away from divisional rival Raiders.
  • Traded for T Jared Veldheer from the the Cardinals, and did the same with S Su’a Cravens from the Redskins.
  • The Broncos are banking on their first three draft picks paying dividends early. With the #5 overall pick, Denver took DE Bradley Chubb. They Followed that up in the second round taking WR Courtland Sutton from SMU.
  • Equally as important, if not more so, the Broncos selected their new starting RB, Royce Freeman (Oregon), in the third round.

Offseason Departures: 

  • Dealt QB Trevor Siemian to Minnesota.
  • Dealt CB Aqib Talib to the Rams.
  • Released longtime RB C.J. Anderson.
  • QB Brock Osweiller left for the Dolphins, while WRs Cody Latimer (Giants) and Bennie Fowler (Bears) also exited stage right.
2018 Preview/The Big Question

Have the Broncos found their answer at quarterback? It all depends on that. Despite another solid outing by the defense last year, the Broncos cratered to 5-11 because they had no good answer at the most important position on the field.

HC Vance Joseph, in his first year in Denver, cycled through Siemian, Osweiller, and (for two games) Paxton Lynch. None could lead the team, and that led GM John Elway to sign Keenum in the offseason.

Keenum, though, may turn out to be a one-hit wonder. If that’s the case, Joseph’s career in Denver will be short and bittersweet. Even more surprising is that Keenum’s failure could spell the end of Elway’s reign as de facto czar of the Broncos.

Keenum will have the tools to succeed, including the aforementioned Freeman and Sutton, and also stud WR Demaryius Thomas. Keenum needs to prove that last year was no fluke, and that he’s the QB he was in 2017 as opposed to the QB in 2012-2016.

My prediction is that he’s more of the latter than the former.

Prediction: 4-12, earning a shot at West Virginia’s Will Grier or Missouri’s Drew Lock, if they should so desire.


Predicted division standings:

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)
  2. Los Angeles Chargers (7-9)
  3. Oakland Raiders (5-11)
  4. Denver Broncos (4-12)

4 replies to “2018 NFL Predictions: AFC West

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