Jimmy McGinty previews the AFC West.
Kansas City Chiefs
2017: (10-6) A fast start, mid-season blip and decent finish to the regular season saw them take the division and make the playoffs before the Titans knocked them out. A playoff calibre side but only because the AFC is so weak.
Patrick Mahomes replaces Alex Smith but otherwise it is pretty much the same high-scoring offense returning for 2018. Mahomes may be better than Smith eventually but Smith just had a very good year so a drop-off in 2018 is possible. Mahomes has played for just 62 snaps in the NFL so it’s way too early to say just how good he is. Remember he was just 10th pick in the ‘17 draft.
They’ve won 9+ in each of the past 5yrs so a massive regression is unlikely. Eric Berry back from injury is also a big plus for the D that has many new faces.
Road games with Chargers and Steelers will likely see the Chiefs off to a 0-2 start and pressure immediately mounting on Mahomes and co. Jags and Pats feature in week 5 and 6 so it’s a brutal start. Even Denver, the likeliest weak-link in the AFC West, is a brutal place to go get a result.
A team coming off an efficient season, facing a very tough schedule with an untested and potentially overrated QB - I’m against them. I’m also against the Broncos and Raiders and as the AFC is so weak 9 wins might make the playoffs.
2pts Second in AFC West 13/5 redzonesports
As I mentioned on previous previews – finding odds and markets on betting sites and oddschecker is difficult so those mentioned here may not actually be the best option available
2017: (9-7) after starting 0-4. A decent finish but had too much to do. 4th in the important yards per play metric tells you plenty about the Chargers 2017 season. They were really good just didn’t get the results. Loads of injuries (although they’ve a few for 2018 already!) and some bad kicking cost them dearly. They should’ve even won in New England.
Philip Rivers is pushing on, but he finished last season strong so no signs of him tailing off just yet. With an improved OL it may actually be easier for him to excel. It’ll definitely be easier for Melvin Gordon who rushes behind the best OL of his career. Virgil Green as a block first TE helps the OL as well.
Hunter Henry has been lost to injury, so Keenan Allen looks set to dominate the red-zone targets. He played 16 games last season so hopefully will continue healthy. Alongside Allen there’s loads of talent. Tyrell Williams went for over 1,000yds as a rookie and 2017 first rounder Mike Williams and the talented Travis Benjamin ensure there is no tail in 3 WR sets. Don’t laugh but it’s important that the Chargers look to have signed a decent kicker ahead of next season!
Rookie safety Derwin James seems to have been a major coup based on every draft report I read. Along with Nwosu and Jones (2nd & 3rd round picks) the run defense should take a big step forward. Casey Hayward is best CB in League. Denzel Perryman missed half the season, if he stays fit the line-backers will be better for it.
The Chargers schedule couldn’t be much nicer. Sure the Rams and Steelers on the road won’t be fun but that’s about it for top teams. They play many winnable games. Within the division both Denver and Oakland look very average and the Chiefs who were fortunate to come out on top last season may regress a little. Bills, Browns, Cardinals, Seattle, San Fran, Bengals and Ravens are all worse than the Chargers in my opinion.
In 16 games the Chargers will face just 2 defenses who finished in the top 10 of points allowed last season so I expect Rivers, Allen, Gordon and co. to light up the scoreboard in 2018. A soft schedule, high win total and no opposition for carries will help see Melvin Gordon rack up big yardage.
4pts over 9.5 10/11 redzonesports (over 9wins available at 7/10 elsewhere)
0.5pt To win the AFC 12/1 Bet365
0.5pt To win the Super Bowl 25/1 Bet365
Rivers most passing yards 12/1 William Hill and regular season MVP 33/1 (actually 50/1 with Marathon Sports)
Keenan Allen most receiving TDs 15/1 redzonesports
Melvin Gordon most rushing yards 25/1 Betfred
2017: (6-10) Derek Carr was often playing injured and Amari Cooper was badly out of sorts. They lost to nearly every half decent team they faced. A season to forget for Raiders fans.
A questionable head coach appointment, on a bonkers 10yr contract, was the biggest story out of Oakland’s off-season. Jon Gruden hasn’t been involved in coaching in 10yrs.
A top10 OL will help move the chains but there are many issues on offense for me. Donald Penn is key to that OL and he’s had a troublesome off-season. Running back is an obvious bust. Marshawn Lynch is aging and slowing down (don’t we all) and Doug Martin was signed to be his backup/replacement but Doug has been one of the worst running backs in the League in recent years. Derek Carr is possibly an overrated, and certainly overpaid, QB. His main target-men are Amari Cooper (doesn’t look like he’s ever going to deliver on his potential), Jordy Nelson (33yrs old and deemed past it by the Packers) and Martavis Bryant (who has many off-field issues). Outside of the QB and OL there are a lot of issues in Oakland.
The Oakland defense ranked very lowly in sacks and turnovers last year and they haven’t really improved the personnel. Khalil Mack is currently holding out for a new contract but there are rumours he will be traded as the Raiders don’t want to pay him. That’d be a huge loss of talent if he were to walk. Two of the important cogs in the D are well past their prime. Reggie Nelson is turning 35 next month and Derrick Johnson is almost 36. Not ideal.
The Raiders schedule looks difficult. If the likes of MIA and CLE improve quickly (I fancy them in 2018) and pick up early wins over the Raiders they will be looking at a very low winning total by the time week 17 is complete. The worst teams they play later in the season, San Fran, Cardinals, Ravens and Bengals are all on the road. The Chiefs and Chargers should do the double over them unless Oakland are better than I expect. I see only 4 or 5 wins and a close-run thing with Denver to come 4th – both miles behind KC & LAC.
8pts under 8 season wins EVS William Hill
2017: Considering they had no QB it wasn’t all that bad. Vance Joseph was in his first season as HC also so should be able to take a step forward. Similarly with the OC Bill Musgrave. He had a good record with the Raiders (won 12 games in 2016) and Vikings (top ranked rushing offense 2012) previously.
I’m not a massive Case Keenum fan. He had super talented WRs around him in Minnesota last year. Keenum does love using his slot receiver so expect Emmanual Sanders to have a big year, and outshine the aging Demaryius Thomas. The running back and tight-end I’ve had to google whilst writing this, that doesn’t bode well. There’s a lack of talent on offense in Denver that will stop them winning games against similar mid-table sort of teams. The defense will be their best route to victory; it’s very good. It is amongst the top5 in the League. They have two good cornerbacks (Harris & Roby), a strong run defense (Davis & Simmons) and a collection of rushers (Von Miller, Chubb & Ray)
Good home advantage, an average QB with two receiving options and top class defense. Plenty of holes elsewhere but that is more talent than other teams have, and it’ll be enough to win a few games. They Won 5 games last year with some of the worst QB’ing you’ll see so having made a few improvements on both sides of the ball I’m thinking about 7 wins sounds about right. But that’s the limit. They’re possibly the worst team in their division and the schedule isn’t great. They should open with a few victories (Denver is a tricky place to go early in the season) but there’s a 4wk spell after their bye which is three consecutive road games followed by a Patriots visit. Nasty.
Best bet: 9/4 about the Raiders finishing 4th is a potential play for those cheering for Denver in 2018.
I’m with the Chargers and against the Raiders; that’s enough for me here. There’ll be weeks when Bronco’s will be a great play facing bad/rookie QBs or weak OLs. Especially at home.
AFC West 2018 prediction: