Jimmy Mc Ginty looks at the AFC West as part of his NFL season previews and he expects San Diego to make a real challenge to Denver while the Raiders and the Chiefs are set for poor seasons.
Denver Broncos won the AFC West in 2014 despite Peyton Manning having his worst season in quite some time. Having turned 39 in 2015 he has is unlikely to be at the top of his game again this season. The loss of one of his best offensive lineman, Ryan Clady, certainly won’t help either. Montgomery and Franklin, both regular starters in that O-Line have also moved on and been replaced. Manning may not be as protected as he was.
He has targets in Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Owen Daniels. Daniels replaces Julius Thomas. JT was a big contributor to the Broncos success and Daniels, now 33, is very injury prone, so it’s a downgrade at TE. The wide receivers are top class, but if Manning is struggling under pressure or with his deteriorating arm strength the WRs will struggle to match last season’s efforts. However the main strength of the Bronco’s offense is running back CJ Anderson. He was very impressive last season and should help take some pressure off Manning. Overall the Broncos offense looks a touch weaker than last season, but they haven’t declined too far. Their defence will be strong again led by stars Von Miller and Chris Harris. Well paid cornerback Aqib Talib may be past his best though.
Given the personnel available a playoff appearance should be expected even if the Broncos are a little weaker than 12 months ago. However the Broncos schedule is very tough. Road games with Colts, Lions and Steelers won’t be easy. Nor will the visits of the Ravens, Vikings, Packers, Patriots and Bengals to the mile high city. That’s 8 tough games without considering the two clashes with San Diego. Prediction 9-7.
San Diego Chargers replaced their main running back Ryan Mathews in the off-season. Melvin Gordon was the 15th pick overall in the 2015 draft and he looks to have bags of potential. Mathews struggled with injuries and as backup to Gordon the Chargers still have the capable duo of Danny Woodhead and Branden Oliver on the roster.
Orlando Franklin mentioned above was a nice addition to help protect QB Philip Rivers. The tight-end duo of Gates and Green will see plenty of targets. Gates is suspended for the first 4 games, but he may not be badly missed. Green promised a lot but delivered very little last season. A prolonged role as starting TE could see him deliver.
But for me the most exciting part of this Chargers offense is the receiving team. Eddie Royal has left for Chicago, but Keenan Allen remains. After a slump last year he’ll be looking to bounce back to the level that saw him receive over 1,000yds as a rookie in 2013. Stevie Johnson was signed as slot receiver. From 2010-2012 he had 3yrs off over 1,000yds. To do so with Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB shows the talent of Johnson, with a well-protected Philip Rivers under centre the Chargers may have found a gem.
There’s very little change on the San Diego defence. They were a mid-table sort last season, so I’d expect the same again but it’s worth noting they played very well against Seattle in a pre-season game last week (as did Rivers and his offense). The Chargers schedule has a few tricky road trips. At Bengals, Vikings, Packers and Ravens don’t appeal too favourable but bar the two Broncos (who look to have regressed) games the rest all look winnable. Browns, Raiders x2, Bears, Jags and Chiefs x2 will hold no fears for Chargers fans. Prediction 9-7.
I start most previews looking at a side’s match winners, their big loses or additions on offense. With the Kansas City Chiefs however I’m starting with their schedule. It’s fairly brutal. An early trip to Arian Foster-less Texans is winnable and the visit of Chicago in week 5 should be ok, but aside from those two they clash with Broncos, Packers, Bengals, (much improved) Vikings, Steelers, Lions, Broncos again and the Chargers. Something like 2-8 by week 10 is possible. At that point they are more likely to fall asunder than come roaring back even though the schedule eases considerably.
Kansas City went the whole 16 game regular season in 2014 without having a touchdown by one of their wide receivers. Considering they won 9 games and scored more than half the teams in the League that’s quite a feat! The Rams, Jets and Bills featured amongst their victories prior to week 10 last season. It’ll be a very different story this year against playoff bound teams.
Jeremy Maclin is an improvement at WR, despite his constant injury battles, but the key issue is Alex Smith at quarterback. He’s just not very good. Jamaal Charles is a top running back, potentially the best in the league and at tight-end Travis Kelce is also a top player. Rodney Hudson joining the Raiders is the biggest loss, he’s a good centre. They have a decent-ish offense but when looking at their fixtures I just don’t see enough talent to get them over the line. If anything happens to Charles or Maclin, bearing in mind both have had struggles with injuries previously, the Chiefs won’t score too much.
The Chiefs defence was good last year. On 7 separate occasions they held the opposition to 15pts or less and without too many changes I’d expect some more good shows. Worth noting that Sean Smith is suspended for the first 3 games, they’ll miss him at cornerback. The schedule suggests a game either side of 6-10 is highly possible. Odds against on under 8.5 games is a decent bet.
As the Chargers play the Chiefs twice after week 9, I’m giving the Chargers a significant boost. They’ll fancy doing the double over a 2-7 or 3-9 Chiefs team.
The Oakland Raiders meet the Chiefs late on also and this will improve their chances of bettering their 3-13 record from 2014. Last season they started 0-10 as rookie QB Derek Carr struggled to get to grips with life in the NFL. To be fair he didn’t have many options around him. All change this season.
Overall draft pick no.4 Amari Cooper looks a seriously exciting prospect at wide receiver. Lining up opposite him will be Michael Crabtree. He was fairly rancid last season, but in a dysfunctional 49ers team that was no surprise. Roy Helu as backup running back wasn’t a bad addition either. Much was expected of him in Washington, but he never really got the chance to breakout behind Alfred Morris. He’ll play backup to Latavius Murray here. Murray finished last season very strongly and with the aforementioned Rodney Hudson signing from the Chiefs, there should be bigger holes for him to burst through. Murray is definitely a step up on McFadden and MJD who started last season vying for no.1 RB with the Raiders.
On defence, the 2014 no.5 draft pick Khalil Mack was very good for the Raiders last season, but their secondary will yet again still struggle against all good quarterbacks. Improved on offense they certainly have, but after conceding more than anyone last season it’s hard not to see more big defeats coming for the Raiders.
Bengals, then Ravens is a tough start and with the two games v Denver and San Diego to go alongside road games at the Steelers and Lions and home visits of Packers and Vikings there’s probably 10 games the Raiders won’t be winning unless their defence turns inside-out. Unfortunately of the 6 ‘easier’ games 4 of them are on the road.
I like what the Raiders have done in the off-season. On paper they are better than last year and I started this article thinking they’d be a bet at over 5.5, but a tricky schedule and a defence that looks ripe for destroying sees them looking at in or around 4-12. Back the Raiders to concede the most. They were last season’s lowest scorers but that won’t be the case this time around so have some confidence in backing the Browns for that. LINK
1 point win Oakland Raiders to concede the most in the League at 7/1 with Ladbrokes
4 points win Kansas City Chiefs under 8.5 wins at 23/20 with Bet365
2 points win San Diego to win the AFC West 7/2 with Coral and Bet365