AFC West preview: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, Oakland Raiders
By James Walker-Roberts
Last Updated: 30/08/19 6:40pm
The wait is nearly over and the new NFL season is almost upon us!
The league's 100th year begins on Thursday, September 5 when the Chicago Bears host the Green Bay Packers, live on Sky Sports.
Before then, it's time to assess 2019's contenders.
We are previewing all eight divisions, and here you can find our views on the AFC West and cast your vote on who you think will win below...
Kansas City Chiefs
Head Coach: Andy Reid
Key Man: Patrick Mahomes was sensational in his first season as Chiefs starting quarterback. He won the MVP award after throwing 50 touchdown passes - five short of Peyton Manning's single-season touchdown record - and leading the Chiefs to the AFC Championship game, where they lost in overtime to the New England Patriots.
The big question around Mahomes this off-season is whether he can repeat or even improve on last season.
Major Additions: No team had more sacks (52) than the Chiefs last season, but they have made changes at the outside linebacker position as Justin Houston and Dee Ford have been replaced by Frank Clark and Alex Okafor. Safety Tyrann Mathieu has come in to strengthen the secondary and Steve Spagnuolo is the new defensive coordinator.
For much of the off-season, it looked like wide receiver Tyreek Hill would no longer be a part of the Chiefs after allegations of domestic violence, but Hill has been cleared to play after an NFL investigation. The 25-year-old will be the star name in a talented offense that will probably see Damien Williams start as lead running back after the Chiefs cut Kareem Hunt in late 2018.
Last Season: Kansas City finished top of the AFC West with a 12-4 record and then cruised past the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs before a stinging home loss against the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
The Chiefs were shut out in the first half but rallied late on to lead 28-24 with two minutes remaining. It looked like the game was won when Charvarius Ward intercepted Tom Brady, only for a penalty to void the play. It then went to overtime and the Pats scored a touchdown on their first drive to advance to the Super Bowl.
Prospects: KC will be expected to contend for the Super Bowl again. If the offense is as good as last season and the defense, which gave up the second-most yards in the NFL in 2018, improves under Spagnuolo, then they have every chance of going all the way.
Prediction: 12-4 (1st) and Super Bowl winners
Los Angeles Chargers
Head Coach: Anthony Lynn
Key Man: Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are one of the best pass-rushing duos in the NFL. Unfortunately for the Chargers, they haven't been paired together as much as they would like as injuries meant Bosa missed the first four games of his rookie season in 2016 (when he was still named defensive rookie of the year) and then the first nine games of the 2018 season.
Bosa's production was limited after his return from injury last season and the Chargers will be hoping that he and Ingram can stay the course in 2019.
Major Additions: It's been a quiet off-season for the Chargers, whose only major move in free agency was adding veteran linebacker Anthony Davis.
Tight end Hunter Henry is available after missing the entire 2018 regular season with a knee injury and there's excitement around first-round pick Jerry Tillery at defensive tackle.
However, the status of running back Melvin Gordon remains uncertain due to a contract holdout and safety Derwin James is expected to miss the first half of the season at least after undergoing foot surgery.
Last Season: Los Angeles reached the play-offs for the first time since 2013, helped by a dramatic win over the Chiefs in Week 15. They finished with the same 12-4 record as the Chiefs but came second in the AFC West due to their inferior record against division opponents.
They beat the Baltimore Ravens in the wild-card round only to get blown away in the divisional round by the Patriots, who won after surging into a 35-7 lead at half-time.
Prospects: The Chargers haven't won the AFC West since 2009 and veteran quarterback Philip Rivers thinks that's the first step to fulfilling their potential.
"I feel like we're in that window," he said. "That doesn't mean that it's going to just happen, but I do feel like we're in that window capability-wise. Where it starts for us is finding a way to win the division."
Rivers, who turns 39 in December, is coming off one of his best seasons and the Chargers will need him to shine again if they are going to challenge.
Prediction: 11-5 (2nd)
Head Coach: Vic Fangio
Key Man: It was somewhat surprising when, in February, it was revealed the Broncos were going to sign 34-year-old quarterback Joe Flacco to replace Case Keenum, whose one season in Denver will not be remembered fondly. There was an expectation that the Broncos may look to the draft for their next QB rather than turn to Flacco, who lost his starting job in Baltimore to rookie Lamar Jackson in the 2018 season.
Flacco's "eliteness" has been debated since he led the Ravens to a Super Bowl win in 2012 and he has only thrown for more than 20 touchdowns once in the last six seasons. The Broncos have been searching for a starting quarterback since Peyton Manning retired in 2016, but is Flacco the answer?
Major Additions: Along with Flacco, the Broncos signed right-tackle Ja'Wuan James to a hefty contract and bolstered the secondary with Kareem Jackson and Bryce Callahan.
They have replaced head coach Vance Joseph with Vic Fangio, who has joined after three years as Chicago Bears defensive coordinator, and also brought in highly-regarded offensive line coach Mike Munchak from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Last Season: The Broncos missed the playoffs for the third year in a row after posting a 6-10 record and finishing third in the AFC West.
The offense was again sub-par as they only scored 30 or more points in one game while late-season injuries to Chris Harris Jr and Emmanuel Sanders hindered a potential push for a wild card spot.
Prospects: There are a lot of questions over the Broncos heading into the season. Will Flacco deliver at quarterback? Will James prove his worth at right-tackle? Will Munchak get a tune from 2017 first-round pick Garett Bolles at left tackle? Will the defence be elite again under Fangio?
One of the few areas where the Broncos don't have any concern is pass rushers, with Von Miller and 2018 first-round pick Bradley Chubb potentially set for big seasons. However, it looks a tough ask for the Broncos to topple either the Chargers or the Chiefs at the top of the division.
Prediction: 9-7 (3rd)
Head Coach: Jon Gruden
Key Man: What a year it has been already for Antonio Brown. The wide receiver - arguably the best in the NFL - was traded from the Steelers to the Raiders after several incidents led to a fractured relationship with his quarterback, head coach and team-mates. But it has been far from a smooth start in Oakland.
First Brown missed most of training camp after suffering frostbite to his feet, then he got into a dispute with the NFL regarding his helmet - over which he was reportedly threatening to retire - and there were also reports he has been late to meetings and then "unfocused" when he has turned up.
Raiders' general manager Mike Mayock said amid the helmet dispute that Brown needs to be "all in or all out"; which will it be this season?
Major Additions: Along with Antonio Brown, the Raiders, who are playing their final season in Oakland before moving to Las Vegas, also spent heavily to sign Trent Brown, who started every game at left tackle for the Patriots as they won the Super Bowl in 2018, and safety Lamarcus Joyner.
They added wide receiver help through Tyrell Williams, formerly of the Chargers, and got a much-needed pass rusher in Clelin Ferrell at fourth overall in the draft. Two potentially riskier additions are veterans Richie Incognito and Vontaze Burfict, both of whom have run into disciplinary issues in the past.
Last Season: Gruden's first season as part of a 10-year deal did not go too well as the Raiders went 4-12 and finished bottom of the AFC West. They scored seven or fewer points on four occasions and fired general manager Reggie McKenzie in December, replacing him with former draft guru Mayock.
Quarterback Derek Carr threw for over 4,000 yards for the first time in his career but had a career-low 19 passing touchdowns while the Raiders had a league-low 13 sacks.
Prospects: The Raiders have to be better than last year, don't they…? Certainly if Antonio Brown is at his best then that will be a major boost for an offense that seems to have improved significantly in the off-season.
But how good will the defense be? Will Carr raise his level, having dropped off since an MVP-calibre season in 2016? And will there be any disharmony in the locker room if things start to go badly? The Raiders aren't helped by a tough schedule, which includes five straight games away from Week Three to Week Eight.
Prediction: 6-10 (4th)
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