It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….that mantra rings especially true in the AFC West this season. Kansas City and Los Angeles are among the best teams in the league, though not without questions, while Oakland and Denver are each firmly entrenched in their own rebuilding plans. Oakland, by virtue of being a year further along, could be a surprise team, but Denver should have one of the best defensive units in the league. The West is always wild and competitive and this year figures to be no different.
New Faces: QB Joe Flacco, FS Kareem Jackson, OG Dalton Risner, TE Noah Fant, CB Bryce Callahan; Joe Flacco is the Broncos newest reclamation project at quarterback. Risner and Fant should both start as rookies. Kareem Jackson and Bryce Callahan were both brought in by the new regime to establish the physical secondary that Vic Fangio likes. All five of their additions should be starters this season.
Offensive Outlook: The forecast here is ……cloudy. Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello is a Kyle Shanahan disciple which figures to be a good thing. Joe Flacco is not that type of quarterback, however, and the Broncos personnel might not be allow Scangarello to fully implement his preferred offense. Certainly Phillip Lindsey and Royce Freeman figure to benefit from the new rushing scheme and Noah Fant should be a league leader in time at tight end but 2019 seems like a year of frustration and learning for this offense.
Defensive Outlook: If I was going to make a bold prediction for this season it would be this; The Denver Broncos will have the best defense in football. Vic Fangio must be chomping at the bit to find ways to attack quarterbacks with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Bryce Callahan joins Chris Harris at cornerback which should allow Denver to fully commit to the rush, while Kareem Jackson - a converted long time cornerback - is a great fit as a ball hawking deep safety. I could see the Broncos getting 50+ sacks and 30+ turnovers this year.
Overall Prediction: Denver needs some time offensively to develop their younger players, and add a few more receivers, but this defense could be goooooooooood. Good enough to keep Flacco and company on a short field frequently, a scenario that will help the offense maximize their effectiveness.
New Faces: DE Frank Clark, RB LeSean McCoy, FS Tyrann Mathieu; The Chiefs had no choice but to dump salary of their defensive stalwarts in order to free up money for the future massive contracts for Pat Mahomes and Tyreek Hill. Being able to swap out Dee Ford for Frank Clark is a net upgrade for a team that is transitioning to a 4-3 alignment and Tyrann Mathieu is the type of game changing safety that NFL teams covet.
Offensive Outlook: Really the only questions here are health related. Damian Williams isn’t exactly known for staying healthy, although LeSean McCoy offers a nice insurance policy there. Fortunately for the Chiefs Tyreek Hill avoided a suspension for his off season personal issues so Mahomes should continue to sling the ball all over the field without regard to defensive coverages.
Defensive Outlook: Defensively things are a little murkier for the Chiefs. The secondary seems to be undergoing enough of a change in scheme that the teams best cornerback, Kendall Fuller, has been temporarily relegated to the bench, while the line backing corps looks like a disaster. Steve Spagnulo is a veteran hand, and a good coordinator, but he’ll likely have to work his magic without a lot help this season.
Overall Prediction: The Chiefs are the popular pick to make the Superbowl and while they very well could, I expect enough setbacks defensively to allow the Chargers to catch them for the division. I still think their floor is 12 wins though.
New Faces: DT Jerry Tillery, LB Thomas Davis; Thomas adds some leadership to an already established defense while Jerry Tillery adds depth to their already talented defensive line. The front seven looks to be much better this season.
Offensive Outlook: There are going to be a few changes this year. First, the losses, Melvin Gordon is holding out and Russell Okung is out with a heart ailment. Neither is likely to play for the first month of the season but both can come back refreshed for the second half of the season. As for what they’ve added, getting Hunter Henry back from injury should immensely help Phillip Rivers control the middle of the field. Williams is a deep outside receiver and Keenan Allen is a true flanker so having Henry fill in the gaps gives Rivers options all over the field on any given play. If Rivers can attack a defense at its weak spot then the Chargers will be difficult to beat. While I worry about Melvin Gordon missing time he won’t miss the whole season and Austin Ekeler has proven more than capable of carrying the load himself.
Defensive Outlook: Things are a bit murkier here simply because Derwin James is gonna miss the first half of the season. James makes an otherwise good defense great and without his ability to move all over the field the Chargers will be schematically limited. There is enough talent here to overcome the loss of James and still play well but with him they are elite, without him they are just better than average.
Overall Prediction: Since I went out on a limb backing the Chargers as the division winners they lost Okung and Gordon for the first half of the season. Those losses will hurt them but with Phillip Rivers showing no signs of slowing down I expect the team to overcome them with minimal distractions. I’m still going to pick the Chargers to win the South, but it’ll be closer now.
New Faces: RT Trent Brown, WR Antonio Brown, RB Josh Jacobs, DE Clelin Ferrell, S Jonathan Abram, and WR Ty Williams: A new look Raiders offense is in play this year. Trent Brown will both start at right tackle and provide insurance against last years first round pick Kolton Miller, who struggled at tackle. Antonio Brown and Ty Williams will be starters at receiver for the Raiders and Josh Jacobs was drafted to be an every down back. Ferrell and Abram are high upside - low downside players that Oakland hopes to build their defense around.
Offensive Outlook: Gruden is the kind of guy that doesn’t like excuses and now he won’t have them. With upgrades along the offensive line and at his skill positions Gruden can fully implement his offensive system and start attacking defenses. Antonio Brown is….Antonio Brown and a blow up could come at any time but this offense is the one that Gruden wanted and I expect him to find ways to play with his toys.
Defensive Outlook: The Raiders defense overachieved last season and only added some rookies for 2019. Both Ferrell and Abram figure to see plenty of action early and both are high character - high motor guys. If Gaereon Conley continues to develop at cornerback the Raiders could be 1 or 2 impact players away from having a very good defense. In 2020. Maybe.
Overall Prediction: The Raiders will be competitive but they aren’t as deep or as talented as their division mates. It’s be a long season but with a could of first round picks next year Oakland should be a good team for some time to come.