Mahomes and Rivers aimed at pushing Chiefs and Chargers past regular-season success.

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) Tennessee Titans and the Los Angeles Chargers play in the NFL London Games at Wembley Stadium in London on Sunday, October 21st photo: Jed Leicester/NFL

It’s been one of the busiest off-season’s in recent memory, following up on an NFL season for the ages. Contenders have been bolstering their rosters while the bottom of the league has committed to their rebuilding process’. 

So who is coming out on top this year in the AFC West? Let’s find out.

Kansas City Chiefs

2018 came with a lot of excitement, especially from the quarterback position. No QB brought more buzz than the no-look passing, 80 yards throwing Patrick Mahomes. 

Mahomes gave the Kansas City Chiefs a season to remember. Finishing 12-4, AFC West champs and nearly making the Super Bowl. Their overtime loss to the Patriots was a noble exit to an impressive season. 

Now, what is next for Kansas City? With Mahomes coming into his second full year, one thing is certain. Points, and lots of them. 

With Tyreke Hill, Sammy Watkins and Travis Kelce spearheading Andy Reid’s air raid attack, the passing offence should be as potent as last season. Unfortunately for the run game, that consistency is unlikely to return. 

The sudden exit of Kareem Hunt did slow down the production for the Chiefs at the end of last year. They will rely on LeSean McCoy and Damien Williams to pick up the slack.

Last years major concern for the Chiefs before Hunt was cut from the team was defensive consistency. This concern was undermined due to the scoring prowess of the offence, but should not be ignored for much longer. Dee Ford and Justin Houston are gone, enter Frank Clark and Tyrann Matthieu. These two pieces will help, but might not be enough.

The Kansas City Chiefs are going to spend a lot of time in the endzone, there is no doubt about that. But the run game and defence need to improve as the year goes on or they might not see the same success as they did in 2018.

Los Angeles Chargers

Kansas City wasn’t the only team to finish 12-4 and have their season end at the hands of Tom Brady. That other team would be the Los Angeles Chargers.

Philip Rivers is back for another season and he’s ready to push further in 2019. Rivers played like an MVP for most of 2018 and there are no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

His offence might be a bit hindered. Tyrell Williams is now in Oakland, and this leaves a lot of pressure for Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Hunter Henry is now the full time starting tight end as well, bringing an end to the Antonio Gates era.

The other matter to deal with is Melvin Gordon. The pro bowl calibre running back is taking a page out of the Leveon Bell and Ezekial Elliot playbook, holding out from all Chargers related activities, including playing, until he gets the contract he deserves.

This leaves Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson as the feature backs until further notice. Gordon may get traded before taking another snap in Chargers powder blue, but a deal could get done during the season. Only time will tell.

Derwin James is one of the league’s top safeties and LA’s best athlete. He will be absent until further notice with a broken foot, adding to the pressure for this already constrained team. 

That being said, this defence is good without James, and the offence will succeed modestly without Gordon. They may not win 12 games but even without two of their finest players, the Los Angeles Chargers should be a playoff team.

It’s the postseason where Gordon and James will be missed mightily. If they want to avoid another disappointing loss as they did in New England last year, those holes need to be plugged. James’ foot will heal, though it remains to be seen if Gordon has any kind of time table to play in 2019, especially for LA.

Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos have not been a great team since their Super Bowl victory a few years ago. To be blunt, it has been due to one major issue, they have not been able to replace their QB.

Peyton Manning is a future Hall of Famer and one of the greatest to ever play the game, not just quarterback. It cannot be easy to replace someone like that. However the failed attempts are starting to pile up, and Denver is beginning to look like Cleveland when it comes to who plays under centre.

2019’s remedy appears to be ex-Super Bowl MVP, Joe Flacco. John Elway also drafted Drew Lock from Missouri but no one seems to be giving Lock any type of a chance to see the field this year. It’s Flacco or bust. If this experiment doesn’t work, they could be joining other league bottom feeders to tank for one of the high profile QB prospects in the next two drafts.

On the plus side, there are offensive pieces that Denver should be excited about. Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman are two young backs who both produced well for their team last year. Courtland Sutton has turned into a solid receiver entering the best years of his career, and the organization is excited about the first-round pick Noah Fant. The Iowa tight end is a promising talent.

Then the defence comes into play. The Broncos have always been known for having a ferocious defence, similar to organizations like the Bears, Ravens and Steelers. 2019 should be no different. Future Hall of Famer Von Miller and Bradley Chubb are two of the league’s best pass rushers. They will terrorize QBs all year.

That’s the thing about the Denver Broncos, it’s a bit hard to make heads or tales of their roster. If Flacco can play anywhere close to his old self, they should be a playoff team. It feels a bit like what the Giants were like the last two seasons. Hoping for your ageing QB to return to form is a big if.

The difference here is Flacco was traded for. If this doesn’t work out, that would be another brutal choice made by executive John Elway. It doesn’t seem like Elway will ever figure out what to do about his team’s quarterback situation. They will look to improve on a 6-10 season from a year ago

Oakland Raiders

The Oakland Raiders are moving to Las Vegas next season. They signed Jon Gruden to a 10 year deal with 9 to go. They traded for Antonio Brown, the league’s most talented yet distracting wide receiver. “Hard Knocks Presents: The Oakland Raiders 

What do all of these statements have in common? They’re headlines. That is all this team is at the moment, tabloids and drama. At this current moment, there is no indication that the Raiders are interested in being a cohesive football team. 

However, an attempt to analyze this teams current standing in the National Football league will be made anyway.

Derek Carr is a good, not great QB. Somewhere in between Kirk Cousins and Alex Smith. He is still young and the assumption is Gruden the QB whisperer will elevate Carr to elite status, a status some put him back in 2016 before he was sidelined before the playoffs.

That Raiders team in 2016 was a solid unit, headlined by Carr, Khalil Mack, Michael Crabtree and Latavius Murray. Even though Brown and rookie Josh Jacobs should be considered upgrades at their respective positions, the player that does not remain a Raider is Mack.

After being traded to the Bears for a pair of first-round picks, Oakland has scrambled for anything looking like a pass rush. Clelin Ferrel was solid at Clemson, but he wasn’t even the best available pass rusher in the draft. They passed on Josh Allen, and now all the pressure is on Ferrel to make up for Mack’s absence.

That is the thing about the Raiders, there is so much pressure on a team that has yet to prove they can even win at the highest level. Their move to Vegas will not aid in this. Tyrell Williams from the Chargers should help Derek Carr out a lot this year, but it may not be enough. 

The Oakland Raiders have so much to prove on both sides of the ball, and they will be entertaining to watch on and off the field that is certain. Entertaining does not win football games though, and winning is the thing that will cure the moral problems hindering this team. 

There is no guarantee that Jon Gruden should have come out of retirement, or if he can keep up with the new look of the NFL. Who knows how productive Antonio Brown will be or how much he even wants to play football following the frostbite and helmet situations. Derek Carr is not his brother David, there are pieces for him to work with. 

This organization deserves to show they care though, that they care enough to be a team worth watching. Not as a sideshow, or as the next coming of the Browns. They should care because it’s there jobs, and it’s what they get paid millions of dollars to do. 

There are high expectations for this team, a year shy of moving to Las Vegas. The world now looks on to see what the Raiders are made of in their final year in Oakland.

Predictions

Andre Dixon:

Kansas City Chiefs 

Oakland Raiders 

LA Chargers

Denver Broncos

Paulie Fiorentino:

Kansas City Chiefs 

LA Chargers

Denver Broncos

Oakland Raiders