As the offseason keeps chugging along, it’s time for another edition of the Wizard of Auzz series. In what was already a tight race at the top of the AFC West, it got just a little bit closer with another team making positive strides this offseason to close that gap.
Could we see three teams from this division go to playoffs? Fortunately, the AFC has gotten so good that we have been able to ponder that question for multiple divisions.
Last year, it was the matter of a tiebreaker that kept the 12-4 LA Chargers out of the 1st/2nd seed, and straight into the 5th seed. Even if you’re an amateur NFL fan, you should know that having a .750 win percentage is really good, and being the 5th seed out of 6 possible playoff spots is quite low for being so successful.
This fortune telling took a lot out of the wizard because of how close the division will be, but the results are in.
Starting off with the worst team in the division a year ago, the Oakland Raiders simply lacked talent last year. They had their moments where they went toe to toe with the best (Week 13 against the Chiefs).
As unorthodox as it was at the time, the hire of Mike Mayock as general manager was one of the Wizard’s favourite moves. Mike Mayock has been in the scouting world and has served as the face of the NFL Scouting Combine for years. In other words, he knows his prospects. And boy, did it show in April’s draft.
The Raiders took their talent-lacking team and bolstered the roster with a strong free agency and solid drafting.
For starters, they acquired star WR Antonio Brown from the Pittsburgh Steelers for mere 3rd and 5th round picks. Next, they bolstered their O-line by signing Trent Brown to the richest contract for an O-lineman in NFL history.
Without doing a huge deep-dive into each prospect, Mike Mayock gave Head Coach Jon Gruden some toys to work with on offence by selecting RB Josh Jacobs, WR Hunter Renfrow, and TE Foster Moreau. The latter two guys are high-character guys who should earn the trust of their teammates with their leadership early on.
What’s more, the Raiders made a point to fix their worst-ranked defence (by points/game). They addressed their need on the edge by selecting Clelin Ferrell. Next, they addressed the secondary by taking S Jonathon Abram and CB Trayvon Mullen.
With all these additions you might say the Raiders are poised to bounce back this year and vie for playoffs, right?
The Raiders are a very young team with question marks still surrounding their offensive and defensive lines. While they made attempts to bolster their pass rush, it remains to be seen how Clelin Ferrell and Co. will actually produce in year one.
While the talent is there, the Raiders are simply not ready to compete with their tough division.
Wizard’s Predictions: 3-13
The Broncos are in a tough spot in the AFC West. In 2018, they were stuck behind the LA Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs – two offensive powerhouses that were both Super Bowl contenders.
The Broncos have had a vaunted defence over the years that can go toe to toe with the best offences. With the additions of CB Kareem Jackson and slot corner Bryce Callahan, the Broncos look poised to continue their defensive dominance in 2019. The emergence of rookie Bradley Chubb alongside Von Miller made the hair on the necks of opposing quarterbacks stand up.
The Broncos had been perennial playoff contenders for years, so the past two seasons have put their patience to the test. John Elway attempted to launch the Broncos back into relevancy by acquiring Joe Flacco in February. The big storyline this season will be how much Flacco can carry this team. There’s nothing to say that Joe Flacco can be better than Case Keenum’s 6.6 yards/attempt and 18:15 TD:INT ratio.
In 2017, Flacco’s last full season, he had a touchdown to interception ratio of 18:13, and averaged 5.7 yards/attempt. These stats don’t always paint the perfect picture as they fail to show you that Flacco can make more throws than Case Keenum (watch Case Keenum miss a game-tying throw against the Chiefs).
Could they turn heads and finish with a better record with either of those teams?
The additions on defence, as well as the acquisition of Joe Flacco, prove that Denver isn’t willing to roll over on the 2019 season. However, they are stuck behind two elite offences in their own division. It will be an improved season for the Broncos, but still not good enough.
Wizard’s Prediction: 8-8
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are a peculiar team. Somehow they are deemed the deepest, most talented roster in the NFL, yet never are considered true Super Bowl contenders. In their defence, they have often been the most injury-plagued team on a yearly basis for a few years.
Last year, no matter how good the Chargers looked, they were staring up at the Kansas City Chiefs or New England Patriots – two powerhouses – as the teams to beat if they wanted a chance at the Super Bowl. KC held the division lead by a mere tie-breaker and the Patriots had their way with a porous Chargers run defence in the AFC Divisional round of playoffs.
Turning the page to 2019, the Chargers have made some good changes to help their chances of reaching a Super Bowl.
For starters, they addressed their DL in the NFL Draft by tacking DT Jerry Tillery at 28 overall. Next, they added to an already nasty secondary by selecting one of the top safetys in this class in Nasir Adderley.
These two additions will help a star-studded defence with players like Desmond King, Derwin James, and Joey Bosa.
Offensively, they have some question marks. According to PFF, the Chargers offensive line ranked 2nd in pass-blocking efficiency. Not good if you want to give your aging QB, Philip Rivers, some time to make plays downfield.
And with training camp around the corner, star RB Melvin Gordon is threatening to hold out until he gets a new contract. In fact, he has even requested the Chargers to trade him if signing him long-term is out of the question.
This shouldn’t hurt the Chargers too much, however, as they have a stable of running backs who have been able to carry the load without Gordon in the past.
All in all, the Chargers remain a juggernaut in the AFC, with a Super Bowl appearance not out of the question.
Wizard’s Prediction: 10-6
Kansas City Chiefs
Saving the best for last, Kansas City was a play away from possibly being in the Super Bowl. Defensive end Dee Ford lined up offside in what could have been a game-clinching INT for KC in the AFC Championship game.
That play was indicative of the Chiefs’ entire season on defence. They were simply a liability.
With that being said, the Chiefs went out and traded for stud DE Frank Clark, and signed him to a massive deal worth upwards of $100 million. What’s more, the Chiefs went out and signed S Tyrann Mathieu to a 3-year deal to bolster that secondary. Lastly, Kansas City went out and traded for former 1st round pick, Darron Lee from the New York Jets in hopes of revamping their linebacking core.
Patrick Mahomes single-handedly won the Chiefs games, carrying the 31st ranked defence in yards per game to a 12-4 record. To help the reigning MVP, the Chiefs added to their scary WR core by drafting Mecole Hardman; a speedy Tyreek Hill-type player who can line up opposite Tyreek Hill. Yikes.
While Kansas City’s defence was a liability in 2018, that doesn’t appear to be the case heading into 2019. This team suffers some hiccups but ultimately comes out with the division title.
Wizard’s Prediction: 11-5
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