With NFL Training Camps opening, it seems appropriate that our sport-oriented minds start making room for football. And albeit a plethora of things could change between July and the start of the regular season in September, it’s still fun to project what may happen this year for teams and players. Over the next few weeks, I will take each division at a time and point to one prediction I have for each team. Let’s start out west where the defending champions reside: the AFC West.
No Denver QB, RB, or WR will rank in top 10 at their respective position in the major statistical categories.
There were many times last season that this team did not appear to be championship-caliber: unproven quarterback, question marks and injuries plaguing the backfield, rumors surrounding the hall-of-fame veteran QB, who was benched. But in the end and when it mattered most, the Bronco offense was efficient and the defense stellar.
This season features a different quarterback at the helm in journeyman Mark Sanchez or rookie first round pick Paxton Lynch. While the defense should remain formidable, the changes on offense could serve to hamper Denver’s chances at the playoffs, let alone repeating as conference and Super Bowl champions.
Regardless of who head coach Gary Kubiak settles on at QB, the ramifications will have an impact on the team’s ability to run the football and convert explosive pass plays. Expect a down year from Pro Bowl wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, and with a quarterback starting who has a lot to prove, defenses are likely to spend a lot of their time focusing in on the Denver running game.
Kansas City Chiefs
Jamaal Charles’s 2015 torn ACL has been and will be a blessing in disguise.
When All-Pro RB Jamaal Charles suffered his second torn ACL in 5 years last season, who would have thought the Chiefs would still make the playoffs and that they would be in such a good position this season with their running backs? Charles’s injury opened the door for Spencer Ware and Charcanderick West to prove themselves as viable options out of the backfield. This year, expect fewer touches for Charles — saving his legs for what the Chiefs hope is a playoff run into January — and more carries for Ware and West.
With this solid RBBC and a very staunch defense, the Chiefs’ Super Bowl hopes may rest squarely on the shoulders of Alex Smith and his receiving corps.
The Raiders will win the AFC West.
All four teams in this division have the feel of 7 to 9 wins. No team currently stands without big question marks somewhere on their roster. So with that said, the Raiders look like the team that might have the highest ceiling. A young QB entering his 3rd season as a starter, who has put up some of the best numbers in his first 2 years in the league of any quarterback ever; a solid run game; young, explosive wide receivers; and a defense built around speed and rushing the QB.
If Derek Carr continues to progress as he has in his early career, the Oakland offense should be highly potent. And head coach Jack Del Rio has put together a defense that is physical, ball-hawking, and hell-bent on getting to the quarterback, led by third year DE Khalil Mack. It might be time to welcome the Raiders back to the playoffs this January.
San Diego Chargers
Chargers will double their win total from 2015.
Evidence, collected by people way smarter than me, shows the San Diego Chargers were not quite as bad as their 4-12 record indicated last season. Mike McCoy’s team blew 4 halftime leads and posted a 3-8 record in games decided by one score. The law of averages usually straightens things out — either the Chargers’ 2015 season was an anomaly and they suffered a great deal of bad luck or they are just trending in a downward direction. With Phillip Rivers manning the ship and playmakers Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen healthy, San Diego looks more like a team who is looking to rebound in 2016.
The Chargers made upgrades to a defense that struggled immensely last year. Not to mention, they are lucky to play in a division where no team appears to be head and shoulders above the rest.
Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.