- Los Angeles Chargers
The AFC West is a wide open division heading into the 2018 season, but there is one team that appears to be better than the rest is the Los Angeles Chargers. They came extremely close to a playoff spot last year and there is an argument that they are even better heading into 2018. Sure, quarterback Philip Rivers might not be elite anymore, but he proved last season that he is still an above average quarterback if he can cut down on turnovers. However, he will have plenty of weapons around him on offense as he has Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, and Mike Williams to throw to. Also, the Chargers have one of the best running backs in the NFL with Melvin Gordon. The offensive line is seemingly better this offseason as well since they added pro-bowl caliber center Mike Pouncey in free agency. There is plenty of talent for the Chargers on offense and the success of that unit is key to the Chargers playoff hopes in 2018. Meanwhile, the Chargers defense has the potential to be one of the best defenses in the entire NFL. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are one of the best pass rushing duos in the NFL as they combined for 23 sacks last season. Add defensive tackle Corey Liuget into the mix and the Chargers have a very good defensive line. The major weakness though for the Chargers appears to be at the linebacker position as they don’t really have any playmakers at that position. However, the secondary is looking particularly good for the Chargers as Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett form one of the best cornerback duos in the league. The team even added very talented rookie safety Derwin James in the 1st round of the draft. Overall, the Chargers are loaded with talent with both sides of the ball and it should be enough to win the division in a AFC West division that is unpredictable this year.
2. Denver Broncos
Denver is an interesting team heading into the 2018 season because they could compete for a playoff spot or they could be a bad team. The Broncos were certainly disappointing last season at 5-11, but that was mostly due to the terrible quarterback play that they had. That is why the Broncos went out and signed Case Keenum to be their new starting quarterback. However, Keenum has been a backup for most of his career until last season when he suddenly became a very good starter for the Vikings. It is unknown whether Keenum is really the answer for Denver at quarterback. However, if he can play like he did last season then the Broncos should be playoff contenders. The good news is that he has plenty of talent around him especially at the wide receiver position. Denver has talented veteran receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, but they also added talented rookie receiver Courtland Sutton in the 2nd round of the draft. The running back will be an interesting position battle for the Broncos. Rookie 3rd round pick Royce Freeman probably will get most of the carries, but Devontae Booker will compete for the starting job as well. The offensive line is better than it used to be especially with the addition of Ronald Leary at left guard. However, the right side of the offensive line especially the right guard position is particularly concerning. The Broncos offense is a complete unknown especially with the uncertainty that they have at quarterback and running back. However, if those positions can just be slightly above average then the Broncos offense could be much improved from a year ago. Meanwhile, the defense still appears to be the strength of the Broncos team. Denver’s pass rush was already extremely talented with players like Von Miller, Shane Ray, and Shaquil Barrett. However, the pass rush got even deeper when they selected Bradley Chubb with their 1st round pick this offseason. Add in defensive tackle Derek Wolfe plus linebacker Brandon Marshall and the Broncos suddenly have a terrific front 7. The secondary for the Broncos is also still very strong despite the subtraction of pro-bowl cornerback Aqib Talib. Denver still has plenty of talent at cornerback with Chris Harris and Bradley Roby as their starters heading into this season. Overall, the Broncos defense could be even better than last season and they will probably need it to be very good to be a playoff team in 2018. However, the entire fate of the Broncos defense rests in the hands of quarterback Case Keenum because if he doesn’t play well then the Broncos season could be bad again.
3. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs might be the most unpredictable team heading into the 2018 season in the entire NFL. The reason for that is because they traded away starting quarterback Alex Smith and replaced him with 2nd-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes. There is no doubt the talent that Mahomes has, although he is basically a rookie heading into 2018 as he only has one career NFL start. The good news is that Mahomes will have plenty of talent on offense to help him. Kareem Hunt established himself as one of the top running backs in the NFL last season and he should help to take a lot of pressure off Mahomes. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have great options in the passing game with star tight end Travis Kelce and star wide receiver Tyreek Hill returning for the 2018 season. Also, the Chiefs decided to add another elite receiver by signing Sammy Watkins to a big deal this offseason. The offensive line should be good as well, so Mahomes should have plenty of help around him in order to succeed. However, given the inexperience of Mahomes it is unknown if the Chiefs offense will regress in 2018. Meanwhile, the Chiefs defense doesn’t appear to be any better heading into 2018 than it was a year ago. They still have Justin Houston, Dee Ford, and Chris Jones to lead the pass rush. However, they lost several key defensive players including Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, and star young cornerback Marcus Peters. The Chiefs did add star linebacker Anthony Hitchens in free agency and that should provide a big upgrade at the linebacker position. Kansas City still has pro-bowl safety Eric Berry, but the rest of the secondary just looks average at best. They added cornerback Kendall Fuller in the Alex Smith trade, but the loss of Marcus Peters creates a huge void at that position. The Chiefs still have some good pieces on defense, but it certainly isn’t the dominant defense that it was not too long ago. Kansas City has enough talent to make a playoff run in a rather unknown AFC West. However, that all depends on the play of young quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
4. Oakland Raiders
Oakland is yet another team that could possibly challenge for a playoff spot this year, but it seems like wishful thinking at this point. Quarterback Derek Carr had somewhat of a down season last year, but he is expected to bounce back in 2018 especially with the talent around him. Carr still has his top target at wide receiver with Amari Cooper, but the Raiders added even more talent to that position with the additions of Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant this offseason. The Raiders also have plenty of talent at running back with starter Marshawn Lynch and the addition of former pro-bowler Doug Martin to be his backup. The Raiders offensive line also appears to be very good next season especially with the addition of 1st round pick Kolton Miller at right tackle. Oakland has the pieces on offense to be elite, but quarterback Derek Carr really needs to bounce back in order for the offense to reach its potential. Meanwhile, the Raiders defense is still what will likely hold them back in 2018. They have a couple of terrific pass rushers to lead the way with Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. However, the rest of the defense is a complete unknown heading into 2018. The addition of Tahir Whitehead should help the Raiders at linebacker, although it remains an area of weakness for the team. The real weakness for the Raiders on defense is still the secondary. They really struggled in that area last season and they didn’t do much to improve that unit this offseason. Overall, the Raiders still have plenty of work to do in order to become true contenders again. 2018 will likely just be a transition season with Jon Gruden now taking over as the head coach.