NFL Season Outlook: AFC West
Kansas City Chiefs –
Ceiling: One thing everyone can agree on is that the Broncos probably won’t be as good this year as they were last year. That would leave the top of the west open for a new team to swoop in. I’m going to say that the swooping team this year is the Chiefs. I don’t think the Raiders are there quite yet (though they are really close) and Kansas City just seems like they have been on the cusp of being really good for a few years. I can see the Chiefs winning 11 games in the regular season and one, maybe two in the playoffs if they catch a lucky break or two.
Floor: Sure, the bottom could fall out. Charles gets hurt and the backups don’t step up as they have in years past. Alex Smith regresses mightily and Nick Foles proves he’s not the guy to replace him. The defense takes a step backward instead of forward. Barring those kinds of catastrophes, I’d say the floor for this team is right around 8-9 wins this year. Anything less than that should be deemed unacceptable.
Storyline: Is Alex Smith still the guy? Can an Andy Reid team get over the hump and be competitive for a long stretch in the playoffs? Will Jamaal Charles play a full season?
Best Game on the Schedule: Week four at the Steelers should be a good test for the Chiefs and a possible playoff preview.
Worst Game on the Schedule: Week fifteen against the Titans should be an easy win (though the fact that it is sandwiched between divisional matchups could prove to be a distraction).
2016-2017 finish: First in the West, Third Seed in the AFC Playoffs
Oakland Raiders –
Ceiling: Everyone is pretty high on the Raiders this year, and while I am drinking the same Kool-Aid, I am tempering my expectations. This could very easily be a playoff team, and if the Chiefs or Broncos can’t take command of the West, they could actually win the division. I do think they are a year or two away from real contention as their younger players continue to grow and mature. I don’t think ten wins is out of the question this year though.
Floor: The Raiders don’t have a terribly difficult schedule, so even if they don’t live up to the high expectations set for them, they could still be an 8-8 or 7-9 team.
Storyline: Are the Raiders ready to step up? How ready are the young guys to contribute? Is Connor Cook waiting in the wings as a good teammate or as Carr’s replacement if things go poorly?
Best Game on the Schedule: Every division game should be good, but the week one contest against the Saints should be interesting to see how they handle a quarterback like Drew Brees.
Worst Game on the Schedule: The Raiders should be in every game this year, so a “worst game” is hard to pick. If they haven’t come as far as everyone thought, week 12 against the Panthers might be pretty hard to watch.
2016-2017 finish: Second in the West
Denver Broncos –
Ceiling: This could be a playoff team. Hell, they may even win the West if the Chiefs and/or Raiders can’t take that next step. I don’t see the Broncos winning more than one game if they get in the playoffs though. Their defense may be good, but they can’t overcome Sanchez being Sanchez if they were to advance in the playoffs.
Floor: I can see the Broncos falling back to 8-8, maybe less than that if they hit a large losing streak early in the season and just turn the reigns over to Lynch early.
Storyline: Can Denver avoid the Superbowl hangover? Is Sanchez the answer (for this year)? How long until Paxton Lynch takes over? Can the defense keep up their world-beating status?
Best Game on the Schedule: Week one against the Panthers (the Superbowl 50 rematch) should be interesting, even though the teams don’t have the same makeup as the ones that met in February. Beyond that, each week should be interesting to see how far the Broncos have fallen.
Worst Game on the Schedule: Week 15 against the Patriots is going to be a snoozer as I can easily see New England running up the score as revenge for knocking them out of the playoffs last year.
2016-2017 finish: Third in the West
San Diego Chargers –
Ceiling: 4-12, maybe less than that. They’re not a very good team in a division full of pretty good teams.
Floor: 2-14, easily. The schedule is pretty brutal. They’ll play hard, and Rivers will keep them in (and maybe even win them a few) games, but he can’t do it all himself.
Storyline: Will Joey Bosa have an impact after sitting out for so long? Will the Chargers stay in San Diego after this year? How long is Mike McCoy’s leash?
Best Game on the Schedule: The division games will be good, and I could see the Chargers stealing a couple wins within the division. The week seventeen matchup against the Chiefs could have some serious playoff implications for Kansas City, which would make it must-watch if the Chargers are going to try and play spoiler.
Worst Game on the Schedule: Week fourteen at the Panthers. It could turn ugly for the Chargers quickly.
2016-2017 finish: Fourth in the West