Gil Brandt from NFL.com worked through his list of most vulnerable division winners heading into 2016 and, naturally, the Denver Broncos were near the top of his list for teams that are most likely to lose their division next season.
We'll ignore that he listed the Washington Redskins as the safest team to repeat as division champs and jump right into his assessment of the threat to the five consecutive division title winner Broncos.
2) Denver Broncos
Biggest threat in the AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs
Sure, the Broncos' monstrous defense made it possible for them to capture the Lombardi Trophy despite some less-than-inspiring quarterback play from Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler(Denver led the NFL with 23 interceptions). And it's reasonable to expect likely starter Mark Sanchez to at least replicate the performance of Manning/Osweiler. But while Denver's D should again be good, it won't be as great as it was without Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan, meaning it won't be able to counterbalance the deficiency under center as effectively. Thus, the door is open for a new division champion in 2016. Oakland will make some noise, but I like the Kansas City Chiefs to take the cake.
Some losses in free agency (Sean Smith, Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson) aside, the Chiefs return the core of a team that won 11 straight -- including a playoff game -- down the stretch last season. And consider that they did so largely without running back Jamaal Charles (whose season ended in October with a torn ACL) and Justin Houston (who was not really a factor as he dealt with knee issues at the end of the season). Houston's return is up in the air following ACL surgery, but getting Charles back figures to be a huge boost, while receiver Jeremy Maclin, who suffered a high ankle sprain in the playoffs, will be at 100 percent again. And don't forget about standout tight end Travis Kelce or quarterback Alex Smith, who can probably improve on his solid 2015 performance, considering the additions of offensive weapons Rod Streater and Demarcus Robinson.
So losing Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan hurts the Broncos more than the Chiefs losing Sean Smith, Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson? I would count Brock Osweiler, but his loss helped the Broncos more than it hurt. Add that to Justin Houston's torn ACL and you have a Chiefs team that is being over-bought and a Broncos team being over-sold.
Brandt then talks up the additions of Rod Streater and Demarcus Robinson, suggesting that they will suddenly make the Chiefs world beaters. Color me skeptical.
I'll concede that the AFC West is going to be tougher in 2016, especially with the deck the NFL stacked so heavily against the Broncos with the schedule. All three road divisional games will occur on primetime for the Broncos, including Christmas Night in Arrowhead Stadium.
Now that would have made more sense had Brandt used it, but instead he seems to think the Broncos defense ran through two guys rather than Von Miller and the No Fly Zone.
How do you like the Broncos chances of claiming their sixth consecutive AFC West crown?