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A very early look at the AFC West in 2018

With the whole offseason still to go, who’s looking good or not so good in 2018?

Denver Broncos versus the Kansas City Chiefs Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The Broncos reigned supreme in the AFC West for half a decade under the leadership of John Elway and Peyton Manning. With Manning’s retirement, the team tumbled to 3rd in the division in 2016 and then slid on down into the divisional basement in 2017.

But the past is the past, and the most important season now is the one ahead of us. It’s very early in the offseason, but the AFC West’s teams already look different than they did just a few weeks ago. So who’s looking strongest, and who’s looking sickly?

Out Front

Despite his aging body and a slew of controversy and issues surrounding his team, Philip Rivers had a good year in 2017. His 28/10 TD/Int mark is certainly something Broncos Country would have liked to have seen more of from our own QBs this year. But in addition to that, Rivers’ Chargers look to be sorting themselves out after several years of truly nasty injury luck. Rivers has plenty of offensive weapons, and the team sports some great pieces in the secondary as well as arguably the best pass rush duo in the NFL with Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa.

Right now, the Chargers look like the team to beat in the AFC West next season. A roster full of good pieces and a coaching staff that kept its continuity far better than their division rivals makes for a strong combination. Now all they’re missing is fans.

Middle of the Pack

Alex Smith had a career year, and the Chiefs seem to have found their next big running back. 2017 was a good year regular season for Kansas City, but that didn’t stop them from exiting the playoffs early in embarrassing fashion. Worst of all, their defense clearly took some steps back from its previously dominating form. Injuries played a significant role in that, but that may still be true for guys like Eric Berry and Chris Jones when the 2018 regular season gets here.

Another big issue for the Chiefs is some pretty significant turnover among the ranks of their coaches. Their offensive coordinator just left to be the Bears’ head coach, and both their assistant head coach and their defensive coordinator are retiring. Some internal promotions can help create a smooth transition, but the Chiefs just lost a lot of talent, wisdom, and experience from their coaching staff. Turmoil over their future at QB doesn’t help either.

The Broncos are third behind the Chiefs. There’s the glaring hole at quarterback and a few other trouble spots, but overall the Broncos roster is still pretty strong. There’s a lot of turnover on the coaching staff, though, as holdovers from the Kubiak regime (and earlier) were removed when the Broncos’ season ended. Both coordinators remained, though, with the “Interim” tag disappearing from Bill Musgrave’s title. The Broncos might have the most potential to move upward over the course of the offseason as things play out. The right quarterback would go a very long way to curing the team’s ills and getting it back into contention for the postseason.

Going the Wrong Direction

Right now the Raiders are arguably the worst team in the AFC West. Derek Carr is still a very good QB for them, but as this year demonstrated, it takes more than just that. The Raiders’ defense continued to underperform and it cost them games. This year, consequences followed.

As Broncos fans, though, we just get to be glad that the decisions made were so bad.

The Raiders fired head coach Jack Del Rio after he guided the team to a 25-23 record during his three year tenure. Barely over .500, so what’s the big deal? Right? Well, Dennis Allen didn’t make it quite as far as the previous head coach of the Raiders, but his teams went 11-37 in his three (well, 2.25) seasons. Prior to Allen, the Raiders moved on from Hue Jackson after an 8-year high win count record of 8-8 in his year as the team’s head coach. He matched the record Tom Cable guided the Raiders to the season before until not being retained.

Why bother with all the history? To point out that the Raiders are back in their usual form, making horrible decisions that kill any fragile momentum they’ve managed to gather. Del Rio coached the team to 12-4 last year, and now he’s gone a year later.

His replacement? A guy who’s been a TV analyst and out of the coaching game for a decade. A guy who’s only Super Bowl title came off the back of a Buccaneers defense built by Tony Dungy and which regressed further the longer he stayed. Not only did they sign this fellow, they gave him a record breaking $100 million over the length of a 10 year contract.

Jon Gruden, everybody.

Don’t get me wrong. The Raiders definitely have some great players available to them too. But they’ve got even more issues with regard to their coaching staff than the Broncos do. I think they’ll resume their traditional spot at the bottom of the pile in 2018.

Horse Tracks

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Broncos name Zach Azzanni as Wide Receivers Coach
Azzanni spent the 2017 season with the Chicago Bears.

Broncos agree to terms with Special Teams Coordinator Tom McMahon
McMahon spent the last five seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.

Broncos name Greg Williams as Defensive Backs Coach
Greg Williams is a coaching veteran of nine NFL seasons, most recently with the Colts from 2016-17.

Chris Strausser named Offensive Line-Tackles Coach
Chris Strausser, formerly the Broncos' Assistant Offensive Line Coach, has been named Offensive Line-Tackles Coach.

Marcus Mariota's TD pass to himself revives Chiefs' playoff horrors | 'NFL Turning Point' - NFL Videos
Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota completes a touchdown pass to himself and in the process ignites a comeback to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs in the wild card contest.

Texans, 49ers, Buccaneers head 2018's worst-to-first candidates -
Will Jimmy Garoppolo lift the San Francisco 49ers from the bottom to the top of the NFC West? Gil Brandt ranks all eight last-place finishers according to their chances of going from worst to first.

QB Index, Divisional Round: Trustworthiness rankings -
Gregg Rosenthal ranks the remaining eight quarterbacks by trustworthiness. Naturally, Tom Brady receives a plum position -- but he doesn't top the board.

Grading the 2017 draft classes for every NFL team - NFL Nation- ESPN
The Texans, Saints and Jaguars saw major contributions from their rookies while the Ravens, Broncos and other teams were left disappointed.

2017 NFL - Biggest injury questions for every playoff team in the divisional round
Is Antonio Brown on track to return against the Jaguars? How much of a concern is Julio Jones' lingering ankle injury? NFL Nation reporters assess the biggest injuries for the divisional round.

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No NFL team has ever had an African-American principal owner. Will that change now that Jerry Richardson is selling the Panthers?

NFL playoff picks 2018: Experts have faith in Patriots and no one else -
We’re split on every matchup except one in the Divisional Round.

NFL playoffs Panic Index 2018: Patriots won’t win Super Bowl thanks to Alabama -
This weekend, the Patriots could struggle with triple-threat Marcus Mariota, the Steelers are out for revenge against the Jags, and the Eagles are looking for some life on offense.

Jon Gruden’s $100 million deal with Raiders transforms coaching market -
This is an almost unprecedented amount of money, and it could change the entire game for coaching candidates.