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Phillip Rivers Entering Most Important Season of His Career

I am just going to say it out front in my best Schwarzenegger-ian voice, “Go Chargers Go.” This is the year that the Chargers knock the Chiefs off the top of the division. The Raiders look quite a bit different both on the field and sidelines but will the real Derek Carr please stand up? Then there is the Case Keenum led Broncos who do not really excite me, especially in a talent-rich AFC West.

The Los Angeles Chargers finished 9-7 last year and barely missed out on a playoff spot. The loaded offense returns almost everyone and they made adequate moves in the off season to shore up a somewhat porous defense (I am looking at you, Derwin James). As long as we do not see obvious regression from Philip Rivers, the only thing stopping this team from taking the next step is a kicker who can kick the freaking ball. Yes, you heard it, the kicking game. Find someone even close to average at putting the football through the uprights and they make the playoffs. Expect 10-11 wins out of the Chargers and a playoff berth.

The Kansas City Chiefs turn over the reigns to Texas Tech product Pat Mahomes, who did enough in his one NFL start to warrant the front office cutting ties with Alex Smith. I repeat, this man has made one NFL start. He is closer in experience to Josh Allen than he is to Mitchell Trubisky. Point being, we do not know what to expect from Mahomes at this time, even in a quarterback-friendly offense. Kareem Hunt, Sammy Watkins, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill will likely make up for any deficiency in Mahomes play, but this also is not the same defense prowling Arrowhead as in previous years. The Chiefs will win 9 games and be in the wildcard hunt.

The Oakland Raiders have a real Gruden-grinder as head coach entering 2018. What that means is anyone’s guess. The off season for the Raiders has largely focused on veteran players who the Raiders have to assume can return to the previous glory. With the relative youth of Derek Carr, it is surprising to see the Raiders go after so many stopgap solutions. Clearly, they are going all out to try to win and win now. Put them in another division and they may be able to do just that, but there are too many losses to be had in this division. The Raiders will win 7-8 games, but never really be in the playoff race. Those stopgap solutions will all just be a year older for the next go around.

The Denver Broncos have finally moved on from the Trevor Simian-Brock Osweiler experiment of the post-Manning era. John Elway saw his guy in Case Keenum and went out and got him. The Broncos have four quality receivers following a good, responsible draft for Keenum to target. Also, the addition of perhaps the top talent in the draft, Bradley Chubb, will take some heat off of Von Miller and the rest of the pass rushing corps. In the end, I think Keenum just happened to fall into the right place at the right time last season in Minnesota. I expect him to be somewhere in between his tremendously efficient 2017 and the previous journeyman years. Unfortunately for Denver, anything less than his 2017 performance will have them on the outside looking in. Denver will be a lot better than their record, but there will be no moral victories in this division.