2017 AFC West

2016 Finish: Kansas City, Oakland, Denver, San Diego

Overall Notes: This is a really balanced division. You can make a good argument for any of the four teams winning it. Each of the teams is playoff worthy, but none of them might be wild-card teams. The division will beat each other up, plus they play the NFC East, though they do have the advantage of playing the AFC East as well.

Kansas City Chiefs
2016 Record:  12-4 (Pythagorean Wins: 10.1)
2016 Division Rank: 1st
2016 Injury Rank: 27th
2017 Age Rank: 16th
2016 DVOA Overall 6th (O/D/ST):  (13th / 14th / 1st)

There’s a lot to like about this team. Travis Kelce is one of the best TEs in the game. Tyreek Hill can score from anywhere. Yes, even from Novosibirsk. Alex Smith knows his strengths and plays to them. Kareem Hunt will do very well at RB. They don’t have enough on the outside, though, and that’ll hurt them. I think the Chiefs will take a small step up on offense, but not a huge one. Say 9th or 10th in Offensive DVOA next year.

I think they’ll also see a slight step up on defense, simply because Justin Houston is healthy. In all honesty, this team could, if all breaks well, take a large step up, say to 5th in DVOA. There’s a lot to work with here.

But I don’t think they’ll duplicate that 1st in Special Teams. It’s the most volatile of rankings, and if they are indeed only using Hill on offense, then they’re losing him in the return game and that’s a mistake. I understand the idea of protecting him from injury, but he’s just too good not to use him.

Overall, I think they’ll come in around 11-5. They didn’t add much, in my opinion, having spent so much draft capital on Patrick Mahomes, but they were really unlucky on injuries last year. Given their age, middle of the pack, I’d expect their injuries to return to middle of the pack, even though they’ve already lost Spencer Ware for the season. I think they’ll win the division, but as I said, it could really be any team.

Los Angeles Chargers
2016 Record: 5-11 (Pythagorean Wins: 7.7)

2016 Division Rank: 4th
2016 Injury Rank: 31st
2017 Age Rank: 8th
2016 DVOA Overall 19th (O/D/ST):  (18th / 7th / 29th)

Speaking of volatile, let’s talk about the Chargers. They were hammered by injuries last year, but were much better than their 5-11 record. Essentially, this was an average team *after* all of the injuries. They were fairly stable in terms of free agency, though I do like what they did in the draft.

If Keenan Allen can stay healthy, they’re very good on the outside. Melvin Gordon is a good RB. They have a great QB in Philip Rivers. At TE, while Antonio Gates may be at the end of his career, I think Hunter Henry will be outstanding. If that offensive line can be average, this offense will dramatically improve. And it wasn’t awful last year.

On defense, they were very good last year. I see a small dropoff here, but not much. Joey Bosa will be better this year, and while they don’t have a tone of stars on defense, they have lots of quality players.

Their weakness was Special Teams. I don’t honestly know how well they’ve addressed this, but there’s room for significant improvement if they can just reach mediocre.

Man, I have no idea what to do with this team. I can see them dominating the division if the offense clicks and their injury luck turns back in their favor. They’re also the youngest team in the division, and I think they’ll do better in the latter part of the season. So, ummm, yeah. I’ll say 10-6 and contending for a wild card.

Oakland Raiders
2016 Record:  12-4 (Pythagorean Wins: 8.8)

2016 Division Rank: 2nd
2016 Injury Rank: 13th
2017 Age Rank: 19th
2016 DVOA Overall 10th (O/D/ST):  (8th / 22nd / 14th)

The Oakland Raiders were not as good as their record indicated last year. That 3.2 differential in record to Pythagorean wins is huge. They got really lucky in a bunch of games, even though the loss of Derek Carr in game 15 was awful luck that ruined their season. In general though, their injuries and their age are not extraordinary.

The team was pretty stable in terms of additions and losses. The big addition is Marshawn Lynch, but no one really knows what he’ll do after spending a year out of the league. Plus, he’s old. I will say that this never gets old: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIjQuxaK4Mw.

I actually think the Raiders will be very good on offense. They’ve got a great offensive line, very good to great receivers, and Lynch. I think Carr is a little overrated, but there’s no denying he’s damn good. This offense could be even better and they were really good last year.

Defense is a huge question mark, though. They were 22nd on defensive DVOA last year despite having Khalil Mack, who is fantastic. They drafted well, and both Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu will help.

But I can’t get over that 8.8 Pythagorean from last year. They were extremely lucky to get to 12 wins, and I don’t see it happening again. They’re the oldest team in the division, and that won’t help. I think they’re a better team this year but I think they end up 9-7.

Denver Broncos
2016 Record:  9-7 (Pythagorean Wins: 9.1)

2016 Division Rank: 3rd
2016 Injury Rank: 10th
2017 Age Rank: 14th
2016 DVOA Overall 14th (O/D/ST):  (28th / 1st / 24th)

I really like what this team did on the offensive line, especially adding Ron Leary. The offensive line was a weakness last year, and I think it’ll be at least average. This is huge for them, because they do not have the quarterback to overcome that weakness. Tom Brady could. Trevor Simien? Not so much. However, with that improved line I see this offense getting significantly better.

But I see a regression on defense. I really couldn’t tell you why, though. Maybe it’s because their best defensive players are 28 and older. Maybe it’s because I love DeMarcus Ware so much that his retirement is influencing me.

My suspicion is this team will be about the same, in the 9-7 range, though I’ll actually predict 8-8, but that will be driven by the offense approaching average.

 

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