(Amari Cooper photo courtesy of the Oakland Raiders)
(Philip Rivers photo courtesy of the San Diego Chargers)
Talk of Fame Network
The Denver Broncos are the defending Super Bowl champions, but they will not be favored to repeat. The Broncos may not even be favored to repeat as the AFC West champion.
The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and the Broncos lost the two quarterbacks who combined to win 15 games last season. Peyton Manning won 10 of them, including the Super Bowl, and he has retired. Brock Osweiler won the other five games filling in for an injured Manning, but he bolted for the Houston Texans this offseason in free agency.
So who is favored to win the AFC West this season? That’s the subject of this week’s Talk of Fame Network poll, and here are the candidates:
Denver Broncos. Those Lombardi Trophies come at a cost for the Broncos. Each of the last two times Denver has won an NFL title, their quarterback has retired. It was John Elway after the 1999 championship and Manning now after the 2015 title.Brian Griese stepped in for Elway in 2000, and it will be either veteran Mark Sanchez or first-round draft pick Paxton Lynch stepping in this season for Manning. The two quarterbacks weren’t the only roster hits absorbed by the Broncos this season. Two starters from the NFL’s best defense also departed in free agency, with end Malik Jackson signing with Jacksonville and linebacker Danny Trevathan with Chicago. But the best pass rush in the NFL returns, with linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware coming off the edge. The Broncos also return a pair of Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris. Offensively, a greater emphasis will be placed on the running game, with C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman to ease the pressure on the quarterback position.
(Von Miller photo courtesy of Eric Bakke/Denver Broncos)
Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs qualified for the playoffs as a wild-card with an 11-5 record last season, then won their first playoff game in 13 years. Kansas City reached the post-season with a Top 10-running game and defense. Even with Pro Bowl tailback Jamaal Charles missing 11 games with injury, the Chiefs still averaged 127 yards per game on the ground and controlled the clock for almost 31 minutes each week. Quarterback Alex Smith minimized his mistakes, tossing only seven interceptions, and his defensive teammates maximized the opposition’s mistakes, ranking fifth with 29 takeaways, including an AFC-high 22 interceptions. The Chiefs also flashed one of the league’s best pass rushes with 47 sacks. Charles returns this season, and the Chiefs have bulked up on the two lines by signing offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz away from Cleveland in free agency and drafting defensive tackle Chris Jones of Mississippi State in the first round.
(Jamaal Charles photo courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs)
Oakland Raiders. The retirement of safety Charles Woodson is a huge blow to the defense, but over on offense quarterback Derek Carr, running back Latavius Murray and wide receiver Amari Cooper are all a year older and a year better. The Raiders should be able to score points again this season, and they should be more formidable on defense, having added pass rushers Bruce Irvin from Seattle in free agency and Jihad Ward of Illinois and Shilique Calhoun of Michigan State in the draft. Add Khalil Mack to the mix, and the Raiders should get after some quarterbacks this season. Oakland also drafted a potential replacement for Woodson in first-rounder Karl Joseph of West Virginia and got bigger at corner by signing Sean Smith away from the Chiefs. Coach Jack Del Rio has the Raiders headed in the right direction, and the continued development of Carr will be the key. He passed for almost 4,000 yards and 32 touchdowns in his second season as a starter in 2015.
San Diego Chargers. The Chargers finished last in the AFC West last season despite having the best quarterback in Philip Rivers. But he’s going to need help. Last year’s first-round draft pick, Melvin Gordon, rushed for only 641 yards and failed to score a touchdown. Fellow running back Danny Woodhead led the Chargers in receiving and touchdowns – which doesn’t say much about San Diego’s willingness to throw the ball down the field. Rivers’ most trusted target is veteran tight end Antonio Gates, but he’s 36 this season, and his stats have fallen each of the last two years. San Diego drafted the heir apparent to Gates in the second round in Mackey Award-winner Hunter Henry of Arkansas. Eric Weddle, the heart of the defense, left for the Baltimore Ravens, but the Chargers did address a punchless pass rush (32 sacks in 2015) with the selection of Ohio State All-America Joey Bosa with the third overall pick of the draft.