AFC West Projections
OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 24: Denver Broncos quarterback Case Keenum (4) throws during the regular season NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders on Monday, Dec. 24, 2018 at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. (Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

AFC West projections in June? Okay, it may be way-too-early to begin thinking about the NFL season, but who else can’t wait until fall? In this way-too-early series, I will give my take on each of the NFL divisions and how I believe they will shape up. The previous installment focused on the defending champs continuing to dominate the AFC East. Now let’s turn our focus onto the AFC Wild, Wild, West.

Way-Too-Early AFC West Projections

Oakland Raiders (4-12)(2-4)

Wins: Denver Broncos (week 1), Detroit Lions (week 9), Los Angeles Chargers (week 10), Cincinnati Bengals (week 11)

Losses: Kansas City Chiefs (week 2), at Minnesota Vikings (week 3), at Indianapolis Colts (week 4), Chicago Bears (week 5), at Green Bay Packers (week 7), at Houston Texans (week 8), at New York Jets (week 12), at Kansas City Chiefs (week 13), Tennessee Titans (week 14), Jacksonville Jaguars (week 15), at Los Angeles Chargers (week 16), at Denver Broncos (week 17)

The Oakland Raiders organization is as enigmatic as they come. They used their number four overall pick on Clelin Ferrell and 24 overall on Josh Jacobs. These moves made most analysts scratch their heads. If the picks were reversed, all would be well, but the Raiders passed up on numerous highly-regarded defensive prospects for Ferrell. Year two for Jon Gruden will not go as planned, but there will be signs for hope. Jacobs is a franchise running back and Antonio Brown is easily a top-five wide receiver on his worst day. The Raiders have the talent to compete, but I think that next year will be their year to really take off. Maybe they’ll use this year to make sure they get their franchise quarterback in the 2020 draft. At least for now, we can enjoy them on this year’s Hard Knocks.

I only have the Raiders winning four games this year. They certainly have the ability to lose to the Chargers twice, but beat teams like the Jets, Titans, Jaguars, and Broncos for a second time. Unfortunately for them, they reside within the same division as two of the most prolific offenses in the entire league. A week six bye, followed by two away games, will certainly make their lives difficult. Regardless of the talent out wide, if Derek Carr cannot stay upright, the Raiders are in for a very long year.

Denver Broncos (5-11)(1-5)

Wins: Jacksonville Jaguars (week 4), Tennessee Titans (week 6), at Buffalo Bills (week 12), Detroit Lions (week 16), Oakland Raiders (week 17)

Losses: at Oakland Raiders (week 1), Chicago Bears (week 2), at Green Bay Packers (week 3), at Los Angeles Chargers (week 5), Kansas City Chiefs (week 7), at Indianapolis Colts (week 8), Cleveland Browns (week 9), at Minnesota Vikings (week 11), Los Angeles Chargers (week 13), at Houston Texans (week 14), at Kansas City Chiefs (week 15)

So, is Drew Lock the quarterback of the future in Denver? Or will it be the #Elite Joe Flacco? These are just a couple of the questions that the Broncos will have to answer this upcoming season. On the defensive side of the ball, Denver is led by last year’s first-round pick Bradley Chubb, as well as the perennial Pro Bowler Von Miller. Watch out for Dre’Mont Jones, the rookie defensive lineman out of Ohio State to make a difference as well. Offensively, the Broncos should be lead by last year’s breakout running back Phillip Lindsay as well as the prolific Iowa product, Noah Fant. If Lock wins the starting job, there will be growing pains.

Like the Raiders, the Broncos have the talent to be better than their record. Their fate will be decided depending on how they perform against non-playoff teams. Denver has a difficult schedule. Based on the 2018 winning percentage, the Broncos have the second most difficult schedule, only behind the Raiders. You would be hard-pressed to find AFC West projections that have Denver finishing better than third in the division. Like Oakland, I sense Denver will have a long season. Fear not, Broncos fans, another sub-par season will result in another top draft pick.

Los Angeles Chargers (13-3)(5-1)

Wins: Indianapolis Colts (week 1), at Detroit Lions (week 2), Houston Texans (week 3), Denver Broncos (week 5), Pittsburgh Steelers (week 6), at Tennessee Titans (week 7), Green Bay Packers (week 9), Kansas City Chiefs (week 11), at Denver Broncos (week 13), at Jacksonville Jaguars (week 14), Minnesota Vikings (week 15), Oakland Raiders (week 16), at Kansas City (17)

Losses: Miami Dolphins (week 4),  at Chicago Bears (week 8), at Oakland Raiders (week 10)

The Chargers are absolutely loaded. Philip Rivers continues to defy time and aging and Mike Wallace is finally playing to his potential. Pair that with Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon and the Chargers’ offense will be one of the best in the league. On defense, Joey Bosa will finally get to play a full season and get to terrorize opposing quarterbacks every week. That week one loss to the Chiefs in 2018 was without Bosa, so do with that information what you will. First-rounder Jerry Tillery will make an immediate difference. Opposing offenses will have headaches game-planning for Bosa, Tillery, Brandon Mebane, and Melvin Ingram.

Last year, LA lost to the Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams, Broncos, and Baltimore Ravens. Three out of four of these teams made playoffs and were very solid. This year will not be any different. The Chargers like to lose to teams that they have no business losing to. This year, it’ll be the Dolphins and Raiders. Their saving grace will be the fact that they will sweep the Chiefs. Look for their week 17 matchup to decide the division and the top seed in the AFC.

Kansas City Chiefs (14-2)(4-2)

Wins: at Jacksonville Jaguars (week 1), at Oakland Raiders (week 2), Baltimore Ravens (week 3), at Detroit Lions (week 4), Indianapolis Colts (week 5), Houston Texans (week 6), at Denver Broncos (week 7), Green Bay Packers (week 8), Minnesota Vikings (week 9), at Tennessee Titans (week 10), Oakland Raiders (week 13), at New England Patriots (week 14), Denver Broncos (week 15), at Chicago Bears (week 16)

Losses: Los Angeles Chargers (week 11), at Los Angeles Chargers (week 17)

If Patrick Mahomes can avoid the Madden Curse, the Chiefs will get right back to business. Kansas City’s offense is nearly unstoppable and their defense is solid enough to make sure the offense never really needs to worry. Although they lost Kareem Hunt and (potentially) Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs added Mecole Hardman and Carlos Hyde. Hyde will provide a change of pace from Damien Williams, who inherited the starting running back job when Hunt was suspended in 2018. Hardman is an explosive wide receiver from Georgia who will certainly make his presence known from the get-go.

The Chiefs will take care of business in 2019. Their two losses will come at the hands of their divisional foes. The first will be week 11, considering their bye doesn’t come until week 12. By week 17, the Chiefs should have the division wrapped up, so they can afford to rest Mahomes and co. to be healthy for a Super Bowl run. KC will get their revenge on the Patriots in week 14. Hopefully, they won’t have to worry about a controversial overtime period to do so.

How The West Will Be Won

The Chiefs and Chargers will be battling it out week after week for control of the division. Each team could realistically end up as number one and two offensively. AFC West projections for 2019 will be all over the place. KC and LA will be everyone’s favorite to bring home the title. For LA, the window may be closing on Rivers’ Super Bowl possibilities. The AFC will be wide open in 2019. There is a very good chance that a team other than New England represents the conference in the Super Bowl.

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