Quarterbacks and coaching.
These are components most successful football teams have. Sure, defenses win championships, but without a stable coaching situation and effective quarterbacking, your team may not even make the playoffs.
Not surprisingly, the two best teams in the AFC West have both of these.
The Raiders and Chiefs tied for first atop the division standings last year and should do so again. The Raiders have rising star Derek Carr at quarterback and Jack Del Rio beginning his third season at the helm. The Chiefs have steady Alex Smith behind center and Andy Reid in his fifth year.
Both the Broncos and Chargers bring in first-year coaches and both have underwhelming options at quarterback. Sure, Phillip Rivers has been the Chargers starter for a lot of years, but he hasn’t made the playoffs since 2014 and the Broncos are going with Trevor Siemian.
Here’s how we figure it will play out:
Raiders (11-5) — The Raiders were on their way to becoming the best team in the AFC that doesn’t reside in the state of Massachusetts until Carr was injured late in the season. They boast an array of weapons in Amari Cooper and new (old) running back Marshawn Lynch along with a strong offensive line. Defensively, Khalil Mack is one of the best players all of football and the team spent a lot of draft capital on their defensive backfield.
Chiefs (10-6) — Kansas City made a move toward their long-term future by trading away a third round pick and next year’s first round pick to move up to draft Patrick Maholmes. He’s been pretty good in the preseason, but a third rounder this year could have been a starter and next year’s No. 1 normally is one too. That’s a lot of depth to give up that can cost a team a playoff spot. Still, a strong defense led by Justin Houston, Marcus Peters and Eric Berry will keep the Chiefs in the hunt.
Broncos (8-8) — Denver has ridden its elite defense to multiple playoffs and carried Payton Manning all the way to a Super Bowl a few years back … and the defense will have to do it again if the Broncos are going to be successful. Up front, Von Miller is an impact player, along with DeMarcus Ware. Shane Ray has come along to inject some youth into this group. Defensive backs Chris Harris, Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby keep things tight as well. On offense, Siemian has some weapons in Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and C.J. Anderson.
Chargers (6-10) — A new town, a new coach, an erratic quarterback and the loss to injury of their first-round pick bodes to another bad season. Los Angeles hasn’t exactly welcomed the Chargers with open arms, although playing in a boutique stadium that holds less than 30,000 spectators shouldn’t be too difficult to fill. Last year’s 5-11 team collapsed at the end of many games, so the record could be deceiving. However, Rivers interceptions late in games has become an all-too familiar occurrence. Los Angeles does offer some defensive talent in Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward.