Joy Divisions – AFC West

Before the season starts, myself and good friend of the podcast Lee Wakefield (@wakefield90) will give a summary of each division, how we see it playing out over the season along with some players to target in fantasy in each.

AFC West:

In the words of the Pet Shop Boys – “GO WEST!, life is peaceful there” I think it could be the complete opposite. When has it ever been peaceful in San Diego  Los Angeles?

Perhaps the most intriguing division in the AFC (though the South may have their say) and most people would argue a case for every team in the division actually winning it.

TIM

Los Angeles Chargers:

Let’s start with the Chargers; If you listen to the podcast or read some posts, you’ll know I am a big fan of the Chargers this year to win it all. Injuries are coming thick and fast with Hunter Henry and Jason Verrett going down for the season already (sigh) but the Chargers were already a great defence when Verrett was injured last year. The loss of Henry hurts but there is enough in the pass catching room to spread it around.

Mike Williams needs to step up and should after missing most of his rookie season whilst Tyrell Williams has already shown he is reliable. Both WIlliams’ should be sought after in drafts as they are usually going undrafted and it would be silly not to have a piece of this offence. Keenan Allen isn’t a sure thing to stay healthy either (last season was his first where he played a full 16 game slate). Then there’s Antonio Gates…..

Melvin Gordon is a stud and expect Austin Ekeler to see an uptick in usage in the backfield. Anthony Lynn should be able to get more from this team that ended the season on a hot streak and should have been playing playoff football last year.

Whilst I wouldnt want to see anymore disruption to this team, I think there is something special happening there in Los Angeles (maybe it’s the Rams). Their “home” ground was a bit of a distraction last season and should be more accustomed to playing at the StubHub Centre this year and be able to deal with the lack of home fans there (quite a lot of home games are against teams that don’t travel well too in terms of fanbase).

Key Storyline:  Can the Chargers avoid more injuries which could lead to a derailed season and give Rivers a final push at a deep playoff run?

Denver Broncos: 

Looking forward to seeing how the Broncos start the season, they could be another darkhorse for going deep in the postseason.

Case Keenum will need to hit ground running but has a great compliment of weapons surrounding him. I feel Royce Freeman will beat out Devontae Booker at the running back position but it could be a bit of a committee after the exit of CJ Anderson.

This could be the last hurrah for Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders at wide receiver, with draft picks Courtland Sutton and DeSean Hamilton a year or so away, they could seamlessly take over and will get some snaps this year.

Bradley Chubb, arguably the steal of the draft at pick 5 will be a monster on the other side of Von Miller and will make an immediate impact, but the back end of the defence will have to deal with the loss of Aqib Talib.

I feel as though a .500 season is about where the Broncos will aim for as a foundation and should be getting about 9 or 10 wins with the talent here.

Key Storyline:  Can Case Keenum replicate his form from last season?

Kansas City Chiefs:

Andy Reid made a big statement by trading Alex Smith to the Redskins and putting his faith into 2nd season QB Patrick Mahomes. The passing attack seemingly will be more of a vertical one (though Smith was the best deep passer of last season) which is also supported by the acquisition of Sammy Watkins from the Rams. Sammy really needs to put his stuff together otherwise his talent will go to waste.

Spencer Ware returns after missing the whole of last season and could be a sneaky value late in drafts if getting a bit of this backfield. Kareem Hunt, the leading rusher last year was only able to manage that feat due to Ware’s injury and a near 90% RB market share in terms of touches so it will be intriguing as to the allegiances and loyalties of Andy Reid between him and Ware.

The defence has lost Marcus Peters to the Rams and this could lead to some high scoring games at Arrowhead. The question is can Mahomes lead them to enough victories in his first full season as the signal caller.

Key Storyline: Has Andy Reid made the right call and can Patrick Mahomes lead this team or is it too premature for him?

Oakland Raiders:

Jon Gruden taking over from Jack Del (can of) Rio is one of the main off season stories and also his personnel changes have been somewhat eyebrow raising.

Jordy Nelson, Doug Martin and others are players that have come through the door in the offseason and it seems that this will either be a disaster, or a masterstroke. I will bet on the former if I had to choose and it will be fascinating to see how it plays out in Oakland. Their best offensive player has left for Baltimore in another strange deal and it seems as though they are intent on giving Amari Cooper full responsibility for their WR success this season. Considering his high drop rate and poor production last season, it is going to be high risk and high reward type stuff.

Gruden has said that he wants to run the ball and Marshawn Lynch performed well last year when many people doubted him. He could break down this season and Doug Martin was obviously brought in to help share the load, though he himself is prone to injury.

Regardless of what happens, it should be fun to watch…

Summary:

I think this is all set up for the Chargers this year. I am fully on the bandwagon and tip them to go all the way. The window for Rivers is closing but if it’s gonna be any year, this will be the one. Good value for all of the players in fantasy here in LA so make sure you get a piece.

If they fail, Denver could be a sneaky team at decent odds if Keenum is able to be anywhere near his abilities of last year at Minnesota. Their defence could have the old swagger back but they have enough on offence to win games in shootouts should their defence fail. The Denver players are fairly priced in drafts at the moment and could prove their worth come the end of the season.

Kansas City are the wildcard of the division and their range of outcomes is quite vast. If Mahomes slots in and plays well, they could be thereabouts come December though i feel their defence could let them down. Fantasy wise, Sammy Watkins is a value and must come up trumps soon. All the rest are overpriced and I wont take any part of Hill, Hunt, Kelce or Mahomes. Spencer Ware is a guy to watch in training camp.

Oakland possess a stay well clear sign for me and Gruden may have pulled a masterstroke in signing a 10 year (yes, 10 years potentially) contract for mega bucks ($100m) which could prove a costly investment and the source of laughter for years to come.

Dont be surprised if 2 teams come from this division for the playoffs.

Predictions:

  1. Los Angles Chargers,
  2. Denver Broncos,
  3. Kansas City Chiefs,
  4. Oakland Raiders

LEE

So after going over the best division in the conference last time out, today it’s the AFC West.

Let’s start with last season’s AFC West champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. A lot of people seem to be a lot lower on the Chiefs than last season which I think is slightly unfair. I do think they have lost a little bit of balance as their defense doesn’t look as good but I don’t think they’re going to be much worse.

They’re just going to be different; much more offensive and much more explosive. This is mainly down to the fact it’ll be Patrick Mahomes II under center as opposed to Alex Smith. This means more big plays and more excitement, which should be music to the ears of the likes of Tyreek Hill and new wideout, Sammy Watkins. It may also mean more turnovers due to the higher degree of difficulty and risk factor of of the throws Mahomes is going to be making. Another aspect of it is that even though he wasn’t completely redshirted as a rookie, this will essentially be the former Texas Tech star’s rookie year.

Another question mark is; Will Kareem Hunt suffer of sophomore slump and how will Spencer Ware taking away some of his carries affect the running game? Food for thought for fantasy as well as Andy Reid. The offense also lost Matt Nagy as OC, so how will the Chiefs cope with that?

However, even in the face of these questions the trump card is Andy Reid. Reid is one of the better regular season coaches in the history of the league and they still have a talented roster. Because of that, the Chiefs will still be in playoff contention, even if the defense isn’t as good and if it gets rocky for Mahomes in patches.

Next up, the Raiders…

I’m not really sure what to say here. The Raiders are either going to shock the world and be fantastic and the hire of Jon Gruden is going to look like a masterstroke or they’re going to be awful and look like a team trying to play football from a bygone era.

To give you an idea of why I say that; there have been rumours that Gruden has been using tape from the ‘70’s in meetings with Raiders players. Who does that?

There’s also the issue that Jon Gruden seems to be going about player recruitment like he’s trying to reassemble the team he won his fantasy league with in 2015 with the signings of Jordy Nelson and Doug Martin.

Then we come to the biggest issue, the Khalil Mack saga. Picture this, you’re Jon Gruden and you have one of the best pass rushers in the game and you don’t pay him, even worse, you’ve only been in contact with your star defensive player once since you were hired… you’re out of your mind, right? It’s getting really messy now Mack is missing time and there’s even some people talking about a trade.

Oakland have got some talent on their roster but there’s just too many questions and too many odd things surrounding the team for me to get too positive. They also need rebound seasons from the likes of Derek Carr and Amari Cooper! Waiting for me to get positive? Hmmm… let’s not talk about their draft. Good news? They’ll probably have a pretty high pick in the first round next year!

If I want to talk about a team that did draft well, then I can talk about the Denver Broncos. Annoyingly, as a Chargers fan, Denver had a really good draft and it will stand them in good stead for years to come. You can see the logic in a lot of their picks; Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton can replace Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in a year or two. Royce Freeman can nail down their starting running back spot. Bradley Chubb is the ideal running mate for Von Miller, a steal at 5th overall (if you can have a steal so high). Isaac Yiadom and Josey Jewell add good depth too.

The biggest negative for Denver in the off season was getting beat by Minnesota in the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes. Although it was quite funny to see the front office react like a young guy who just got rejected by a girl he really liked by essentially coming out and saying, “I didn’t fancy her anyway, mate”. They did settle on the slightly less attractive Case Keenum. Who everyone is sort of waiting to turn into a pumpkin again, which I find slightly unfair because he was excellent last year. Keenum is just a system guy who will be hoping that Denver have the right one to fit him and his style. Denver will also he hoping the same as one of Paxton Lynch or Chad Kelly will be backing him up… yikes.

Overall Denver are going to be better, not championship contenders but if they completely click, maybe a wildcard spot is within reach. Fantasy wise, no guys you’re targeting really early but you could do worse than Thomas, Sanders or Freeman for depth, or Hamilton and Sutton for a dynasty stash.

Finally, my team, the Los Angeles Chargers. Now, as any regular reader or listener knows, or if you follow me on Twitter, I’m pretty positive when it comes to the Chargers and you’ve probably heard all my hype so I’ll keep this brief.

I loved the Chargers draft. Derwin James was a steal in the first, then after that they filled out positions of need throughout the rest of the next two days. Much like the Broncos draft, you can see the logic behind every pick. All the buzz and highlights out of training camp this week on the rookies have been really positive too.

On offense the only big negative is Hunter Henry’s injury and the void it leaves for a playmaker at tight end. I feel like the Bolts will give an opportunity to younger players and role with more three and four wide receiver sets. The rest of the offence is pretty complete, watch out for further improvement from Melvin Gordon and potential breakout seasons from Mike Williams and Forrest Lamp.

The defense looks equally complete with top players littering the secondary and the league’s best pass rushing pair up front. The weakness could be the linebackers as there’s no real star but watch out for Kyzir White, who is making the transition from safety to linebacker coming into the pros. He’s a hard hitter and the Chargers will be looking for him to use his coverage skills to good effect over the middle.

Another big plus point for the Chargers is that they kept their entire coaching staff together through the off season hires. Both Co-ordinators and their most talented position coaches such as Ron Milus and Giff Smith, the defensive backs and defensive line coaches, who will surely be being looked at for DC jobs all over the league.

You could say I’m bias but I truly believe the Chargers are the best team in the West and will win the division and they have a chance to go deep in the playoffs. As I’ve said in previous articles, I feel like the road to the Superbowl goes through either Jacksonville or Foxborough in the AFC and those would be tough games for L.A. but by no means impossible.

Fantasy wise; Melvin Gordon is a first round player, ditto Keenan Allen. Rivers is a nice QB to have on your roster, he’ll have the odd down week but he will average a healthy amount of points per week. Deeper sleepers will be Mike Williams and potentially Tyrell Williams. A deeper dive could be Austin Ekeler for deeper leagues.

Prediction, won’t shock anyone but…

  1. Chargers
  2. Chiefs
  3. Broncos
  4. Raiders