2016 AFC West Week 1 Preview

By Joanne Kong

Twitter: @kongfu4u 

Denver Broncos (0-0)

Carolina PanthersDenver Broncos Logo

Carolina Panthers @ Denver Broncos

Denver Broncos – Back on top?

As last year’s Super Bowl victors meet last year’s Super Bowl defeated, a lot has changed, at least for the Broncos.  Quarterback, Peyton Manning is retired.  Brock Osweiler is the starting quarterback for the Houston Texans.  Quarterback Trevor Siemian (who was said to be neck-and-neck with Mark Sanchez during training camp) was announced the starter with rookie quarterback, Paxton Lynch, playing the role of number 2.  (After being released from Denver, Mark Sanchez signed with the Dallas Cowboys, because of Tony Romo’s injury).

Trevor Siemian - CBS Sports Photo

Trevor Siemian – CBS Sports Photo

Wondering “who is Trevor Siemian?”  Here’s a quick snapshot of his football career leading up to his 2016 start with the Broncos:

  • Born: December 26, 1991 (24) in Danbury, Connecticut.
  • College: Northwestern University, majoring Communication Studies.
  • College Career: 14 career starts, 5931 passing yards, 24 interceptions, 27 passing touchdowns, 6 rushing touchdowns.  With 11 starts in his senior year, Siemian suffered a season ending ACL injury.
  • 2015 NFL Draft: 7th round pick by the Denver Broncos (fun fact: not expected to be drafted, Siemian lined up a job in Chicago in commercial real estate.)
  • NFL Career: December 20th, 2015, Broncos against the Pittsburgh Steelers, taking a knee to end the half.  Siemian has a career record of -1 rushing yards, but has the 2015 Super Bowl Championship ring as the third back-up for the Broncos. (fun fact: Siemian will be the first Northwestern starting quarterback in the NFL since 1979.)

In 2015, the Broncos dominant defense made the Broncos Super Bowl champions.  In the 2016 season, it will be interesting to see how the Broncos defense withstands the loss of defensive tackle Malik Jackson, now on the Jacksonville Jaguars and linebacker Danny Trevathan, now a Chicago Bear.  You can be certain that Malik Jackson’s loss will be felt on the defensive line, especially with the loss of Vance Walker (defensive end), who was supposed to be Jackson’s replacement, but suffered a season-ending ACL tear during training camp.  With Trevathan gone, replaced by Brandon Marshall, and Todd Davis taking Marshall’s former spot, the Broncos are looking at some issues in pass coverage, where Davis has struggled.  But, don’t worry Broncos fans.  The Broncos will try to disguise the weakened defense by using Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, in addition to Marshall, to rush the edges and provide pass pressure.

Brandon Marshall - AFC West

Brandon Marshall – CBS Sports

Carolina Panthers – Looking for payback.

As for the Carolina Panthers, with the loss of Josh Norman (cornerback) to the Washington Redskins, the Panthers will need to find another playmaker who’s capable of some big production.  As for the offense, there hasn’t been any significant moves made, leaving the offense with what you saw (in 2015) is what you got (in 2016)… which isn’t bad at all.

In an anticipated do-over for the Carolina Panthers, the Panthers are looking to prove how good they really are (although, a lot too late) for a second chance at victory (which is ultimately, insignificant).  But, it’s a new year and a new season.  And, the Panthers’ have a focused and ready Cam Newton (something that couldn’t be said during his first Super Bowl appearance).  If the Panthers play to their strengths, rush plays, take advantage of the Broncos current weakened pass rush defense and with the return of a healthy Kelvin Benjamin (suffering a ACL injury in 2015), along with the rest of the 2015 NFC Championship team, the Panthers should leave Denver 1-0 in the regular season.

What can we expect in WEEK 1: Panthers vs. Broncos rematch?

  • Paxton Lynch will see action on the field during week 1 games against the Broncos.
  • Cam Newton will throw/rush for four total touchdowns.
  • Kelvin Benjamin will return with a fury with 100 receiving yards and a touchdown.

Carolina Panthers win.

Kansas City Chiefs (0-0) & San Diego Chargers (0-0)

san-diego-chargersKansas City Chiefs

San Diego Chargers @ Kansas City Chiefs

San Diego Chargers – A change in direction.

The Chargers are coming off a 4-12 season in 2015, and 2016 doesn’t seem to look any more promising.  The problem with the Chargers’ offense isn’t the offense itself.  The problem lies in the capability of the offensive against the opposing defensive team.

Philip Rivers is still quarterback, and working hard doesn’t seem to be quite enough.  In the 2015 season, Rivers had a 66.1% completion percentage, 4792 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and 2 fumbles.  Promising stats, but just not good enough.  His stats rarely varied since starting in the quarterback position for the Chargers, and that might just be the problem.  With strong players like Keenan Allen (WR) who left last season with a lacerated kidney and still had 725 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns, Antonio Gates (TE), and the addition of Travis Benjamin (WR), who is coming off his best season with the Cleveland Browns – 966 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns, this offense will need to show remarkable improvement this season if they want to move out of the basement.

This necessary improvement needs to include the backfield, allowing Rivers some needed options to dismantle the oppositions defense.  Running-back, Melvin Gordon (who was unable to score a touchdown in his rookie season, but is predicted by experts to have a breakout year), flex player, Danny Woodhead (who had 3 rushing touchdowns and 6 receiving touchdowns) and the use of rookie fullback Derek Watt, younger brother of J.J. Watt.

Melvin Gordon - Chargers.com

Melvin Gordon – Chargers.com

Even with an incomplete Chiefs defensive line, linebacker Justin Houston (knee) will be out for week 1, the Chargers will need to out-play the Chiefs to keep up, especially with an untrusted Chargers’ defense.

The Kansas City Chiefs – Looking to be on top.

The biggest difference between the Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs is the defense.  The Chiefs’ defense were ranked 7th at the end of the 2015 season, allowing 329.2 yards per game and allowing 17.9 points per game.  With the Chiefs’ looking to be on top of the AFC West division.  They’ll need their defense to step-up with the absence of Jamaal Charles in week 1 against the Chargers.  Luckily, quarterback Alex Smith will have Jeremy Maclin (WR) and Travis Kelce (TE), last year’s two top receivers with 1088 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns and 875 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns, respectively.  But, the success of the Chiefs’ is in the running game.  Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware will need to shoulder the work in the backfield if the Chiefs want to win week 1.

What can we expect in WEEK 1: Chargers vs. Chiefs?

  • Travis Kelce will have two touchdowns.

San Diego Chargers win.

Oakland Raiders (0-0)

Oakland RaidersNew Orleans Saints

Oakland Raiders @ New Orleans Saints

Oakland Raiders – Most Improved?

It almost seems like a curse to be called “most improved” in the NFL, the assumptions create an expectation often difficult to achieve.

Derek Carr - SI.com Photo

Derek Carr – SI.com Photo

The Raiders are hoping the hype isn’t just that, looking to improve on their 7-9 record in the 2015 season.  Entering his third year, Derek Carr has only improved.  In the 2015 season, Carr had a 61.1% completion percentage, 3987 passing yards, 32 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and 6 fumbles.  So, the 13 interceptions and 6 fumbles might not be the best stats.  But, the continuity of the offensive line is a step in the right direction for improvement.  With the return of wide-receivers Amar Cooper, Micheal Crabtree and Seth Roberts, and running back Latavius Murray, not forgetting a strong offensive front line with Memelik Watson (RT), Rodney Hudson (C) and (OG) Kelechi Osemele, former Baltimore Raven, Carr has been given the weapons he need to help bring the Raiders to the post-season, whether he will does is another story.

On defense, the Raiders are looking to improve their 22nd ranking in 2015 by improving their defense.  Defensive end, Khalil Mack, who’s stats are as impressive as Houston Texans defensive end, J.J. Watt, with 77 combined tackles (57 total tackles and 20 assists), 15 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 12 stuffs is thought of as one of the best defensive end in the league.

Khalil Mack - USA Today Sports Photo

Khalil Mack – USA Today Sports Photo

But, Mack can’t do it alone.  The Raiders have upgraded the defense by drafting safety Karl Joseph, who many felt was the best safety in the 2016 NFL draft with their first round draft pick. They also added LB Bruce Irvin, former Seattle Seahawk, and brought in CB Sean Smith, former Kansas City Chief, and safety Reggie Nelson, former Cincinnati Bengal.  The end result, the Raiders are looking to be one of the top ten defenses in the 2016 NFL season.

New Orleans Saints – The ‘Saints’ not the ‘Aints’.

Like many teams in the NFL, the New Orleans Saints have all the pieces to the puzzle but still seem to miss the mark in putting it all together.  The Saints currently negotiated a $44.25-Million-dollar contract with their quarterback Drew Brees, the terms essentially extending the contract one year.  With no one to fill Brees’ shoes, a deal was as eminent as the sun rises in the East.

As Brees enters into the tail-end of his career, his stats are still better than younger quarterbacks starting in the league with 4870 passing yards, 32 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and 5 fumbles.  With young players, 3rd year Brandin Cooks (1138 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns), 2nd year Brandon Coleman (454 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns), 2nd year Willie Snead (984 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns) and rookie Micheal Thomas, rounding the receiving core, Brees will have his options downfield.  Not including, recent addition tight-end Coby Fleener, formally an Indianapolis Colt.  With a more veteran back field, the Saints will rely on the experience of these veterans to take some of the pressure off Brees.

As for the defense, offseason acquisitions should help move the Saints defense out of their current 31st rank at the end of the 2015 season.  It couldn’t hurt.  The Saints signed line-backer James Laurinaitis and Craig Robertson, they brought in defensive tackle Nick Fairley, former LA Rams, and drafted defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins with their first pick in the 2016 NFL draft.  Unfortunately, Rankins is out at least eight weeks, who underwent surgery on August 16 to repair a broken fibula suffered in training camp.

The defense was still struggling during the pre-season, but that doesn’t mean they won’t improve.  But, facing off against the Raiders offense during week 1 will surely test this new defense.

What can we expect in WEEK 1: Raiders vs. Saints?

  • Derek Carr has three touchdowns.
  • Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and Micheal Thomas have 1 touchdown each.

The Oakland Raiders win.

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