AFC West 2017 Week 1 Preview & Predictions

By Joanne Kong

Twitter: @kongfu4u  AFC West Week 1

DENVER BRONCOS (0-0) & LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (0-0)

Los Angeles Chargers @ Denver Broncos

Is anyone else having a problem with the Chargers new team name, the Los Angeles Chargers? Yeah, it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue for me either. We all knew the change was coming, but now that’s it’s here, it just doesn’t seem right.

But, I digress.

A move to a new city isn’t the only change the Chargers made during the offseason. They’ve got a new head coach with Anthony Lynn and a new defensive coordinator, the ex- head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Gus Bradley. Yes, THAT Gus Bradley.

If that doesn’t blow your mind, the Chargers also lost some valuable players – linebacker Manti Te’O is now on the New Orleans Saints, cornerback Brandon Flowers retired and passing down back Danny Woodhead is now on the Baltimore Ravens. The good news, although the Chargers might not be at 100%, but most of their starter are expected to play against the Denver Broncos in Monday’s match-up. Of course, the Chargers will be without offensive guard Forrest Lamp (a 2017 second-round draft pick out with an ACL injury), linebacker Denzel Perryman (ankle) and wide receiver Mike Williams, their 2017 first round draft pick, has been suffering from back issues and will likely be out until mid-October.

Philip Rivers

What’s left, though, might just be enough for the Chargers to win. The Chargers still have quarterback Phillip Rivers, who has yet to miss a game in eleven years, and still has an arm like a cannon. Their offense is looking to be explosive this season with Keenan Allen (WR), Tyrell Williams (who was targeted 120 times in 2016 with 1059 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns), Melvin Gordon (who is coming off his break out year at running back) and tight-end duo Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry. Unfortunately for the Chargers, outside of the occasional injury, their offense was never the problem. Week one will be more of a test for the Chargers defense and new kicker Younghoe Koo.

The Denver Broncos are looking at the opposite problem.

Trevor Siemian

Unable to upgrade the quarterback position, the Denver Broncos are looking again for their defense to win games this season. Unless quarterback Trevor Siemian can progress this year, the Broncos will be heavily reliant on a healthy C.J. Anderson (running back). To make Denver’s situation worse, Brock Osweiler is back – yeah, you heard correctly. Osweiler has come full circle. In 2016, Siemian had a 59.5 completion percentage, 3401 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and 3 fumbles, which meant the Denver offense in turn totaled the sixth fewest yards in the league (5169).

On the other hand, the Denver defense was one of the best last year (4th fewest yards allowed and the 4th in points allowed) and shouldn’t be much different in the upcoming season. If anything, they have only improved with 2nd round draft pick defensive end DeMarcus Walker and 3rd round pick cornerback Brendan Langley. Unfortunately for the Chargers, the Denver defense allowed just 185.8 passing yards per game in 2016.

Denver Broncos Win.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (0-0)

Kansas City Chiefs @ New England Patriots

The Kansas City Chiefs will be fighting an uphill battle in their season opener against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Thursday night. Not simply because the Patriots are a better team, which most people might say they are, but I won’t, but also because the Patriots are 9-point favorites.

Since 2004, the previous season’s Super Bowl winner has hosted the first Thursday night game of the following season. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, the home team has won every time except in 2012 when the Cowboys beat the defending champion New York Giants, and in 2013, when the defending champion Baltimore Ravens traveled to Denver and lost to the Broncos (but in all fairness, the host team did win).

Alex Smith – AP Photo

For the Chiefs, the return of quarterback Alex Smith and most of the 2016 AFC West division winners will look to dominate the division once again, but it will doubtfully start in week 1. With the absence of Spencer Ware, Kareem Hunt will be holding down the backfield, which can be one of the greatest moments for a rookie running back, or the beginning of the end for the Chiefs. I’m going to put my money on the former. The Chiefs will also look to 2nd year Tyreek Hill (WR) with veteran Jeremy Maclin gone. In 2016, Hill had 593 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns. Unfortunately, the Chiefs only consistent receiving threats are Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce (TE), meaning that it’s more than likely that Belichick will scheme additional coverage. On defense, the Chiefs allowed the 9th most points per game and 367.9 yards per game last year. If the Chiefs want a shot at winning, the defense will need to do more than put pressure on Tom Brady, as Brady rarely struggles under pressure.  They will need to get to him fast and hit him hard.

Although the New England Patriots have faced some changes coming into the season, they should still be riding high from the Super Bowl. They have a healthy Rob Gronkowski (TE), who will be a key playmaker with the absence of Julian Edelman. They have several new running backs including Mike Gillislee from the Buffalo Bills and Rex Burkhead from the Cincinnati Bengals, both of which should be taking over for former Patriot and current Philadelphia Eagle, LeGarrette Blount. At wide receiver, Brady will be looking downfield for Chris Hogan and new acquisition Brandin Cooks, formally of the New Orleans Saints.

Tom Brady – USA Today Photo

As for Tom Brady, he’ll be the 11th quarterback to play at 40 years of age, and so far, he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. Even missing four games in 2016, Tom Brady had 3554 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and 4 fumbles, leading the team to a fifth Super Bowl victory. And experts expect Brady to have another record year, starting with week one against the Chiefs.

Since Brady has been the quarterback for the New England Patriots (2001), the Patriots have won every game played at Gillette Stadium against the Chiefs, and won 7-2 overall.
If you’re still on the Chief’s bandwagon, good for you. Just don’t put any money on it.

New England Patriots Win.

OAKLAND RAIDERS (0-0)

Oakland Raiders @ Tennessee Titans

After losing quarterback Derek Carr, finishing second in the AFC West in 2016 and losing in the Wild Card Playoffs to the Houston Texans, the Oakland Raiders are probably ready to move on with the regular season. With a slow start in the preseason losing all four games, the Raiders will be facing the Tennessee Titans. The two teams have faced off 45 times and the Raiders have won 25-20 of the games. But since Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota (quarterback for the Tennessee Titans) have led their respective teams, they have met twice on the field, both at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, and the Raiders have won both times.

Derek Carr

This grid-iron match will likely be a high scoring nail bitter. While the Raiders haven’t been shy about cutting players, not much has been done to build up their much maligned defense that finished 26th overall in total yards allowed last season. But on the other side of the ball, the Raiders had one of the best offensive front lines in 2016, having the 6th most yards per game. Whether that will continue in the upcoming season with the loss of tackle Stacy McGee, now a Washington Redskin, will be something to watch in Week 1 against the Titans defense.

The Raiders biggest acquisition this off-season was running back Marshawn Lynch. But Lynch’s productivity might be minimal against last season’s 2nd best defense against the run. In 2016, the Titans allowed just 88.3 rushing yards per game and only 10 total rushing touchdowns.

Delanie Walker

As for the Titans, they’ve spent the off-season building up one of their weakest areas, their receiving core, by drafting Cory Davis (rookie WR) and signing Eric Decker (WR) to join Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker (TE).

On defense, neither team has been very effective against the pass last season, but the Titans have tried hard to revamp their secondary with the addition of cornerback Logan Ryan and Adoree Jackson, and safety Johnathan Cyprien.

With both quarterbacks healthy, this game will come down to the last play, but with a better defense and more passing options for Mariota, the Titans will likely take home a win for the first time against Derek Carr at Nissan Stadium.

The Tennessee Titans win.

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