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The Broncos found themselves in last place in the AFC West last year, finishing with a 5-11 record. Things started off promising, winning three of their first four games, but the team quickly dissolved with instability at the quarterback position. Players like Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Paxton Lynch couldn’t save an offense that turned the ball over frequently -- only the Cleveland Browns finished their drives more with turnovers.
Finishing near the bottom of the league in scoring, general manager John Elway knew some drastic changes were needed to make this team relevant. It’s been running on fumes since Peyton Manning’s retirement, which already relied on their incredible defense right before his exit. That defense finally caved after an early bye week, allowing 21 points or more in 9 of their last 11 games of the season.
● QB Case Keenum ● S Su’a Cravens
● CB Aqib Talib ● RB C.J. Anderson
The offense sees a complete overhaul with a new coordinator, Bill Musgrave, and quarterback Case Keenum. Keenum, who has been more of a journeyman in his career, found plenty of success last season with Minnesota. Their surprising season fell one game short of the Super Bowl, but he was the second-most accurate quarterback in the league (67.6 completion percentage) and had a solid ratio of 22 touchdowns to 7 interceptions.
On defense, they’ll need to find an answer in the secondary with the loss of Aqib Talib. The anchor, cornerback Chris Harris, remains and will welcome Su’a Cravens from Washington. It was a strange exit for the safety, who essentially bailed on the Redskins, but perhaps he’ll be rejuvenated on a new team. Tramaine Brock is another veteran addition that had many successful seasons with San Francisco, and top draft pick Bradley Chubb should help the team’s pass rush.
Notable Draft Picks
● DE Bradley Chubb (NC State, Round 1) ● RB Royce Freeman (Oregon, Round 3)
Denver does have two wide receivers, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, who would be the top targets for many teams if they were split up. They still need to find a third option to open up the passing attack. Perhaps more importantly, they’ll need to find a new leading running back with C.J. Anderson exiting. He led the team last season with 1,007 rushing yards on 245 carries, but only found the end zone four times (once in the air).
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs come into the season with arguably the best overall roster, but like Denver, see a change at the quarterback position. Alex Smith, who spent the last five seasons with the team, moves on to Washington. Instead of getting a replacement, head coach Andy Reid has opted to go with their sophomore quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. He played in just one game last season, the finale at Denver, where he completed 22-of-35 passes but had no touchdowns.
If Mahomes needs time to adapt to the offense, the team could rely on what should be a tremendous 1-2 punch in the ground game. Kareem Hunt got the nod at the beginning of the season and finished with 1,327 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie. Spencer Ware, who was lost in 2017 with a preseason knee injury, is back at full health heading into a new season.
● WR Sammy Watkins ● CB Kendall Fuller
● QB Alex Smith ● CB Marcus Peters
Kansas City is essentially gambling on their multiple offensive playmakers to help create success around the young quarterback under center. There’s potentially an incredible duo in the making with Mahomes connecting to star receiver Tyreek Hill. The team also brought in Sammy Watkins from the Los Angeles Rams, a reliable option that finished with 39 catches for 593 yards and eight touchdowns.
The quarterback transition has overshadowed what could be a more significant change on the team -- its secondary. The Chiefs are keeping defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, but decided to let go of star defensive back Marcus Peters. He had 19 picks, five fumble recoveries, and scored three touchdowns on those turnovers, to go with his 130 tackles in three seasons with the team. Along with four other backs getting the ax, it’ll be interesting to see how the secondary performs this season.
Notable Draft Picks
● S Armani Watts (Texas A&M, Round 4) ● DT Derrick Nnadi (Florida State, Round 3)
Kansas City has significant needs on the defense with a complete rehaul of their secondary and the need to improve their pass rush. They’ll hope Armani Watts will be a long-term replacement for Ron Parker, who was recently released. While many analysts believe they took their top pick in the second round, Breeland Speaks, a tad early, Derrick Nnadi was a solid next option and should be in the defensive line rotation sooner than later.
After spending a whopping ten years away from the sidelines, Jon Gruden has returned for his second stint with the Raiders this season. While his name has continuously been on short lists of coaching vacancies over the years, it felt like he enjoyed broadcasting too much ever to make a comeback. He went 38-26 with Oakland back in 1998-2001, with back-to-back first-place finishes before heading to Tampa Bay and winning the Super Bowl in his first season.
What will change for the team this season? They’ll be implementing an old-school West Coast offense that will focus on the running game. This means running back Marshawn Lynch should see a ramp-up in production. He finished last season with 207 rush attempts for 891 yards and seven touchdowns. Quarterback Derek Carr regressed in his fourth season with a 62.7 completion percentage and a ratio of 22 touchdowns to 13 interceptions.
● WR Jordy Nelson ● WR Martavis Bryant
● WR Michael Crabtree ● CB Sean Smith
Oakland has undoubtedly trimmed some of the problematic personnel on the team. Embattled Aldon Smith, who had great potential on the defense, hasn’t been reinstated to the league since 2015 and was finally released earlier this year after yet another run-in with the law. They also released Sean Smith, who will spend a year in jail on an assault charge.
On the bright side, the offense has seen some welcome additions to help Carr in the passing attack. Jordy Nelson, who had a significant role in Green Bay’s offense for the last six seasons, saw his production cut down considerably last season, getting nearly half the targets (88) from 2016 (152) and 2014 (151). Martavis Bryant, who voiced his displeasure in Pittsburgh quite frequently, finally got the exit he wanted in a trade.
Notable Draft Picks
● OT Kolton Miller (UCLA, Round 1) ● DT P.J. Hall (Sam Houston State, Round 2)
Oakland opted to improve their offensive line early in the draft instead of getting some critical needs in the defensive secondary. Overall, the team’s total defense was 10th-worst in the league. Similar to their division rivals, the Chiefs, the secondary will see a significant overhaul and a new scheme under coordinator Paul Guenther from Cincinnati. They also need to improve the pass rush, which they’ll hope is tended to with newcomers P.J. Hall and Maurice Hurst.
Los Angeles Chargers
With a controversial quarterback change in Kansas City, most people are siding with the Los Angeles Chargers as being the favorite out west in the AFC. Philip Rivers is going to be slinging it for his 13th full season under center with the team. He’s remained an incredible constant and bounced back last year with a 9-7 record. It was the third 9-7 campaign in his previous five seasons, and they finished one game back of a playoff spot.
It certainly didn’t look like the playoffs were viable to begin the season, starting out 0-4. Rivers was able to bounce back and had his lowest interception total since 2008 (10) to coincide with his 28 touchdown passes. He received a decent boost with running back Melvin Gordon, who finished the season with nearly 1,500 total yards and 12 touchdowns. What needs to change is an awful rushing defense that was second-worst in the league last season.
● C Mike Pouncey ● TE Virgil Green
● TE Antonio Gates ● OG Matt Slauson
Without question, long-time Charger, Antonio Gates, will be the biggest subtraction on the team’s offense. That will be highlighted with tight end Hunter Henry getting knocked out for the season in OTAs earlier this year. The organization decided to take a chance by passing on Gates with Henry, who broke out with over 1,000 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns over his last two seasons with the team.
To take some of the pressure off of leading receiver Keenan Allen, they added tight end Virgil Green. However, it’s not out of the question that Gates, who is 38 years old, could see a return after the Henry injury. To boost the running attack and give Gordon a bit more opportunity, Mike Pouncey comes in to anchor the offensive line. The talented lineman comes in after spending seven seasons with Miami.
Notable Draft Picks
● S Derwin James (Florida State, Round 1) ● LB Uchenna Nwosu (USC, Round 2)
While the Chargers were adequate in stopping the opponent’s passing game, they were incredibly weak at getting teams off the field. There was next to no rushing defense on the team, and that burned them, especially in the early part of the season, contributing to their 0-4 start. They’re looking to bolster their defense in all positions, and they were able to take advantage of Derwin James dropping in the draft to bring in a potential star at safety.