With that in mind here's the first installment in my division by division look at American football at the professional level:
Part the First: AFC East (Same Old, Same Old)
Part the Second: AFC North (One of these teams is not like the others)
Part the Third: AFC South (The Changing of the Guard)
Part the Fourth: AFC West (Evil Always Wins)
Team by Team:
Las Vegas? Raiders. In a wide open division full of teams undergoing massive change, or diminishing talent, I think the youthful raiders mimic the Jacksonville Jaguars, win their division and make the playoffs. Why the Raiders? A1: Derek Carr. Who is ten times the NFL QB (in terms of work ethic) and has 100 times the protection as his brother David. A2: Crabtree and Cooper. The best WR duo in the division. A3. Latavius Murray, who I predict becomes a star this year. A4: Edwards/Ward/Ellis/Mack. Easily the 2nd best D-line behind Denver, possibly in the league. A5: Amerson/Hayden/Smith. Young, strong, fast, fundamentally sound. What you want in a CB trio. A6: Reggie Nelson the veteran keeping control of things in front of him while Karl Joseph the rookie causes havoc in front at strong safety. A7: Jack Del Rio is a prick, but he's a proven winner and he knows how to coach.
2. Kansas City Chiefs. Head Coach Andy Reid might just be realizing that he has a problem. In Alex Smith he has a QB whose not (likely) to do many stupid things, but he's not likely to do too many great things either. He's also got a running back in Jamaal Charles who MIGHT stay healthy, and a WR corps that's utterly forgettable (outside of Maclin), and an o-line that is relying on a couple of YOUNG players to pan out. Oh, and Travis Kelce, who will probably be the team's leading receiver at TE. On defense he has basically the same cast of characters, including many guys that I think are among the most overrated at their positions. Tamba Hali was a player I was screaming for the 49ers to draft, as was Derrick Johnson. Of course, we all know about Houston, and Berry, but Marcus Peters is an unknown. The biggest problem for this team is that they are starting to get old at key positions. Can they hold it together one more year? I say just.
3. San Diego Chargers. What to say about team bolo tie? When you have Philip Rivers as your QB you won't suck, but when you have Travis Benjamin and Keenan Allen as your two 1st string WR's you aren't going to be great either. RB Melvin Gordon seems to be a star in the making, and TE Antonio Gates already is one. The O-line is solid, if not better than average. They do a good job keeping the statuesque Rivers upright. The defense is full of names you knew from college ball (Mantai Te'o, Brandon Flowers etc.) but who haven't lived up to their full potential in the pros. That said both are pretty good players at their positions. To my mind head coach Mike McCoy gets the "genius" tag applied a little too liberally, for a coach whose career record is decidedly Kubiakesqe. Still, San Diego is beautiful and the team should be entertaining, taking the sting out of what I predict to be yet another mediocre season.
4. Denver Broncos. GASP!!!! What? 8-8?? For the defending Super Bowl Champions? Yes and yes. I say this with confidence for three reasons. 1. The Broncos are apparently going to roll into the season with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch as their two QB's. No matter how good the WR tandem of Thomas and Sanders is, will anyone be able to get them the football? C.J. Anderson is a solid, but not great back. And Kubiak wants to run the ball clearly. 2. Yes, the defensive talent is still strong, very strong with most of the key players returning. But the history of Phillip's coached defenses is that by year 2 the opposing offensive coaches start to poke holes in the schemes and the incredible numbers start to drop off. I expect the same to happen here. Plus, they're going to be pressing due to the fact that the offense cannot score. 3. This is a Gary Kubiak coached team, which means that 8-8 is going to be their default setting going forward. (See Houston Texans.)
What a difference a year makes. And while I think that Oakland and Kansas City make the playoffs, it could be Baltimore instead of the Chiefs or, the Chiefs could win the division and Oakland could miss out. To me this is one of the toughest divisions to call in all of the AFC. One thing is for sure, it's likely to be a mess.