Ell and Mike’s NFL AFC Division Predictions 2018-2019
1. Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are the clear cut favorite to win the division with a young improving defense and the consistent play of Philip Rivers who just wants to win in his last few seasons. The team has suffered to big injuries with CB Jason Verrett and TE Hunter Henry, but they have enough depth to withstand both. The offense should still find ways to get WRs in space to cover for TEs and expect more usage of workhorse back Melvin Gordon who should continue to improve as a dual threat. The young defense has a strong enough pass rush starting with Joey Bosa to cover any decline in the secondary from Verrett and rookie S Derwin James should be the much needed enforcer they needed to sure up the back end. The two problem areas should be much improved, as they have addressed the kicker position and their young offensive line prospects are finally healthy; injuries should be the only thing that would stop a division victory.
Los Angeles Chargers
For years people have been saying that Philip Rivers is the next player that must get a Super Bowl win. This season may be his best chance since Ladanian Tomlinson left the Chargers. The Los Angeles Chargers gave up the fewest points in the league last year and improve on that by adding but who many believe will be defensive rookie of the year in Derwin James. James is a safety that can play anywhere on the defense you put him. That defense looks to be even better than last year. What more needs to be said Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Casey Heyward, and Brandon Mebane; one of the best units in the league. On offense the Chargers have their own triplet with Rivers, Keenan Allen, and Melvin Gordon. All three of these players are top 10 at their position. The only question I have is who will help compliment these players on offense. The injury to Hunter Henry was huge and will hurt but they replace him with a solid serviceable tight end in Virgil Green. No word yet on if they can get Antonio Gates to come back, but he would be a nice addition even if only he was just a situational player. They also add a stud at center in Mike Pouncey to the offensive line which needed the help. The Chargers are poised for a big year.
Season Prediction- 12-4
*Update TE Antonio Gates has returned to replace Hunter Henry.*
2. Denver Broncos
The Broncos have moved up to the #2 spot with the Raiders’ recent moves as they have a strong defense to keep them in games and improvement on offense. The hope is that free agent QB Case Keenum can steady the QB position similar to last season; however, it’s more realistic he’s above average. However, this team does have weapons outside with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders and finally some real competition going on behind them for good depth; keep an eye on rookie WR Courtland Sutton. TE Jake Butt should finally be healthy and ready to make a contribution, as there was no question of his talent when he was drafted, but a late injury in a Bowl game. Rookie RB Royce Freeman is expected to take over the starting job and explode on the scene, as a possible homerun threat, while Devontae Booker has proven to be a good pass catcher and improving runner; they could make a nice sleeper combo. The O-line, the key problem area, has made changes on the right side and I like the addition of RT Jared Veldheer, who has proven to be a solid and versatile lineman when healthy; however, the growth of LT Garett Bolles will continue to be the area to watch. The pass rush is stacked on this team with Von Miller, rookie Bradley Chubb, Shaquil Barrett, and the return of Shane Ray from injury, again, this depth chasing down QBs will have a lot of teams struggling to move the ball. The CB position will have to step up with the loss of Aqib Talib, but his replacement Bradley Roby has been in the rotation, so it’s just due time and a lot of money savings. The addition of Adam “Pacman” Jones should help a lot, if he can stay out of trouble.
The Broncos are an interesting team because their season could be really good or really depending on how good their biggest free agency pickup plays. Broncos signed Case Keenum to be their starting quarterback after he had a great season with the Vikings last year. Keenum showed a lot of promise when paired with a solid run game, strong defense and two good wide receivers. Well Broncos fans your team has a strong defense and two good wide receivers, but the run game is where this team falls short. Devontae Booker and rookie Royce Freeman will be asked to lead the way this season. Freeman may be this season breakout star like Alvin Kamara was last season. Freeman was an impact from the day he stepped on the field at Oregon. He has the potential but will he pick up the NFL offense and pass blocking schemes quick enough remains to be seen; if he can watch out for this team because he would be a huge help to Keenum and this offense. Many probably think the Broncos’ defense will suffer without Talib being there, but I think they will be just fine. Their defensive line rotation is as good as any in the league and their linebackers are solid and athletic. The secondary still has a top 5 corner in Chris Harris and veteran Darian Stewart. Bradley Roby was solid as the nickel corner and will be asked to be the number two corner which he should transition into fine. Can Keenum bring the magic to this offense that he bought to the Vikings offense?? I think if the run game manifests itself Denver could be a scary team.
Season Prediction- 10-6
3. Kansas City Chiefs
To some people’s surprise, I see the Chiefs struggling early, falling victim like some teams of being a good team in a tough division, but there is a clear transition occurring here. The offense is going from the consistent winning hands of Alex Smith to a 2nd year player in Patrick Mahomes with limited game experience which mean he has a lot to learn despite his potential. The team already witnessed Kareem Hunt cool down towards the end of the season, but they are hoping that depth can make him more productive. The offense will take a lot of risks trying to get the ball deep to Tyreke Hill and Sammy Watkins, but that’s not a formula for success for a young QB. The defense has transitioned from some older players while they are hoping some of the young ones step up, especially at a thin CB position. The defense will rely a lot on Justin Houston and Eric Berry, along with free agent pickup ILB Anthony Hitchens, who should be nice sideline to sideline tackler, and young D-lineman Allen Bailey and Chris Jones. Expect growing pains on both sides of the ball, but HC Andy Reid should find a way to have the offense moving consistently in no time.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have decided to take the risky route and stop being safe. They let go “safe” quarterback Alex Smith. They have decided to go with a quarterback that will take chances. They have a quarterback that will be high risk and high reward. Patrick Mahomes will become the signal caller and he will have a lot of weapons at his disposal including one new toy. The Chiefs bring Sammy Watkins into the fold who is a big play waiting to happen when he plays. Watkins must stay healthy this year for the Chiefs to be a threat offensively. Watkins combined with speedster Tyreek Hill will open up so many options for Mahomes. Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt will shred defenses underneath with those two speedsters stretching the field. Now is Mahomes capable of leading this squad? I believe he is, but not in his first year starting. I think it will be an up and down year this season but he will show signs that he has what it takes to be their franchise quarterback. The Chiefs defense is solid up front with Chris Davis, Justin Houston, Allen Bailey and Dee Ford. They will look for former Alabama standout linebacker Reggie Ragland to be the leader of the defense and make plays in the run game and the passing game. The weakest part of the team will be their secondary as they lose Marcus Peters and Eric Berry is coming off a torn Achilles injury. I think the Chiefs are one solid defensive draft away from being a contender for the Super Bowl. The good thing about those Chiefs fans is that next year’s draft is loaded with defensive talent.
Season Prediction- 8-8
4. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders appear to be in rebuilding mode after the Khalil Mack trade and cutting Martavis Bryant, as now their free agent moves look like just fill-ins. The offense should be in good hands with one of the best offensive lines in the league, the return of Beast Mode, and a healthy Derek Carr. The addition of Jordy Nelson should help with offensive consistency and the growth of Amari Cooper who got off to an extremely slow start. However, defensively their isn’t a strength to rely on, as the front 7 has undergone a transition under HC John Gruden, but the pass rush seems to be lacking outside of Bruce Irvin, unless rookie Arden Key is expected to make a major contribution. The CB crew is severely lacking and is relying on 2nd year player Gareon Conley to step up as a #1 CB, while the safety unit may need to run three players to help the unit due to the lacking experience at CB. They have acquired a lot of picks, as well as, have their own to right the ship quickly; this may have been the right move for long term success.
In maybe the biggest offseason move of the year the Raiders bring back John Gruden. Gruden inherits a team that is in good standing offensively with quarterback Derek Carr, wide receiver Amari Cooper, running back Marshawn Lynch. The Raiders also have one of the league’s best offensive lines. The Raiders lose Michael Crabtree to the Baltimore Ravens and look to replace him with Jordy Nelson. This will be Jordy’s second season since recovering from an ACL injury so he should have a solid season and I’m predicting a 1,000 yard season at least for him. Marshawn Lynch gets some help in the backfield with the acquisition of Doug Martin. I think the offense will hold its own under the leader of Gruden. Now when we get to the defensive side of the ball there isn’t anything to be excited about, especially after trading Khalil Mack. The Raiders drafted linebacker Arden Key and look for him to be a playmaker on this side of the ball. I don’t see Key being much of a factor this year at all. On paper this defense looks to be one of the worst in the NFL after losing Mack and they have no edge rushers. Don’t expect a lot of sacks from this defense. With all that being said, they may be a middle of the pack run defense with veteran Derrick Johnson in the middle and defensive lineman Tank Carradine and Mario Edwards. The offense will have to carry the Raiders this year but I think they miss the playoffs in Gruden’s first year back.
Season Prediction- 6-10
*Update Mario Edwards has signed with the N.Y. Giants, after not making 53 man cut*