Tha Sports Junkies 101

2016 AFC West Projected Order of Finish

Jack Kurzenknabe via Flickr


1. Denver Broncos

2015 Record: 12-4 (Super Bowl Champs)
Major Additions: Paxton Lynch (Memphis), Mark Sanchez (Eagles), Russell Okung (Seahawks)
Major Losses: Peyton Manning (Retirement), Malik Jackson (Jaguars), Danny Trevathan (Bears), Evan Mathis (Cardinals)

Analysis: The season after a Super Bowl championship is always hard, and 2016 will most likely be that way for Denver.  While they did lose Manning, with all due respect to one of the greatest QBs ever to play, he clearly struggled last year, and there’s been changes at the position.  Rookie Paxton Lynch and FA signing Mark Sanchez will compete.  I think Paxton Lynch is underrated, and he should be able to win the job and show the league what a young talent he is.

The defense was the unit that carried the team last year, and while most of one of the best defenses of all time returns, they do lose a couple pieces.  Malik Jackson provided solid pressure off the edge and Danny Trevathan was a great linebacker in the middle.  a signing was not made at either position, which means Denver trust their backups from last year to step up.  Denver should still be the best defense in the league this year.

Projected record: 11-5

The AFC West is going to be very tight this year, and while Denver is probably still the best team, it will be very close.  The best defense in the league should lead them once again, while a younger QB, whether it be Sanchez or Lynch, will lead a new and improved offense that will still feature Demaryius Thomas.

2. Oakland Raiders

2015 Record: 7-9
Major Additions: Sean Smith (Chiefs), Reggie Nelson (Bengals), Bruce Irvin (Seahawks), Karl Joseph (West Virginia)
Major Losses: Charles Woodson (Retirement), Justin Tuck (Retirement)

Analysis: Oakland has been trying to build a playoff team for years, and 2016 may be the season they finally break through.  With a young and growing offensive core of Derek Carr, Latavius Murray, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, all behind a great offensive line, the offense looks ready to take off.  Now that the Raiders acquired a cornerback opposite David Amerson in Sean Smith, the biggest question is leadership now that Charles Woodson and Justin Tuck are both gone.  While the defense is young, which is a great thing, they are inexperienced.  Khalil Mack, as the star of the defense, must step up and lead the charge to the playoffs for the silver and black.

Projected record: 10-6

Oakland looks like it has a roster that will be successful for years, and 2016 should be the first playoff team in 14 seasons for the silver and black.  It will be tough, with four games against Denver and Kansas City, two against a rising San Diego team, and a game each against Houston and Carolina, but look to see the Raiders in the playoffs.

3. Kansas City Chiefs

2015 Record: 11-5 (Lost to Patriots in Divisional Round)
Major Additions: Mitchell Schwartz (Browns), Chris Jones (Mississippi State)
Major Losses: Sean smith (Raiders), Jeff Allen (Texans), Ben Grubbs (Free Agency)

Analysis: Kansas City got hot last year midway through the regular season and won 10 games in a row, which yielded a playoff berth despite starting 1-5.  Their streak continued in the playoffs with a 30-0 shutout of the Texans before losing to the Patriots 27-20.  However, the Chiefs lost a lot.  Star cornerback Sean Smith, both starting guards in Jeff Allen and Ben Grubbs, and multiple starters/role players are all gone.  Kansas City brought back Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali and signed Mitchell Schwartz, but this team looks worse than last year, and in a highly competitive AFC West where almost any team can win any game, those losses will be huge.

Projected record: 9-7

They still have the major pieces from last year, such as Alex Smith, Jamaal Charles, Jeremy Maclin, Johnson, Hali, and Justin Houston, but the loss of the role players and a couple starters will prove to be too much for even a playoff appearance for Kansas City.  No first round pick from last year’s draft hurts their future, too, although they did make the most of the picks they had.

4. San Diego Chargers

2015 Record: 4-12

Major Additions: Joey Bosa (Ohio State), Hunter Henry (Arkansas), Casey Hayward (Packers), Brandon Mebane (Rams), Matt Slauson (Bears)

Major Losses: Eric Weddle (Ravens), Ladarius Green (Steelers)

Analysis: Any team with Philip Rivers should be in the playoff mix, but San Diego struggled mightily last year thanks to a sub-par defense.  San Diego replaced Green with promising rookie Hunter Henry, and while they lost Eric Weddle at safety, they signed Casey Hayward at cornerback.  Mebane is an upgrade for the defensive line, and Slauson should help out the O-Line.  The Chargers need more from Melvin Gordon going forward in order to take the next step on offense.  Keenan Allen is primed for a breakout year in 2016, which would be huge for Rivers and the team.

Projected record: 5-11

With six games against three great teams from the rest of the division, along with other challenges such as the Jaguars, Panthers, Buccaneers, and Texans, it’s hard to see a lot of record improvement from San Diego.  They did improve their roster this offseason, but a challenging schedule and a young roster will make for another disappointing season, which is a shame for one of the leagues most underrated QBs in Philip Rivers.