AFC West Preview: Can Philip Rivers Finally Get Chargers Over Hump?

The Los Angeles Chargers haven’t won the AFC West since 2009, but this could be the year that changes.

Philip Rivers and Co. finished second in the division last season with a 9-7 record. If it weren’t for some missed late-game field goals, however, the Chargers likely would’ve surpassed the Kansas City Chiefs and claimed the division in their first season in L.A.

So, will the Chargers, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2013, finally get over the hump? Or is this new-look division truly up for grabs?

Here’s our AFC West preview:

DIVISION ODDS
Los Angeles Chargers +150
Kansas City Chiefs +265
Oakland Raiders +325
Denver Broncos +400

DIVISION FAVORITE
Los Angeles Chargers — The Chargers don’t just have the best roster in the division — they have perhaps the best collection of all-around talent in the AFC. The Bolts’ sole weakness on offense was their offensive line, but the additions of veteran center Mike Pouncey and 2017 second-round pick guard Forrest Lamp, who missed last season with a torn ACL, should fix all that. Couple the revamped line with some of the best skill players in the division, and the Chargers offense should be a force to be reckoned with.

As for the defense, the Chargers are led by elite pass rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. They also should benefit from the addition of rookie safety Derwin James, who L.A. took in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Assuming defensive coordinator Gus Bradley fixes the team’s run-stopping woes, the Chargers could be one of the NFL’s best all-around clubs.

DIVISION SLEEPER
Denver Broncos — This team will go as far as quarterback Case Keenum takes it. The former Minnesota Vikings QB is coming off a breakout season, but it’s more than fair to wonder whether last season was an aberration or a sign the 30-year-old has come into his own. If he truly is the player we saw last season, however, then the Broncos, who still have above-average talent on offense, should score enough points to compete. And although the Broncos’ defense isn’t what it once was, we don’t believe it’s regressed nearly as much as last season’s performance under first-year head coach Vance Joseph suggested.

At the end of the day, Denver is closer to the bottom of the division than it is the top. But if Keenum performs well, and the other teams suffer some bad breaks, the Broncos could surprise a lot of people this season.

IMPACT NEWCOMERS
Broncos QB Case Keenum — Is he a one-hit wonder? Or is he a late bloomer who can lead Denver to the playoffs? We’ll find out soon enough..

Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes — He’s technically not a newcomer, but after sitting and watching his rookie season, the Chiefs have handed him the keys in his second year after trading Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins. Mahomes has a big arm and loads of talent, but he still must prove he’s worthy of the hype.

Chargers safety Derwin James — The Florida State product should start for the Chargers in his first season, and has a chance to be a game-changing player in the secondary. He also should up fix some of the defense’s issues with stopping the run.

MAJOR STORYLINE
Can Jon Gruden adjust to today’s NFL? The Oakland Raiders head coach has been out of the NFL for nine seasons, and it’s fair to wonder whether his old-school, in-your-face style will fly in today’s game. He already has to deal with a locker room divided over the Khalil Mack trade and is tasked with getting the most out of a roster that wasn’t all that good before Mack was dealt. If Gruden pulls the right strings and strikes the right chords, however, the Raiders could be an awfully entertaining team.

Thumbnail photo via Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports Images

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