2016 AFC WEST ELITES
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
In 2016 the AFC West was the best division in football. It featured Andy Reid’s Chiefs, a rejuvenated Raiders team, and the Super Bowl 50 Champion Denver Broncos. The Chiefs are known for consistency, elite coaching, great defense, and taking care of the ball. Since Reid joined the team as head coach in 2013, the Chiefs have finished each season with at least nine wins. Entering this season, their record with Reid as head coach is was 43-21; nothing too shabby. In 2016 they finished 12-4 with a viable offense (7th in AFC) and a stellar defense (3rd in AFC). Kansas City also ranked second in net points at 78.
The Broncos have had one of the toughest defenses the league has seen over the past decade. Denver finished among the top three in the AFC in points allowed in 2015 and 2016. Denver’s defense struck fear in the eyes of opponents. It was nearly impossible to run or throw against this unit as it featured dominant defensive players in both the front seven and the secondary. The secondary is led by Aqib Talib, one of the leagues best corners as well as Chris Harris who is arguably the leagues best slot corner. The pass rush was an absolute nightmare for opposing QB’s and O lines as it seemed like Von Miller would be hitting the QB on every play. Denver has been a dreadful place to play for opposing QB’s over the past few years.
Oh man, the Raiders had a really tough stretch over the past 13 seasons prior to 2016. From 2003 to 2015, they failed to finish any season with a winning record or finish higher than third place in the AFC West. Their overall record during that span? 63-145. How many head coaches? Nine. Finally though in 2016 they emerged in a big way as they quickly became one of the best teams in all of football. Oakland finished 2016 with a record of 12-4 despite playing in the toughest division. They were led by young QB Derek Carr who finished fifth in MVP voting. Carr lead the Raiders offensive attack as they finished second in the AFC in points scored. This group was certainly poised for greatness in the 2017 season.
THE AFC WEST’S FORGOTTEN MEMBER: THE LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Over the last seven season, the Chargers have lived in the shadows of their AFC West rivals. The Chargers have just one lone playoff appearance since 2009. You have to go back to the LaDainian Tomlinson days to remember the last time the Chargers were a real force in the AFC. Football fans expected the same old thing in 2017, dominance by the Chiefs, Broncos, and now the Chargers’ old basement buddy, the Oakland Raiders. Those poor, gritty Chargers would play tough but once again fail to escape their inevitable fate of dwelling in the AFC West basement. However, the Chargers seem to have something else in mind this year and it seems that the other division members may, oddly enough, be on board with the plan.
HOW THE TABLES HAVE TURNED
Well, the start of the season was anything but pretty, as the Chargers lost their first four games upon moving to Los Angeles. However, they have quickly turned things around and won five of their last seven games. The Chargers have had one of the toughest schedules this year and in play a premiere division yet they still have won five games. Okay, five wins does not display overwhelming success but I want to break down their season one game at a time and prove that this team could be 8-3 at this point of the season had some luck had gone their way. I also want to demonstrate that this team is playoff caliber and could certainly make it in considering the wide open AFC West and AFC wild card races.
Week 1- Younghoe Koo misses 44-yard game tying field goal to force OT in Denver (blocked). 0-1
Week 2- Younghoe Koo misses 44-yard game-winning field goal vs Miami. 0-2
Week 3- Fair and square 24-10 loss vs Kansas City. 0-3
Week 4- 26-24 loss to leagues best team: Philadelphia. 0-4
Week 5- 27-22 win at NY Giants. 1-4
Week 6- 17-16 win at Oakland. 2-4
Week 7- Dominant 21-0 shutout win vs Denver. 3-4
Week 8- One possession loss AT New England. 3-5
Week 9- BYE
Week 10- Rookie Austin Ekeler fumbles with less than two minutes remaining in own territory while leading 17-14. Then Joey Bosa late hit on Bortles to move Jacksonville into field goal territory to tie the game. Jacksonville wins in OT 20-17. 3-6
Week 11- Dominant 54-24 win vs Buffalo. 4-6
Week 12- Dominant 28-6 win at Dallas. 5-6
Evident of some of their unfortunate losses this season, the Chargers could certainly have a much better record. If Koo had made both of his field goals in weeks one and two and Ekeler did not give up the costly fumble then this team could easily be 8-3 right now. Sure, every team has their “what if” scenarios but the Chargers have been extremely unfortunate. Anyways, back to my hypothetical 8-3 Chargers team: their losses would have been to the red-hot Chiefs, the leagues best team (Philadelphia) by two points and AT New England by one possession, quite impressive list of losses if there is such a thing. So, at 5-6 what has the Chargers in great position to make a playoff push? the downfall of their AFC West rivals.
THE REGRESSION OF THE AFC WEST
Well for starters, the Oakland Raiders, who were a favorite to win the division, have looked pretty mediocre for the majority of the season and are just 5-6. The Broncos have lost seven straight and are just 3-8 on the season. Their issue is the offense, which is ranked 26th in the league averaging just 17.9 points per game. The Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemien experiments have all failed, leaving Denver’s now ex-offensive coordinator Mike McCoy scratching his head about what to do about that mess. Lastly, the Kansas City Chiefs, perennially a quality team under Andy Reid. They began the season as the Superbowl favorite of many people as they started 5-0. Since then it has been an epic collapse as they have lost five of their last six contests. A collapse of this magnitude is very surprising to see from an Andy Reid-coached team.
Side note: I find it interesting that the Chiefs won in New England and against the Eagles yet, somehow managed to lose to the inferior Giants. Hey, that’s just football I suppose.
CHARGERS PLAYOFF RUN
Los Angeles has made some huge mistakes at the most inopportune moments this season and it has costed them multiple wins. However, at 5-6, they are still very much alive in the wild card and divisional playoff race. If they want to advance to the playoffs they need to forget the critical mistakes they have made and learn from them. They need to capitalize on fourth quarter leads and avoid costly penalties and turnovers. what remains on the schedule for the Chargers? Cleveland and Washington at home, a short road stint at Kansas City and NY Jets, and home against Oakland. If they win four of those five games then I like their chances of making the playoffs.
*Follow me on Twitter: @MLBfromNH (Kevin Civiello)*