AFC West: Week 1 Previews
In 2019, the AFC West appears to be a two-team race with the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers battling for the division title. Though improved on paper, both the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders are rebuilding, thus their impact on changing the balance of power in the division appears unlikely.
Kansas City Chiefs vs, Jacksonville Jaguars Preview – 1:00PM EST / CBS
Most NFL experts believe the Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars have the upper hand in winning their respective divisions in 2019. Last year, the Chiefs were an offsides penalty from going to the Super Bowl. The Jaguars were a major disappointment and had to do some strong roster purging to become competitive again.
That purge included adding veteran Quarterback, Nick Foles, who replaces the ineffective Blake Bortles. Foles, who played for the Chiefs for one season, earned a massive payday after his strong performance with the Philadelphia Eagles the last two years. Though the Jaguars’ offense isn’t as potent as the Eagles’, Foles should benefit from a strong running attack led by Leonard Fournette. The oft-injured playmaker appears healthy and determined to return the form that once made him one of the NFL’s most feared offensive players.
On the flip side, 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes has his eyes on building from a monster season that ended harshly at the hands of the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game. Mahomes used that bitter loss as motivation to get better, and the Chiefs added a plethora of speedsters to an already fast offense, that could be darn near unstoppable.
Led by receivers Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins, tight end Travis Kelce, and running back LeSean McCoy, Mahomes could eclipse the numbers he put up a year ago.
However, his first test of the season won’t be easy. Led by cornerback Jalen Ramsey, the Jaguars are a defensive menace and they gave Mahomes fits last year in Kansas City. They intercepted him twice and kept him from the end zone. Even though the Chiefs won the game rather easily, it was at Arrowhead and it won’t be an easy game for Mahomes to win on Sunday.
The big issue for the Chiefs this weekend will be their revamped defense. Led by defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, who has done a terrific job building a championship staff, time will tell if this unit can come together. General manager, Brett Veach, helped out Spags when he paid some serious coin to get Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu. Already boasting some young and exciting defenders such as defensive lineman Chris Jones, they’ll likely need to time to gel before they can be considered an average defensive team.
As for the game Sunday, the Jaguars’ offense, which didn’t look very good in the preseason, isn’t the best unit the Chiefs will face this year. Yet, this will be a good test for KC’s defense to go into a hostile environment and see if they can do what they could not accomplish a year ago, stop the run and make a big play in the fourth quarter to seal a victory.
Prediction: Chiefs 37 – Jaguars 28
Indianapolis Colts vs. Los Angeles Chargers Preview – 4:05 EST / CBS
Had Andrew Luck not retired abruptly two weeks ago, this game might have more intrigue. The Los Angeles Chargers, picked by some to win the AFC West, possess the most complete team in the AFC. Though that’s taken a hit with the injury to starting safety, Derwin James, the holdout of star running back, Melvin Gordon, and the injury to left tackle, Russell Okung, who is recovering from a pulmonary embolism, all those injuries puts into question how effective this team can be in 2019.
Now the Chargers still have a top five quarterback in Philip Rivers, who was terrific a year ago. Their ageless wonder has never played better, and if he can summon the most out of his offensive playmakers consistently, perhaps they can overtake the Chiefs for the AFC West crown.
Without Gordon, the Chargers are forced to rely on Justin Jackson and Austin Ekeler to man the offensive backfield. Combined, perhaps they can put up Gordon numbers. But that’s a tall order for Rivers and Co. even with a healthy Hunter Henry at the tight end position. Fortunately for the Chargers, they are a terrific defensive team.
Led by Joey Bosa, the Chargers probably have the top-rated defense in the NFL, next to the New England Patriots. Head coach, Anthony Lynn, has patiently and surprisingly brought a sense of confidence to his team. With no head coaching experience, he’s done a terrific job selling the importance of all three phases and a team first philosophy.
On the flip side, the Colts are in complete turmoil with the departure of Luck. Jacoby Brissett inherits the starting role. Though a solid quarterback, he’s no match for the Chargers defense. The Colts have some nice pieces on defense, including former Chief, Justin Houston, but I can’t see this being much of a game after the first quarter.
Prediction: Chargers 41 – Colts 17
Denver Broncos vs. Oakland Raiders – 10:20 EST / ESPN
Talk about a dud of a game to end Week 1 for the NFL. With the chaos surrounding Antonio Brown, the infighting between Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock – not to mention an inept owner in Mark Davis – this team is a mess.
The truth is, this franchise isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Gruden, who received a 10-year, $100 million contract spent the last half decade on TV. Before that, after a terrific Super Bowl run in Tampa with the Buccaneers, he ran that franchise into the ground. It appears he’s doing the same thing in Oakland.
Mayock is a high integrity guy, and the fit with the Raiders was always a head scratcher. With Brown (now gone), Vontaze Burfict, and Richie Incognito all on the roster thanks to Gruden’s player personnel control, how can anyone take him seriously? Add that with the fact he spent four weeks on HBO’s Hard Knocks defending Brown, and now AB has been cut.
Though the Raiders should be better this season, and they should defeat the Broncos Monday night, I can’t see how Gruden fixes this mess – especially when you consider he’s not a fan of his own starting quarterback, Derek Carr.
In Denver, the Broncos are putting all their 2019 eggs in the Joe Flacco basket. Though I think he’s the best quarterback this team has had on the field since Peyton Manning retired, he’s not enough to change the fortunes of the rebuild under way in Denver.
Though they still have a stout defense led by linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Chris Harris, the Vic Fangio era begins with an inexperienced head coach in a city that doesn’t like losing.
Prediction: Broncos 10 – Raiders 9