When the Oakland Raiders take the field for six division games starting on September 16, the AFC West will feel different. Perhaps no other division underwent such a drastic overhaul in the offseason. While you can argue about how the Raiders performed, no debate exists about the loaded AFC West. Now, Oakland’s nemeses arrive, talent upgrades already available. As a result, Reggie McKenzie and Jon Gruden prepared for these games with the playoffs in sights. If the Raiders can win four of the six, they stand a chance to see the playoffs, provided they handle other business. Here is a positional unit from each divisional roster that will pose a threat to the Raiders.
While some will dismiss this group as Patrick Mahomes taking over for Alex Smith, the Chiefs are scary. First, Tyreek Hill absolutely obliterates Oakland. In four games, Hill averages 15.9 yards per reception on eighteen catches. To their credit, Oakland realized what Smith and Amerson could not accomplish versus Hill. In addition, Sammy Watkins brings more of a route running quality to the team. Watkins can beat teams vertical. However, Hill needs a capable intermediate receiver. Add in Chris Conley and the Chiefs will give defenses fits.
In order to succeed, the new presumed starters at corner must show up. Hill is not a big target. Under those consequences, a sound jam remains necessary. In addition, safety help cannot be of the later-arriving version.
In the offseason and over the past two drafts, the LA Chargers managed to retool their line. Instead of lumbering turnstiles, the Chargers decided to spend and draft wisely. At tackle, Russell Okung and Joe Barksdale provide a solid bookend combo. Although not dominant, they move well and can meet rushers wide. Meanwhile, the interior line, like the Raiders is the strength. The combination of Feeney-Pouncey-Lamp gives the Bolts a formidable interior. More importantly, Pouncey’s presence gives Rivers a veteran center to
If Oakland can generate pressure with just four that will force Philip Rivers to throw into traffic. As a result, everyone knows Rivers’ penchant for late-game struggles. On the other hand, much of the Raiders getting home with four depends on a very you interior. Granted, so much tackle depth is important. In contrast, that depth needs to gel. When the Raiders face the Chargers on October 7, the onus squarely sits with the pass rush.
Upon drafting Bradley Chubb, you would think the Broncos’ defensive line would see the focus. Yet, despite Chubb, the defense still flows through Von Miller and to a much lesser degree, Shane Ray. The fear here is that whoever line up over right tackle will embarrass whichever Raiders OT occupies that area. Similarly, can Donald Penn fight off Father Time once more and consistently stop a speed rusher? On the positive side, Miller will overpursue, leading to big plays down the fire, like this.
Miller’s ability to convert speed to power practically won the Broncos a Super Bowl. With that said, year four for Shane Ray presents a challenge. Chances are Denver will not pick up his fifth-year option. In other words, Ray enters a contract year. Although Ray possesses burst and quick hands, he remains a one-note rusher at times.
In essence, the AFC West looks like another dogfight. The Raiders could win this division. On the contrary, they face much-improved foes. In 2018, the franchise will immediately learn where it stands in the big picture.