1. Which AFC West coach could find themselves on the hot seat by the end of the season?
Although we have seen it before, it is not very common to see a head coach on the hot seat during their second season. In the AFC West, there may be two such coaches by the end of 2018. Vance Joseph from the Broncos and Anthony Lynn of the Chargers could both find themselves in hot water if things do not go right this season.
With all of the success that Andy Reid has brought to Kansas City, it would be surprising if he were on the hot seat even with a horrible 2018. With Jon Gruden, it would be even more unlikely since he is about to begin a 10-year contract with the Raiders. Clearly, owner Mark Davis believes in Gruden for the long-term success of this team and he will probably not put enormous pressure to win it all in year 1.
That leaves Joseph and Lynn. Of the two, Lynn probably has a little more leeway after a 9-7 record to start his head coaching career. Joseph meanwhile, led the Broncos to a 5-11 record, their worst finish since 2010. With a new QB in the form of Case Keenum, the Broncos are set up to have more success than they did in 2018. If Joseph cannot right the ship and at least get closer to .500, his seat will probably be very hot.
Which coordinator could see his stock rise this season?
Broncos’ offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is a former NFL quarterback who has been coaching since 1997. The highlights of his career include a stint as Vikings offensive coordinator between 2011 and 2013. During his time there, running back Adrian Peterson had a 2,000 yard and MVP season in 2012. Afterwards, he was the Raiders offensive coordinator for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Musgrave helped develop Derek Carr during his their two seasons together. The Oakland offense drastically improved under Musgrave going from last to seventh in total yards between 2014 and 2016.
Musgrave has been with the Broncos since leaving Oakland. He spent last season as Denver’s Quarterbacks Coach until offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was fired mid-season. Musgrave initially became interim offensive coordinator before being named to the position full-time during the offseason.
After spending 18 years as either an offensive coordinator or a quarterbacks coach, Musgrave may soon have a chance to make the leap to the head coaching ranks. If the Broncos offense performs well in 2018 but the team struggles defensively, Vance Joseph may be in trouble since defense is his discipline. Perhaps John Elway will promote his former backup quarterback in order to keep continuity on offense.
Other coordinators in the AFC West have been head coaches. Both the offensive and defensive coordinators for the Chargers have had varying degrees of success in that role. Ken Whisenhunt is an excellent play-caller who brought the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl as Head Coach. However, in 23 games as Titans head coach, Whisenhunt went 3-20 so that probably left a bad impression.
Gus Bradley did arguably worse in Jacksonville going 14-48 in just under four seasons at the helm. While teams may be looking for head coaching experience when naming theirs, there is the intrigue of the unknown. Everyone remembers how Bruce Arians waited a long time to become a head coach and he found success once given the chance. It is possible another team sees the same type of potential in Bill Musgrave.
2. Which team will have the best offense? Best defense?
On paper, with the addition of Sammy Watkins, the Chiefs look to stockpile points. Provided that Patrick Mahomes can channel a little of Alex Smith’s accuracy. Plus, lining up Hill, Kelce, and Hunt will give defenses nightmare.
On the other side, the Chiefs defense may not excite anyone. However, Justin Houston, Chris Jones, Dee Ford, and Eric Berry play sound football. Andy Reid, on either side of the ball prefer technically sound to wildly athletic. Throughout the season, the Chiefs should stifle teams.
3. Who will have the best position group on offense? On defense?
While most would give the title to the Chiefs, Los Angeles’ WR will prove many wrong. If you look at the 1-4 depth, the Chargers can roll out four diverse talents. Granted, Keenan Allen is a playmaker, but Mike Williams intrigues some. If these two can remain healthy, the Bolts will put up gaudy numbers.
Staying in the powder blue locker room, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram will terrorize tackles this year. Both combine speed and power. Yet, each added moves to their repertoire. Teams cannot double one and single the other. As a result, look for the screen and draw game to see daylight. In a dropback situation, heat from both sides will occur.
4. Which rookie will have the best season in 2018?
When the Broncos drafted Bradley Chubb, AFC West tackles groaned in disgust. Chubb brings a pair of fresh legs, burst, and the ability to beat every tackle upfield. Chubb gives Denver a scary bookend duo for the next five to seven years.
5. Who is getting too much love? Too little?
I mentioned it before, but I don’t believe anyone truly realizes just how good the Chiefs offense could be. In specific, I think Patrick Mahomes is going to blossom into the All-Pro I suspected him to be coming out of school. Andy Reid enjoyed fantastic quarterback talent throughout his coaching career, but I don’t even think Donovan McNabb has the raw talent that Mahomes has.
Already this preseason, Mahomes has thrown a football 80 yards in the air for a touchdown. Plus, the offense is still even more vanilla than we will see in the regular season. Coming out of Texas Tech, Patrick Mahomes owned more arm talent than any quarterback I can remember. As a result, no throw appears impossible for him. If he can patch up his decision making, which I think he will while working with Andy Reid, I won’t be surprised in the slightest if Patrick Mahomes should make the Pro Bowl, or even garner some MVP whispers.
I’m not sure if anyone is truly giving them any love anymore, but the Raiders are still getting too much love. Jon Gruden’s approach to modern coaching appears stunted. More importantly, Gruden traded their star player. Derek Carr already started to show signs of regression last season. Also, I’m not sure Jordy Nelson is an upgrade over Michael Crabtree at wide receiver. When you consider just how much better this division improved, the Raiders’ potential last season in California could turn into ugly.
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6. Which offseason acquisition (signing or trade) will be the best? The worst?
The best and the worst offseason acquisitions are closely related. For both, we are looking for a player at a high impact position, usually with a decent financial investment. A player who signed a contract with a value close to the veteran minimum is not expected to do much. Therefore, if that player is released during training camp, it is probably not the worst acquisition because there was not a large sum invested.
Conversely, a player on a minimum one-year contract that becomes a starter will pay dividends, for that season anyway. However, after that particular season, it may cost even more money to re-sign that player then if the team gave a longer contract. There is also a risk of a contract being too long, especially when larger salaries are involved.
All that said, there are a few candidates for the title of best AFC West offseason acquisition. Since football places the most importance on the quarterback position, let us begin there. The Broncos signed Case Keenum to a 2-year $36 Million deal. Including the extension that Drew Brees signed with the Saints, it was the third largest quarterback contract given in 2018 in terms of total money, and fourth in average salary per year. That one could be considered either the best or worst.
Keenum boasts only one season of success to show for the limited opportunities that he earned in the NFL. If he performs at the level, he showed in Minnesota last year, it would be worth what Denver spent. However, if he fails to live up to those expectations, then the contract will be one of the worst for this division.
Since quarterback is the most important position, the next area that teams should be spending on is the quarterback’s protection: the offensive line. The Chargers have had the fair share of offensive line issues over the last few seasons. They invested high draft picks in 2017 on that group.
This year, the Chargers decided to address the offensive line in free agency and gave center Mike Pouncey a 2-year contract for a total of $15 Million. Pouncey made three Pro Bowls with the Dolphins and now he becomes the starting center for the Chargers. Pouncey’s contract puts him outside of the top 10 at the position in terms of 2018 cap hit. Considering their need at the position, and the price relative to others at that position, Mike Pouncey is probably going to be the best offseason acquisition for not only the Chargers but for the entire AFC West.
Now for the ugly. Again, if Case flops, the money that he earns could have been used elsewhere to make the team better. Assuming Keenum does well, let us look at the Kansas City Chiefs and a contract that has a higher total salary amount: Sammy Watkins. The Chiefs signed him to a 3-year $48 Million deal. Considering that he is probably not even their best wide receiver, this seems rather high.
The cap hit in 2018 is not too bad at $7.8 Million. However, with cap hits of $19.2 Million and $21 Million over the next two seasons respectively, this deal begins to appear almost ridiculous. That currently put Watkins at the fourth-highest cap hit among wide receivers in 2019, and the largest in 2020. Yes, you read that right, the biggest WR cap hit in 2020. It is more than Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, and even Odell Beckham Jr. after his recent 5-year extension.
While Buffalo clearly believed in Watkins talent when they drafted him 4th overall, he has rarely played up to that potential. That is a lot of money to give to potentially the fourth target on the team. Because of that, the Chiefs acquisition of Sammy Watkins is probably going to be the worst in the AFC West.
The best offense in the division, and quite possibly in the league, is the Kansas City Chiefs. Despite losing offensive coordinator Matt Nagy to the Chicago Bears and quarterback Alex Smith via trade to the Washington Redskins, the Chiefs are in a better spot now than they were last year on the offensive side of the ball. Make no mistake, second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes is going to be a stud in this league.
Mahomes’ incredible arm talent makes any throw possible, more than maybe any quarterback besides the one in Green Bay. His ability to throw the ball deep compliments Tyreek Hill’s barn-burning speed almost too perfectly, and by adding consistently underrated wide receiver Sammy Watkins, their receiving corps is suddenly top tier. They also add Spencer Ware, injured last year, to a running back corps headlined by star back Kareem Hunt. There is a risk here because Mahomes has only played one game in the NFL, but I truly believe he is going to have a Pro Bowl caliber year at Arrowhead this season, and lead the Chiefs to the league’s top-ranked offense.
This division teems with talent, especially in the pass rush, with both the Chargers and Broncos employing elite talent in that regard. However, solely due to the injuries, the Chargers, who I believe are cursed, suffered on the defensive side of the ball, I’m picking the Broncos for the AFC West’s best defense.
It’s no secret than Von Miller is a top-five defensive player in football, but pairing him with star rookie Bradley Chubb has the possibility to be the best pair of pass rushers we have seen in a long time. They have the potential to be what a fully healthy J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney duo would be. The back half of that defense is no joke either. Chris Harris and Bradley Roby should lead a really solid secondary. Brandon Marshall has also slipped under the radar as an elite stand-up linebacker. Moreover, he could very well see a Pro Bowl nod this season.
7. Who will be the offensive MVP of the division? Defensive MVP?
For the better part of fifteen years, no quarterback exemplified excellence in the AFC West like Phillip Rivers. Granted, his propensity for late-game meltdowns hurt his team. Yet, the Chargers would slowly stop without him.
Eric Berry will return to form in 2018. Although the Chiefs’ All-Pro battled cancer and a knee injury, he will rebound in a big way. Berry possesses instinct, timing, and natural hands for the ball. If the Chiefs look to contend, Berry must play a mammoth role.
8. What will be the best game (assuming standing and importance) within the division?
On December 13th, the Chargers roll into Arrowhead. Chances are this game could decide the division winner. With the Raiders and Broncos fighting for third, odds remain on the Chiefs/Chargers. If the Chargers can win in the cold of Kansas City, that bodes well for them throughout the playoffs. On the other hand, the Chiefs could lock up a first-round home game and AFC West division title here.