A look at the AFC West heading into the 2016 NFL season, with teams listed in predicted order of finish.
COACH: Gary Kubiak
2nd season (12-4, .750)
LAST SEASON: 12-4-0, 1st place
PLAYOFFS: beat Pittsburgh, 23-16; beat New England, 20-18 in Conference Championship; beat Carolina, 24-10, in Super Bowl 50
OUTLOOK: The defending Super Bowl champions go into the season with a major question at quarterback. After Brock Osweiler spurned GM John Elway’s contract offer for a slightly more lucrative deal in Houston, the Broncos traded for Mark Sanchez and drafted Paxton Lynch. But it was 2015 seventh-round quarterback Trevor Siemian who won the job. That means the Broncos’ defense, which was the lifeblood of last year’s title run, will have to be every bit as good as last year. And considering Siemian’s inexperience, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Lynch take over at some point this year.
COACH: Jack Del Rio
2nd season (7-9, .438)
LAST SEASON: 7-9, 3rd place
OUTLOOK: This is a rising young team with exceptional talent at the major positions. That includes quarterback Derek Carr, wide receiver Amari Cooper, linebacker Khalil Mack and strong safety Karl Joseph, all of whom are either first- or second-round picks. The Raiders added veteran linebacker Bruce Irvin, and Latavius Murray is a quality power back. Put it all together, and this looks like a team that is ready to think about joining the Broncos and Chiefs as playoff-caliber teams in this division.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
COACH: Andy Reid
4th season (31-17, .646)
LAST SEASON: 11-5-0, 2nd place
PLAYOFFS: beat Houston, 30-0; lost to New England, 27-20.
OUTLOOK: They are coming off a solid run to the playoffs last year, and with a little bit of luck and some better game management, they might have upset the Patriots in the divisional round. It’s a veteran group led by efficient quarterback Alex Smith and a running back group that includes Jamaal Charles, who comes off a knee injury and will be counted on later in the season. Jeremy Maclin was a tremendous addition last year at receiver, and Tamba Hali is back to finish out his career with the Chiefs. The biggest issue is when Justin Houston, one of the league’s top pass rushers, will return from a knee injury. This looks like a solid team capable of getting back into the tournament.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
COACH: Mike McCoy
4th season (22-26, .458)
LAST SEASON: 4-12, 4th place
OUTLOOK: In what could be the Chargers’ final season in San Diego, the roster is still in need of more playmakers on both sides of the ball. Philip Rivers is one of the most durable and reliable quarterbacks in the game, but too often, the fate of games rests on his arm. First-round running back Melvin Gordon struggled as a rookie last year, and Rivers works with an unimpressive group of wide receivers. Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa will be counted on to improve the pass rush, but after a long and nasty contract holdout, he isn’t likely to contribute early. Things don’t look markedly better this season than they did last season.