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NFL preview 2018: AFC West outlook

Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden celebrates with

Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden celebrates with players during the second half of a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. Photo Credit: AP / D. Ross Cameron

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

COACH: Andy Reid, 6th season (53-27, .663)

LAST SEASON: 10-6, 1st place

PLAYOFFS: lost to Tennessee, 22-21, in wild card round.

OUTLOOK: The Chiefs have moved on from Alex Smith and have handed over the offense to second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who has a tremendous arm and a charisma the Chiefs have rarely seen at the position. Mahomes has a terrific set of skill-position players at his disposal, including speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill, Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce and second-year running back Kareem Hunt. The defense is led by pass rusher Justin Houston, and Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry returns from an Achilles injury. Look for some growing pains with Mahomes, but Andy Reid has proven a masterful coach in working with young quarterbacks, so the mistakes should be kept to a minimum.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

COACH: Anthony Lynn, 2nd season (9-7, .563)

LAST SEASON: 9-7, 2nd place

OUTLOOK: After an 0-4 start last season under first-year coach Lynn, the Chargers hit their stride and won nine of their next 12 and briefly flirted with a playoff spot. Philip Rivers hasn’t lost anything off his fastball, and remains one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. Tailback Melvin Gordon had 1,105 yards and eight rushing TDs last year, but the Chargers lost promising tight end Hunter Henry to a knee injury in the offseason. The Chargers brought back Antonio Gates on a one-year deal. Joey Bosa has a combined 23 sacks in his first two seasons and is developing into one of the NFL’s premier defensive linemen. Look for more of the same as the Chargers begin their second season in Los Angeles.

OAKLAND RAIDERS

COACH: Jon Gruden, 1st season

LAST SEASON: 6-10, 3rd place

OUTLOOK: Jon Gruden reprises his role as Raiders coach after a 10-year hiatus at ESPN, and he returns to a team that certainly has potential but also has plenty of holes. The biggest one is the absence of Khalil Mack, who was traded to the Bears in a blockbuster deal that netted the Raiders two first-round picks. Derek Carr comes off a mediocre season following a terrific effort in 2016, so Gruden’s handling of his quarterback will be critical. The Raiders brought in former Packers receiver Jordy Nelson as a complement to Amari Cooper. Despite Mack’s absence, Gruden believes the team’s drafting of defensive linemen P.J. Hall, Maurice Hurst and Arden Key will help make up for the All Pro pass rusher’s loss.

DENVER BRONCOS

COACH: Vance Joseph, 2nd season (5-11, .313)

LAST SEASON: 5-11, 4th place

OUTLOOK: GM John Elway gave serious consideration to firing Vance Joseph after just one season, but Joseph gets another shot in 2018. Case Keenum, who performed superbly in relief of Sam Bradford last year in Minnesota, gets his chance as the Broncos’ starting quarterback. But he works with a mostly non-descript offense, especially at running back, so this could be a struggle. The defense features pass rusher Von Miller and rookie Bradley Chubb, but the secondary isn’t the shutdown group it once was.

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