Are the Chargers the team to beat in the AFC West?

CARSON, CA - DECEMBER 31: Philip Rivers
CARSON, CA - DECEMBER 31: Philip Rivers /

Are the Los Angeles Chargers the team to beat in the AFC West? One general manager thinks so.

Broncos general manager John Elway knows his football.

That said, Elway thinks one team in the AFC West stands out above the rest–and it’s not his Broncos. According to The MMQB’s Peter King, Elway recently had this to say about the Chargers:

“I thought the Chargers did a really nice job with the draft. They’ve got the settled quarterback, even though the Raiders do too. Looking at it, (the Chargers) may be the ones to beat. As I stand here, looking at it, the Chargers might be the team to beat.”

Hey, the Chargers look good on paper. Actually, they look great on paper. With veteran quarterback Philip Rivers, who is arguably the best QB in the division, leading the way and a ton of young talent, including a superstar receiver in Keenan Allen, one of the better all-around running backs in Melvin Gordon, a rising tight end in Hunter Henry and an upgraded offensive line, surrounding him, the offense ranks among the best in the NFL.

On the other side of the ball, a Joey Bosa-led defense has several playmakers, including arguably the best corner in the league in Casey Hayward, on almost every level and the potential to be one of the toughest units any team will face this year. The Chargers continued to load up on their rising defense after using their first four 2018 draft picks on defenders. First-round safety Derwin James was a steal at No. 17 overall and might have just put this group over the top.

The Chargers have a deep roster. They just need to continue to stay healthy and, of course, make kicks. Their kicking woes cost them the playoffs in 2017. They brought in veteran Caleb Sturgis, who was a solid kicker for the Eagles prior to getting hurt last season, in order to help turn things around. Coaching is always a prominent factor, too, and head coach Anthony Lynn, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley showed what they can bring to the table in just their first year together. They should be more comfortable (and hopefully consistent) in Year 2.

But with so much potential, will the Chargers finally capitalize? Remember, the Chargers haven’t won the AFC West since 2009. That season also marked the last time the team finished with 10-plus wins. The last time they made the playoffs was in 2013 as a wild-card team. The Kansas City Chiefs have been division champs for two consecutive seasons (2016-17), and the Denver Broncos had won it five straight times before them (2011-15).

The other teams in the AFC West?

After trading quarterback Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins, the Chiefs will go with second-year pro Patrick Mahomes, a first-rounder who they traded up for in last year’s draft. Mahomes flashed potential in limited action, but there’s no way in telling how good he’ll be this early on. They have a strong rushing attack with Kareem Hunt and a great head coach in Andy Reid, but their once dominant defense lost a few playmakers, including Pro Bowl corner Marcus Peters. Their draft class didn’t receive many positive reviews either.

The Broncos signed journeyman quarterback Case Keenum. The 30-year-old veteran is definitely an upgrade over what they had last year, but his only good season came in 2017 with the Minnesota Vikings. Up until last season, he never started more than 10 games in a season, and his overall record (9-15) in that span is meh. Also, Denver didn’t do much to upgrade its bad offensive line. Despite losing star cornerback Aqib Talib, the Broncos’ defense is still a good one. It got better after stealing edge rusher Bradley Chubb with the fifth pick in the 2018 draft. Their draft class in general was great. Chubb and Von MIller will compete with Bosa and Melvin Ingram for the top pass-rushing tandem in the league.

As for Oakland, the Raiders took a major step back last year after making the playoffs the year before, but that was due to injuries, especially at the quarterback position. Derek Carr will be back at full health and has a bunch of weapons on the outside in Amari Cooper and newly-acquired receivers Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant. However, the running game features players past their prime in Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin. The defense has one of the best players in the league in edge rusher Khalil Mack, but even with Mack, they were among the worst units in the league last year. Will that change in 2018?

Overall, the Chargers appear to be the most complete team in the division. They showed what kind of damage they can do after winning nine of their last 12 games this past season. Not only that, but they are getting some talented players back from injury (WR Mike Williams, OG Forrest Lamp and CB Jason Verrett) to go along with a key free-agent pickup (C Mike Pouncey) and what looks like another solid draft on paper. And unlike some of the other teams, the Chargers didn’t really lose much in the offseason.

There will always be some bias as a fan, but this team really does have a realistic chance to win the AFC West and make a deep playoff run in 2018.