VAVEL USA's 2016 NFL Guide: AFC West division preview
VAVEL USA's 2016 NFL Guide: AFC West division preview

After a 17-year drought, the AFC West is once again the home to the Super Bowl champs. Following a 24-10 win over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, the Denver Broncos secured their third Lombardi Trophy in franchise history and placed a target on their backs for their division rivals and the rest of the NFL to focus on.

As the 2016 NFL regular season gets set to kickoff, the AFC West looks to be the most competitive it has been since the 2013 season, when the division sent three teams (Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, and San Diego Chargers) to the playoffs.

The 2016 season will see the Broncos and Chiefs continue to battle for the division title, followed by the young and talented Oakland Raiders, who appear set to challenge for a playoff spot.  

2015 AFC West Standings
W     L PCT Home Away Div
Denver 12    4 .750 6-2 6-2 4-2
Kansas City 11    5 .688 6-2 5-3 5-1
Oakland 7      9 .438 3-5 4-4 3-3
San Diego 4     12 .250 3-5 1-7 0-6

Here's how things will shake out in 2016.

1.  Denver Broncos

Quarterback Trevor Siemian #13 of the Denver Broncos runs onto the field before the preseaon NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Broncos 38-17 (Aug. 31, 2016 - Source: Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America
Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian will start his first NFL game in a Super Bowl rematch versus the Carolina Panthers. | Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

General Manager: John Elway

Head Coach: Gary Kubiak

Last Season: 12-4, first in AFC West. Top seed in AFC.

Divisional Round - Defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 23-16

AFC Championship - Defeated the New England Patriots, 20-18

Super Bowl 50 - Defeated the Carolina Panthers, 24-10

2015 Review: The Broncos' path to Super Bowl 50 was blazed by an elite and opportunistic defense led by eventual Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and a clutch special teams that combined to give Denver nine regular-season victories by seven points or less.

Denver's offense was a different story, as it dealt with mediocre production, the Week 10 benching of Peyton Manning in favor of Brock Osweiler, and the Manning's triumphant third-quarter return in Week 17 to lead the Broncos to a come-from-behind victory over the Chargers that clinched the AFC West title.

In the playoffs and Super Bowl, the Denver defense gave up just one touchdown pass combined to Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, and NFL MVP Cam Newton.

2016 Offseason

Broncos Say Goodbye To:

Player Position Reason
Peyton Manning QB Retired
Brock Osweiler QB Free Agent (Houston Texans)
Ronnie Hillman RB Released
Owen Daniels TE Free Agent
Malik Jackson DE Free Agent (Jacksonville Jaguars)
Danny Trevathan ILB Free Agent (Chicago Bears)
David Bruton S Free Agent (Washington Redskins)
Omar Bolden S Free Agent (unsigned)
Britton Colquitt P Released (Cleveland Browns)

Broncos Say Hello To:

Player Position How Acquired
Paxton Lynch QB 1st round of 2016 NFL Draft (Memphis)
Devontae Booker RB 4th round of 2016 NFL Draft (Utah)
Andy Janovich FB 6th round of 2016 NFL Draft (Nebraska)
Russell Okung LT Free Agent (Seattle Seahawks)
Donald Stephenson RT Free Agent (Kansas City Chiefs)
Jared Crick DE Free Agent (Houston Texans)
Riley Dixon P 7th round of 2016 NFL Draft (Syracuse)
Quarterback Paxton Lynch #12 of the Denver Broncos throws a pass during the preseaon NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Broncos 38-17. (Aug. 31, 2016 - Source: Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America)
Denver Broncos 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch earned the backup role to start the season. | Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

2016 Draft Picks

Round (Pick #) Player Position College
1 (26) Paxton Lynch QB Memphis
2 (63) Adam Gotsis DT Georgia Tech
3 (98) Justin Simmons S Boston College
4 (136) Devontae Booker RB Utah
5 (144) Connor McGovern G Missouri
6 (176) Andy Janovich TE Nebraska
6 (219) Will Parks S Arizona
7 (228) Riley Dixon P Syracuse

Questions going into the season

What’s improved? Depth on the defensive side of the ball, especially in the pass rush, has given the Denver defense the opportunity to be better than the #1 overall defense from 2015. 2015 1st round pick LB Shane Ray came on strong at the end of last season and will spell DeMarcus Ware (lower back) on first and second downs to begin 2016. Former Patriots LB Dekoda Watson recorded three sacks in the preseason and with third year LB Shaq Barrett, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will have the luxury of rotating fresh pass rushers throughout the game.

What’s a concern? For the first time in NFL history, a defending Super Bowl champion will start the regular season with a starting quarterback who has never made a NFL pass attempt. Trevor Siemian, a 2015 7th round draft pick, beat out veteran Mark Sanchez and 2016 1st round pick Paxton Lynch to start the season. Siemien impressed in training camp and the preseason with his poise and command in the huddle. He is surrounded with talent at the wide receiver and running back positions which will help nurse him along. His strong arm and athletic ability will serve him well but the unknown overshadows his upside for now.

Team MVP: Von Miller

2016 outlook

The Broncos have won the division for five straight years, the longest streak since the 1972-76 Oakland Raiders. The defense will continue to carry this team and the formula for success in 2015 will be the same in 2016: Don't turn over the ball on offense and win the field position battle on special teams which will allow the defense to work their magic.  

A repeat champion hasn't happened since the 2003-04 New England Patriots. However, the Broncos are good enough to remain in the conversation.

2.  Kansas City Chiefs

Jamaal Charles (25) of the Kansas City Chiefs runs the ball as Alex Smith (11) of the Kansas City Chiefs watches at Arrowhead Stadium during the game on October 11, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Oct. 10, 2015 - Source: Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)
The Kansas City Chiefs eagerly await the return of running back Jamaal Charles (#25) following his ACL tear in 2015. | Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

General Manager: John Dorsey

Head Coach: Andy Reid

Last Season: 11-5, second in the AFC West. Clinched first AFC Wild Card spot.

Wild Card Round - Defeated the Houston Texans, 30-0

Divisonal Round - Lost at New England Patriots, 27-20

2015 Review: After a road win over the Texans to begin the 2015 campaign, the Chiefs lost five straight. RB Jamaal Charles was lost for the season in Week 5 with a torn ACL. All seemed lost for the Chiefs and they were all but given up for dead.

The team pulled together and rebounded with 10 straight wins as their defense stiffened and produced a suffocating pass rush led by LB Justin Houston.

Kansas City took the Broncos to the final game of the regular season before the division title was settled. The Chiefs earned the top wild card spot and blew out the AFC South champion Texans, 30-0, in Houston before falling to the Patriots in the divisional round. The playoff victory over the Texans was the Chiefs' first postseason victory since 1994.

2016 Offseason

Chiefs say goodbye to:

Player Position Reason
Chase Daniel QB Free Agent (Philadelphia Eagles)
Jeff Allen LG Free Agent (Houston Texans)
Donald Stephenson RT Free Agent (Denver Broncos)
Husain Abdullah FS Retired
Tyvon Branch SS Free Agent (Arizona Cardinals)

Chiefs say hello to:

Player Position How Acquired
Nick Foles QB Free Agent (LA Rams)
Mitch Schwartz RT Free Agent (Cleveland Browns)
Parker Ehinger LG 4th round of 2016 NFL Draft (Cincinnati)
Chris Jones DT 2nd round of 2016 NFL Draft (Mississippi State)
KeiVarae Russell #6 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish intercepts a pass intended for John Christopher #7 of the Temple Owls in the fourth quarter on October 31, 2015 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Temple Owls 24-20. (Oct. 30, 2015 - Source: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images North America
CB KeiVarae Russell (#6) was drafted out of Notre Dame in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. | Photo: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
2016 Draft Picks
Round (Pick #) Player Position College
2 (37)   Chris Jones DT Mississippi State
3 (59) KeiVarae Russell CB Notre Dame
4 (105) Parker Ehinger G Cincinnati
4 (106) Eric Murray C Minnesota
4 (126) Demarcus Robinson WR Florida
5 (162) Kevin Hogan QB Stanford
5 (165) Tyreek Hill WR West Alabama
6 (178) D.J. White CB Georgia Tech
6 (203) Dadi Nicolas DE Virginia Tech

Questions going into the season

What’s improved? The Chiefs' running game will be back to full strength with the return of RB Jamaal Charles from his ACL injury. Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware held their own in the running game but were nowhere close to the threat that Charles presents to opposing defenses.

What’s a concern? The offensive line has been scrambled a bit with the loss of guard Jeff Allen to free agency and the release of Ben Grubbs. The Chiefs will move 2016 4th round pick Parker Ehinger into the starting role at left guard while third year veteran Laurent Duvernay-Tardif will get the start at right guard. The offensive line shuffle also sees free agent pickup Mitch Schwartz take over at right tackle. 2013 1st-round pick Eric Fisher has been bounced around between left and right tackle with slight improvements in play each year. Center Mitch Morse was average at the position in 2015. Like most offensive lines in the league it will take a few games into the season before this group can gel as a unit and the Chiefs will really know what they have for 2016.

Team MVP: The defensive front seven.

2016 outlook

The Chiefs were down for the count six weeks into the 2015 season before they got back on their feet and ran the rest of the table. They have proven they are a resilient team and, should they run into early difficulties, they can fall back on last season's rebound to keep them going. The team will have to deal with the absence of Jamaal Charles and Justin Houston for a few games as they continue to recover from injuries. Once the two stars return to full strength, this Kansas City squad will challenge Denver for the division title once again.

3. Oakland Raiders

Alex Smith #11 of the Kansas City Chiefs is sacked by Khalil Mack #52 of the Oakland Raiders during their NFL game at O.co Coliseum on December 6, 2015 in Oakland, California. (Dec. 5, 2015 - Source: Jason O. Watson/Getty Images North America)
Khalil Mack of the Oakland Raiders records one of his 15 sacks in 2015 on quarterback Alex Smith of the Kansas City Chiefs. | Photo: Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

General Manager: Reggie McKenzie

Head Coach: Jack Del Rio

Last Season: 7-9, third in the AFC West.

2015 Review:  The Raiders spent 2015 continuing to gain NFL experience for their young and talented team. Behind an offensive line that rivals the Dallas Cowboys' as the best in the league, second-year QB Derek Carr threw for 3,987 yards and 32 touchdowns. 2015 1st-round pick WR Amari Cooper's growth as a wide receiver continued to show promise.  Carr connected with Cooper for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns.

DE Khalil Mack became a one-man wrecking crew for the Raiders in his second year of play. Mack recorded 15 sacks including a five-sack performance in Week 14 against the Broncos.  

2016 offseason

Raiders say goodbye to:

Player Position Reason
J'Marcus Webb OT Free Agent (Seattle Seahawks)
Charles Woodson S Retired
Justin Tuck DE Retired
Curtis Lofton LB Free Agent  (Unsigned)

Raiders say hello to:

Player Position How Acquired
Kelechi Osemele LG Free Agent (Baltimore Ravens)
Bruce Irvin LB Free Agent (Seattle Seahawks)
Darren Bates LB Free Agent (Los Angeles Rams)
Sean Smith CB Free Agent (Kansas City Chiefs)
Shilique Calhoun LB 3rd round 2016 NFL Draft 
Shilique Calhoun #91 of the Oakland Raiders gets ready to make a play against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on August 12, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. (Aug. 12, 2016 - Source: Norm Hall/Getty Images North America)
DE Shilique Calhoun (#91) is expected to make his mark during the 2016 season. | Photo: Norm Hall/Getty Images
2016 Draft Picks
Round (Pick #) Player Position College
1 (14) Karl Joseph S West Virginia
2 (44) Jihad Ward DE Illinois
3 (75) Shilique Calhoun DE Michigan State
4 (100) Connor Cook QB Michigan State
5 (143) DeAndre Washington RB Texas Tech
6 (194) Cory James LB Colorado State
7 (234) Vadal Alexander G LSU

Questions going into the season

What’s improved? Another NFL season under their belts. Experience is what this young team needed and, over the last two seasons, the core of the Raiders that includes Mack, Carr, and Cooper has progressed nicely.

What’s a concern? The Raiders' starting group on both sides of the ball looks strong but depth is another story. The depth in the receiving corps and secondary both have glaring holes. This is understandable, as the Raiders have had to build from scratch. Now that they have secured a strong starting lineup, they can begin to build the depth that is needed for a team that can contend for the Super Bowl.

Team MVP: DE Khalil Mack

2016 outlook

The Raiders are a popular pick among analysts to challenge in the AFC West.  While they are certainly on the upswing, it would take a lot to go their way this season to overcome the Broncos and Chiefs in the division. However, the Raiders are in strong position to secure their first playoff birth since their Super Bowl year in 2002. The silver and black are no longer the doormats in the NFL.

4. San Diego Chargers

Quarterback Philip Rivers (#17) of the San Diego Chargers hopes to move the team forward after a 4-12 season and the worst of his career.  Photo source:  Getty Images.
Quarterback Philip Rivers (#17) of the San Diego Chargers hopes to move the team forward after a 4-12 season, the worst of his career. | Photo: Getty Images.

General Manager: Tom Telesco

Head Coach: Mike McCoy

Last Season: 4-12, last in AFC West. 

2015 review: All signs pointed down for the San Diego Chargers in 2015, as the team suffered through its worst season since 2003. A terrible offensive line helped to contribute to the worst season of QB Philip Rivers' career and the fact that the running game, led by 2015 1st-round pick Melvin Ingram, could never get going. All of this resulted in the firing of the offensive coaching staff.

The defense was wracked by injuries and inconsistent play that kept it from realizing it's full potential. The defensive line was consistently overwhelmed by opposing offensive lines. A lack of a pass rush and an inability to stop the run game doomed it to 20th overall in total defense.

2016 offseason

Chargers say goodbye to:

Player Position Reason
Malcolm Floyd WR Retired
Ladarius Green TE Free Agent (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Kendall Reyes DE Free Agent (Washington Redskins)
Eric Weddle S Free Agent (Baltimore Ravens)

Chargers say hello to:

Player Position How Acquired
Matt Slauson C Free Agent (Chicago Bears)
Travis Benjamin WR Free Agent (Cleveland Browns)
Joey Bosa DE 1st round of 2016 NFL Draft (Ohio State)
Dwight Lowery FS Free Agent (Indianapolis Colts)
Casey Hayward CB Free Agent (Green Bay Packers)
Defensive lineman Joey Bosa of Ohio State participates in a drill during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 28, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Feb. 27, 2016 - Source: Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America)
The San Diego Chargers hope to work 1st-round pick defensive lineman Joey Bosa into the lineup quickly after Bosa's lengthy holdout. | Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images
2016 Draft Picks
Round (Pick #) Player Position College
1 (3) Joey Bosa DE Ohio State
2 (35) Hunter Henry TE Arkansas
3 (66) Max Tuerk C USC
4 (102) Joshua Perry LB Ohio State
5 (175) Jatavis Brown OLB  Akron
6 (179) Drew Kaser P Texas A&M
6 (198) Derek Watt FB Wisconsin
7 (224) Donavon Clark G Michigan

Questions going into the season

What’s improved? The return of Ken Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator. Rivers excelled under Whisenhunt, setting career marks in 2013, before the coach departed San Diego to take the head job with the Tennessee Titans.

What’s a concern? If on the field issues aren't enough, the Chargers are also dealing with the uncertainty of where they will call home in the next few years. The possibility of a new stadium in San Diego is on the ballot for November 8. If the measure is voted down, the Chargers have been approved to join the Rams in Los Angeles.

Team MVP: QB Philip Rivers

2016 outlook

2016 hopes to be a rebound year for the Chargers after finishing in the basement of the division with just four wins. The defense looks more able to meet expectations if injuries are held to a minimum and 2016 1st-round pick DE Joey Bosa can work his way into the defense quickly after holding out for the entire offseason and training camp.   

The offensive line is the big unknown for this team going forward in 2016. The return of LT King Dunlap from injury and the acquisition of free agent C Matt Slauson will help to steady the line. However, play along the rest of the line must improve dramatically if San Diego has any hope of improving a run game that averaged less than two yards per rush last season.

The Chargers should improve in wins in 2016 but project to finish last again in the AFC West. 

*All stats from NFL.com

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