By: Garrett Giles
One week into the NFL season and the AFC West has proven that they will be the most exciting conference to watch this season. The Super Bowl defending Denver Broncos, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Oakland Raiders, and the San Diego Chargers have potential to be in NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas on Feb. 5, 2017 to play for Super Bowl 51. One team from this conference will make it there, and here are the cases for each one.
The Denver Broncos:
There was plenty on the line for the Broncos who started with concerns at quarterback after losing Peyton Manning, a future Hall of Famer, to retirement.
Denver’s new quarterback, Trevor Siemian, may not be a legend, but he proved last Sunday that he can play the position. Against the Carolina Panthers, he threw for 178 yard on 18-of-26 passing, and one touchdown in the win. The one touchdown is one more touchdown than what Manning had when he played the same Carolina team in the Super Bowl last year.
With the Denver defense buckling down for the entirety of the game, Siemian showed us that he can play well enough for the Broncos when he’s on the field. The defense, led by Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller lived up to the hype, is what Denver will need in order for them to win games. Miller was the second defensive player in three years to win a Super Bowl MVP, and he seems to have carried that title into this season with pride moving into this season which is huge for the Broncos if they have offensive woes later on.
The Broncos can very likely go back to the Super Bowl with the defense they have, but they will need more production form Siemian. It will take more than missed field goals in the final seconds by the opposition to win football games, but they won nevertheless when the odds were in favor of Carolina, so that’s something to be excited about.
The Oakland Raiders:
The New Orleans defense may not be what it has been in years past, but they kept the Raiders in check during the entirety of the game until the fourth quarter where they gave up 22 points.
The game looked to be won by Dree Brees (who had 28-of-42 for 423 yards, and four touchdowns in the company) and company, and for the Raiders, it looked like the same daunting tale of a losing season. Oakland hung tough though. They showed us in the fourth quarter that they weren’t the team of old.
Kudos to Jack Del Rio though. After Derek Carr threw his first touchdown pass of the game to wide receiver Seth Roberts, Del Rio called for the two-point conversion which ended up to put the Raiders up 35-34 with 47 seconds remaining in the game. Some say that Del Rio did it for job security but it seems as if he wanted to take initiative to win games. He not only sent a message to the team that they were going to be better this year, but he sent a message to the league that the Raiders mean business.
The Raiders will need to improve on defense, and start off quicker on offense for Derek Carr to be effective, but with the coaching staff in Oakland, we should expect more exciting endings from the Raiders.
The Kansas City Chiefs:
Alex Smith is the most underrated quarterback in the NFL. He passed for 363 yards on 34-of-48 passing and had two touchdowns. He led the comeback for the Chiefs who faced a 17-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter. Let’s not forget the game winning two-yard touchdown to win in overtime. We should expect Smith to continue his roar throughout the season with Travis Kelce and Jeremy Maclin to throw the ball too.
Chiefs running back Spencer Ware had a huge game too. He filled in for Jamal Charles who is out for awhile due to injury. Ware had 11 carries for 70 yards. More importantly, he scored the game tying touchdown (27-27) with one minute left in the game. Don’t forget the 129 reception yards he had to go with his running yards. He can prove to be a worthy backup for Charles when he returns to the field of play which could make for a dangerous dual running game for the Chiefs.
The defense, like that of the Raiders, was poor early on but they held their ground in the end for Kansas City. That same intensity would be nice throughout the game, but the fact that they came alive to help win the game when it mattered most was still exciting.
The San Diego Chargers:
The only loser of the first weekend of football in the AFC West. They not only lost the game, but they lost wide receiver Keenan Allen too. He had six catches for 63 yards before tearing his ACL to take him out of contention for the rest of the season.
Despite these losses, they won plenty too. Phillip Rivers is still an elite quarterback. He went 25-of-36 in passing for 243 yards. He still has targets like tight end Antonio Gates and wide receiver Tyrell William who had 2 catches for 71 yards. And don’t forget the running game. On 30 combined carries, running back Danny Woodhead and Melvin Gordon ran for 146 yards.
The lack of effort on defense in the fourth quarter, and the crumbling of their special teams should be disheartening for the Chargers, but it’s only week one. There is plenty to be hopeful for for Chargers fans. All they need to do is finish the game.
The Final Verdict:
Being an Indianapolis Colts fan, there is no question that this article is not about how my love for the Chiefs is the cause of my decision. No, I still live in the highlights of the Colts versus Chiefs game in the AFC Wild Card Game in 2014. The second greatest comeback in playoff history.
That aside, the Chiefs will win the AFC West, the AFC Championship, and Alex Smith will win the AFC Championship MVP. There is the New England Patriots still to face. I believe they will face off in the AFC Championship with the Chiefs, but I think this is the year of Alex Smith.
Sorry Chiefs fans, but the Chiefs will not win the Super Bowl for the first time since 1970. They will most likely face the Green Bay Packers and their poster child Aaron Rogers will seize the moment like he did during the Super Bowl in 2011 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It will be the first time since these two teams faced on in the first ever Super Bowl in 1967, the same Super Bowl the Packers won 35-10.
It will be a close race for the Chiefs in their division with Denver, but I believe the Chiefs will come out on top of the Broncos without Peyton Manning. All that’s left for the Chiefs is to protect Alex Smith from Von Miller and that tenacious Denver defense.
Both Denver and Kansas City will make the playoffs regardless, and the Raider may sneak into the picture in the end. Only time will tell, but it was an interesting week one for the AFC West.