The NFL is back, and Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams in the lead-up to kickoff on Thursday, Sept. 5.
Today, we look at best- and worst-case scenarios for the AFC West. (Teams are listed in the order in which we believe they’ll finish in the 2019 standings.)
2018 finish: 12-4, lost AFC Championship
Major additions: RB Carlos Hyde (…for now?), DE Frank Clark, LB Alex Okafor, LB Damien Wilson, CB Bashaud Breeland, S Tyrann Mathieu, rookie WR Mecole Hardman
Major subtractions: RB Spencer Ware, WR Kelvin Benjamin, C Mitch Morse, LB Dee Ford, LB Justin Houston, S Eric Berry
Best-case scenario: Reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes not only replicates his 50-TD sophomore season but is even better, and new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo takes a defence that ranked near the bottom of the league last season into the top-10. With a top-three offence and a top-10 defence, the Chiefs get over the Patriots-sized hump and into Super Bowl LIV.
Worst-case scenario: Mahomes’ MVP sophomore season proves to be an aberration, and the Chiefs’ star quarterback of the future is revealed in 2019 to be more Andy Dalton than Tom Brady. Rather than accept what is the unbearable truth, Andy Reid holds out hope his former MVP returns to the form that electrified the league in 2018 and the Chiefs wallow in NFL mediocrity waiting for Mahomes to become the player he was supposed to be.
2019 prediction: 11-5, Super Bowl LIV champions
2018 finish: 12-4, lost in divisional round
Major additions: QB Tyrod Taylor, LB Thomas Davis
Major subtractions: WR Tyrell Williams, TE Antonio Gates, DT Corey Liuget, CB Jason Verrett
Best-case scenario: Melvin Gordon and the Chargers are able to mend what was starting to look like an irreparable fracture in the relationship between team and player, agreeing to a deal that works well for both sides. With their No. 1 running back now on board, the Chargers challenge the Chiefs in another epic battle for the division title – and this time L.A. comes out on top and clinches the AFC’s top seed in the process.
Worst-case scenario: We’re pretty much living the Chargers’ worst-case scenario. Melvin Gordon, arguably their best offensive player, is holding out. Sophomore safety Derwin James, arguably their best defensive player, is out at least three months. Left tackle Russell Okung, tasked with protecting Philip Rivers’ blind side, is out indefinitely after suffering a pulmonary embolism in June. Outside of losing Rivers for an extended period of time, things can’t get much worse for the luckless Chargers.
2019 prediction: 10-6, winning a wild-card game before bowing out again in the divisional playoffs
2018 finish: 6-10, missed playoffs
Major additions: QB Joe Flacco, OT Ja’Wuan James, DB Kareem Jackson, CB Bryce Callahan, rookies TE Noah Fant, OG Dalton Risner and QB Drew Lock
Major subtractions: QB Case Keenum, OT Jared Veldheer, C Matt Paradis, NT Domata Peko, DE/OLB Shaq Barrett, DE/OLB Shane Ray, LB Brandon Marshall, CB Bradley Roby, S Darian Stewart
Best-case scenario: It’s still all about the quarterbacks in Denver. John Elway’s prolonged search for a successful successor to Peyton Manning (who retired almost 3.5 years ago) finally comes to an end as the Broncos’ QB situation plays out exactly how Elway envisions. Joe Flacco has a renaissance season, leading the Broncos back to the playoffs, while second-round pick Drew Lock develops beautifully behind the former Super Bowl MVP and takes the reins in 2020, leading Denver under centre for the next decade.
Worst-case scenario: Flacco’s best days really are far behind him, and when new head coach Vic Fangio is finally forced to turn to the rookie to lead his team, Lock struggles to find his footing because the former Mizzou signal-caller simply isn’t ready yet. Lock’s confidence is permanently fried after being thrown too soon into the fire, and Elway is back to square one in the quarterback department.
2019 prediction: 7-9, missing the playoffs for the fourth straight season
2018 finish: 4-12, missed playoffs
Major additions: WR Antonio Brown, WR Tyrell Williams, OT Trent Brown, LB Brandon Marshall, LB Vontaze Burfict, CB Nevin Lawson, S Lamarcus Joyner, rookies DE Clelin Ferrell, RB Josh Jacobs, S Johnathan Abram, CB Trayvon Mullen
Major subtractions: RB Marshawn Lynch, WR Jordy Nelson, TE Jared Cook, OT Donald Penn, OG Kelechi Osemele, DE Kony Ealy, S Reggie Nelson
Best-case scenario: The type of helmet ends up being inconsequential as Antonio Brown goes off in his first season in The Bay, setting career-highs in both yards and touchdowns and cementing himself as the NFL’s best wide receiver. Derek Carr is the biggest benefactor of his All-Pro wide receiver’s career season, making his first post-season start while Jon Gruden gets another taste of the playoffs for the first time since the 2007 season.
Worst-case scenario: The off-season drama surrounding AB bleeds into the regular season and is a distraction all year long. Not only that, the plethora of roster turnover makes no difference in the wins column and GM Mike Mayock is forced into some big decisions, specifically at quarterback, as the Raiders are forced to hit the reset button. Again.
2019 prediction: 6-10, missing the playoffs for the 15th time in the last 16 years