Previews & Predictions for the 2016 NFL Season: AFC & NFC West

The 2016 NFL season begins in just four days and it can’t come soon enough. In the final blog predicting how the season will go, I will take a look at the AFC and NFC West divisions. This blog couldn’t end sooner as I seem to always release on part of the blog right before something major effects a team. With Teddy Bridgewater’s injury and the trade of Sam Bradford to the Eagles, I don’t know if my picks will hold up. But I am sticking with them just like I will stick with these picks as I enjoy the 2016 NFL season.

AFC West

With the Super Bow champion Denver Broncos losing a lot of pieces in the off season, I think the time is now for the Kansas City Chiefs to make a charge for the top spot in the division. Head coach Any Reid always has his team in the running for the postseason and this year is no different. The Chiefs’ offense is led by the reliable Alex Smith. While the past has indicated that Smith has had problems throwing to receivers, he doesn’t have to do that as much with a TE like Travis Kelce and RB Jamaal Charles hopefully returning after a serious injury. Charles is a huge part of their offense and, when healthy, is one of the best in the league on the ground and catching passes out of the backfield. Kansas City can also rely on Charcandrick West, Knile Davis, and Spencer Ware to fill in at running back if needed after they all helped carry the load when Charles has been out. And if Smith wants to throw downfield, he can rely on Jeremy Maclin on make plays and help stretch the field. With these offensive pieces and a good, solid defense, I look for the Chiefs to reign atop the AFC West.

I debated this pick heavily but I am going with the Oakland Raiders to finish above the Broncos as well. There is something I don’t like about Denver this year and something I am intrigued in with Oakland. After finishing last year at 7-9, which was four wins better than in 2014, second-year head coach Jack Del Rio is hoping to improve on that win total again. And to do that, he is relying on a young but very talented roster. Derek Carr may finish this season as the best QB in the division in only his third season and is going to be the man to lead Oakland for years to come. He is joined on offense by RB Latavius Murray and WR Amari Cooper. Both had stellar seasons in 2015 and should continue to improve. WR Michael Crabtree is also a reliable receiver that Carr can trust in to help move the ball. And the defense is led by DE Khalil Mack, a first round pick from Buffalo in 2014. He is arguably the best defensive player in th NFL and is a favorite to be named Defensive Player of the Year. And to top it all off, the Raiders’ special teams are in good hands with 2000 first round pick Sebastian Janikowski. This should be the year that the Raiders start to rise back to the top of the NFL.

The Denver Broncos are the reigning Super Bowl champions and are sure to be favorites to win the division by many. But not me. After the retirement of Peyton Manning and losing Brock Osweiler and other significant players, I do not like the Broncos chances in 2016. And I know that Manning wasn’t a star last year. But he was still a huge presence on that team. And despite returning WR Demaryius Thomas, WR Emmanuel Sanders, and RB C. J. Anderson on offense, I can’t put trust in unproven QB Trevor Siemian. Until I can see what he does in the NFL regular season, I can’t believe in their offense. And while still returning defensive stars like Miller, Talib, Wolfe, Harris, Barrett, and Marshall, I am skeptical that their defense can carry them through the season again. While the defense will still be great and the offense has potential, I still can’t bet on the Broncos finishing higher than this right now.

Lastly I have the San Diego Chargers. Throughout Philip Rivers’ tenure, the Chargers have been a disappointing team with all of the talent they have had. But Rivers has never given up and remains as fiery as ever. But outside of RB Melvin Gordon, WR Keenan Allen, and the aging TE Antonio Gates, San Diego’s offense is very pedestrian. And the defense took a huge hit with the loss of FS Eric Weddle, who went to Baltimore in free agency. Without him, the defense looks less impressive and lacks the leadership of the former longtime Charger. San Deigi should have another lackluster season that will see them probably switch head coaches again and probably move to Los Angeles next season.
NFC West

The Seattle Seahawks were reigning atop the NFC West for a while and hit a speed bump last season. With the great season that the Arizona Cardinals had and their lack of production on offense, the Seahawks took a small step back in 2015. But they began to move the ball through the air better toward the end of the season and if they can continue that, Seattle should be back on top of the division. QB Russell Wilson is still wowing people with his play and if he can keep connecting with WR Doug Baldwin, Seattle’s offense will thrive. The return of TE Jimmy Graham could be beneficial as well if they use him like the Saints did and not mainly as a blocker. Add in a good running game and there shouldn’t be any questions about the Seahawks’ offense. And there certainly isn’t any question whether their defense can be great. If all these pieces work out right, Seattle could easily be a favorite to go to the Super Bowl once again.

The Arizona Cardinals had a phenomenal 2015 season going 13-3 but losing in convincing fashion to the Panthers in the NFC championship game. Head coach Bruce Arians will have some work ahead of him to make this team believe that they can repeat their success from last season and go all the way to the Super Bow this time around. QB Carson Palmer returns to lead the offense and everyone knows that his time is limited. The same can be said for WR Larry Fitzgerald. But these two veterans are hoping for one more shot and are looking for help from some of the younger offensive stars like RB David Johnson and WR John Brown. The Cardinals already have a great defense in place and will welcome the return of FS Tyrann Mathieu after he suffered a season-ending injury last season. Arizona also hopes that rookie DE Robert Nkemdiche can stay out of trouble and be a part of this defensive force. I believe that the Cardinals will have a great season, but will slide back down just a little to a superior Seahawks team.

The Rams begin 2016 in their new home in Los Angeles and hope that their fortunes will change. But I do not think much will change at all. Coach Jeff Fisher has not won more than seven games in a season since taking over and has done little to improve the team in those years. This year they drafted Cal QB Jared Goff with the first overall pick in the draft and are hoping that he can turn their fortunes around. But it will take more than a year as he has to get acclimated to the NFL and the Rams have to get him more weapons to work with. The only piece I like on their offense is RB Todd Gurley. He had a fantastic rookie season last year and is very capable of doing the same this year. But teams will be able to plan against the run and not feel threatened by Los Angeles’ passing attack. And hopefully Gurley’s body can withstand the workload. The defense has always been pretty solid, but I don’t know if they can win a lot of games when the offense won’t put up a lot of points.

The once great San Francisco 49ers franchise is a complete mess right now. Chip Kelly enters his first season as their head coach with Blaine Gabbert returning at quarterback while the team recently cut the controversial Colin Kaepernick. The QB situation has been a mess all preseason and will probably continue to be all of the regular season. Carlos Hyde returns at running back and should be a bright spot for the team but I don’t expect him to win games for them. And their receivers and tight ends don’t impress me a lot. The offense will be average at best but more likely to look terrible most of the season. And the defense doesn’t look to be any better. It will be a long season for San Francisco and it will probably end with just as many questions as when it started. Especially the question of whether Chip Kelly is the right man for the job.
Daryl Karpinski, Jr.