NFL Preview: Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos

This article is part of a series previewing the 2018-2019 NFL season where we will cover quick notes on all 32 NFL teams, favorite potential storylines, win-loss predictions, the playoff picture, and my picks to compete in Super Bowl LIII.

Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers are another popular pick in the NFL to breakout, and potentially make a run at Super Bowl LIII after a 2017 season that was plagued by injuries and kicking woes.  Philip Rivers has been one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game to never reach a Conference Championship Game.  Rivers ranks sixth in career passing touchdowns (342), seventh in completions (4,171), and ninth in passing yards (50,348).  All the names in front of him in these categories have either already been inducted into the Hall of Fame or will be selected once they are eligible.  Rivers will be a polarizing candidate to join the best of the best in Canton when his time comes, but right now, he is pursuing the ultimate prize in the NFL, a Super Bowl ring.

The Chargers offense took a major hit this spring when third year TE Hunter Henry went down with a torn ACL, effectively ending his 2018 before it started.  Henry was poised for a breakout year with legendary Chargers TE Antonio Gates leaving the team after compiling one of the best careers in NFL history for a tight end.  Despite the loss of Henry, Rivers has other dependable options at his disposal going into this season.  WR Keenan Allen is regarded as a top ten receiver in the NFL and RB Melvin Gordon has been a touchdown machine his past two seasons (24 TD’s in 29 games) after a disappointing rookie campaign in 2015.  The Chargers also look to get some production from last year’s first round pick WR Mike Williams after a rookie season defined by a back injury that kept him on the sideline most of the season. Williams is a freakish athlete that the Alabama Crimson Tide has no answer for in the 2016 National Championship game, and that kind of player that would give the Chargers a dimension in their offense that they have not had since Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd.  The offensive line is shaky at best and will look for second year guys LG Dan Feeney and RG Forrest Lamp (returning from a torn ACL) to provide protection for Rivers.  If this offense falls apart at any point this season, it is most likely do to the instability up front to keep Rivers upright, and the inability of creating running lanes for Gordon.

The defensive side of the ball has some STUDS.  The defensive end duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram is by far the best in the NFL, and teams are going to have a hard time protecting their quarterback with both these guys on the field.  CB Casey Hayward, like his teammate Allen, is not talked about as a top ten player at his position, but most certainly is.  Second year CB Desmond King outplayed his fifth-round selection in 2017 by showing that he can be a top tier slot corner in the NFL in an era where the game has become pass heavy. The injury (go figure) of CB Jason Verrett is an unfortunate one, but CB Trevor Williams is a serviceable option next to Hayward.  My X-factor for this defense is rookie safety, Derwin James.  There was a lot of speculation that James would be a top ten selection in the 2018 draft but slid all the way down to pick 17 where the Chargers happily scooped him up.  James is a gifted athlete and is known for his leadership and alpha male mentality.  James could provide the spark this defense needs to elevate to a top five unit in the league, and I am excited to see how this all pans out.

I do not usually talk about special teams in these previews, because who really gives a fuck, but the kicking situation for the Chargers can arguably be singled out as the reason the team has narrowly missed the post season each of the last two seasons.  The front office signed former Eagles kicker, Caleb Sturgis, this offseason in hopes he can reverse the kicking curse of the franchise.  Sturgis lost his job to Jake Elliott last season due to injury, but was effective for the Eagles in 2016, going 35 for 41 on his field goal attempts.  The Chargers would have a parade if Sturgis can put up similar statistics in 2018.  If Roberto Aguayo takes this job over Sturgis, I will truly feel for the San Diego faithful (shit, they aren’t there anymore).

I am a huge fan of what Los Angeles has done with this roster, and truly believe their ceiling is the Super Bowl, but I just cannot pick them to win at least ten games.  The team has already lost two major contributors to injury, and Rivers always has a few “what the fuck are you doing“ games where the team will lose to inferior opponents throughout the season.  The Chargers have a tough four games to start the season (KC, @BUF, @LAR, and SF) which could lead to their typical 1-3 start that makes no sense to anyone.  I am rooting for Rivers to make the run that he has not been able to accomplish over his 14-year career, but history suggests that is an unlikely outcome.

Favorite Potential Storyline: Mike Williams could become the poster child of the “You Got Moss’d” segment if he can live up to this potential.  Derwin James could also emerge as a Jalen Ramsey type personality if he can perform at a Pro Bowl level.  The Florida State guys sure like to wear their emotions on their sleeves…

Prediction: 9-7 (3rd in AFC West)

Denver Broncos  

The Denver Broncos are my surprise team in the AFC this season.  I am a major fan of what John Elway did with the roster this offseason.  First and foremost, Case Keenum coming in from Minnesota after leading the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship is going to add stability to a position that has been in question since the franchise’s Super Bowl 50 victory where Peyton Manning was playing with a noodle arm.  Keenum bounced around the league during his 20’s, being labeled as a journeyman, but showed flashes here and there that signaled that there might be more than that in the veteran quarterback.  When Same Bradford went down with an injury (what’s new) in week one last season, Keenum replaced Bradford, and never looked back.  Keenum may not be Aaron Rodgers, but when surrounded by solid playmakers, he can lead a team to the postseason.  The Broncos have the weapons on offense that can set him up for success.

The front office prioritized adding skilled players on the offensive side of the ball to provide firepower for Keenum and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.  The Broncos added WR Courtland Sutton in second round, RB Royce Freeman in the third round, WR DaeSean Hamilton in the fourth round, and TE Troy Fumagalli in the fifth round.  Freeman and Sutton are popular picks around the league to be instant impact guys, and Hamilton (a guy I got to watch for the past four years at Penn State) will provide quality depth behind veterans WR Demaryius Thomas and WR Emmanuel Sanders.  The offensive line is middle of the pack, which is concerning in a conference loaded with great pass rushers.  Keenum was in the bottom ten in time to throw last season (2.78 seconds), but that does not mean he cannot adjust to his situation to account for the different defenses he will be up against in Denver.

The offense should be able to put up points, but the Broncos defense is what makes me believe this could be a ten-win team this season.  Von Miller continues to do Von Miller things.  He continues to be the anchor that led the Broncos to a Super Bowl victory in 2015.  The defense has gone through a significant amount of turnover since then, but the upswing is here.  The defense is not as talented as it was in 2015 (that was a top ten defense of all time, good luck matching it), but this unit finished last season third in the NFL total yards allowed, and added DE Bradley Chubb, who many consider the best defensive prospect to come out of the 2018 draft class.  On the flip side, the same defense that held opponents to 290 yard per game also gave up 23.9 points per game which tied for eighth most in the NFL last season.  I think the points per game statistic is misleading and does not represent the Broncos accurately for one major reason:  The Broncos offense was horrendously irresponsible last season.  The offense finished with the second worst turnover differential (-17) last season, and constantly put the defense in an impossible situation to prevent opponents from scoring with impeccable field position.  With a competent quarterback under center this year, there will be less of these instances, leading to a decrease in opponent scoring.

The Broncos pass rush follows the AFC West model, headed by Miller, with a strong supporting cast of Chubb, OLB Shane Ray, and DE Derek Wolf.  To compliment the strong pass rush is a top secondary in the NFL.  The loss of CB Aqib Talib is not ideal, but the team would have not traded him to the Los Angeles Rams if they did not have confidence in the room they currently have assembled.  If free agent acquisition CB Tramaine Brock can return to his San Francisco 49ers form playing next to CB’s Chris Harris Jr and Bradley Roby, the Broncos will be a hard team to pass against.

The Broncos have been on a two-year Super Bowl hangover, but with a quarterback that is riding the confidence from his success last season, and a defense built to stop the pass effectively, I am a believer in the franchise, and predict they will squeeze into the playoffs as the last wild card team in the AFC playoffs.

Favorite Potential Storyline:  No one is going to have the impact that the 2017 New Orleans Saints rookie class had on their franchise, but there is a scenario where the Broncos get significant contributions from five of their draft choices from 2018, which will play a huge role in returning to playoff form.

Prediction: 10-6 (2nd in AFC West, 6th Seed in AFC Playoffs)

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