We have arrived at the halfway point of the NFL season. Here’s a brief rundown of who are contenders, outsiders and are planning for next season.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
If the defense can improve in a few areas changing to a 4-3 system, they will be expected to be Super Bowl contenders.
2. Los Angeles Chargers
The most complete team in the league, that is until Melvin Gordon decided to holdout.
3. Oakland Raiders
They were big spenders in free agency, but their haul in the draft is what will matter most going forward.
4. Denver Broncos
Vic Fangio finally gets a shot to be a head coach. Denver’s defense was already good. Now they’ll be even better.
Head Coach: Andy Reid
Key Position: Defense
This unit was among the best at rushing the passer and causing turnovers last year. Those were the only bright spots. They traded for Frank Clark to be the edge rusher with Chris Jones manning the middle. Tyrann Mathieu is the wild card in the secondary who can play almost anywhere. This unit should be better.
Key Acquisitions: CB Bashaud Breeland (Green Bay Packers), DE Frank Clark (Seattle Seahawks), DB Tyrann Mathieu (Houston Texans), RB LeSean McCoy (Buffalo Bills), DE Emmanuel Ogbah (Cleveland Browns), DE Alex Okafor (New Orleans Saints)
Key Rookies: WR Mecole Hardman, DB Juan Thornhill
Head Coach: Anthony Lynn
Key Position: Running Back
I couldn’t find one major weak point on this team. One of the very few teams that doesn’t have any. However, with Melvin Gordon’s holdout and trade request, this position becomes a question mark now. Austin Ekeler is a solid check down option, but isn’t an everyday back. Justin Jackson got some work last year with Gordon injured. Look for him to get most of the rushing attempts.
Key Acquisitions: LB Thomas Davis (Carolina Panthers), QB Tyrod Taylor (Cleveland Browns)
Key Rookies: DT Jerry Tillery, DB Nasir Adderley
Head Coach: Jon Gruden
Key Position: Everything
They somehow won 4 games last year. This team was just awful. The offense gets an instant bit of credibility with Antonio Brown on board. Josh Jacobs is the feature back and the o-line is improved with Trent Brown at one tackle spot. On defense just drafting Clelin Ferrell and Jonathan Abram brings tenacious athletes in the mix that bring needed energy against the pass and the run. Lamarcus Joyner was a solid addition for the secondary.
Key Acquisitions: WR Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers), OT Trent Brown (New England Patriots), LB Vontaze Burfict (Cincinnati Bengals), DB Lamarcus Joyner (LA Rams), DT Corey Liuget (LA Chargers), WR Tyrell Williams (LA Chargers), OL Richie Incognito (Buffalo Bills)
Key Rookies: DE Clelin Ferrell, RB Josh Jacobs, DB Jonathan Abram, CB Trayvon Mullen, WR Hunter Renfrow
Head Coach: Vic Fangio (Chicago Bears)
Key Position: Offense
Even with their struggles at quarterback they were still in the middle of the pack as the 19th ranked passing offense and 12th ranked in rushing. That’s not good enough in John Elway’s book and he made another move to acquire a QB. This time it’s former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco. This will likely be his last shot at running an offense. The running game is solid with Phillip Lindsay, but he doesn’t many top tier receivers at his disposal.
Key Acquisitions: CB Bryce Callahan (Chicago Bears), QB Joe Flacco (Baltimore Ravens), DB Kareem Jackson (Houston Texans), OT Ja’Wuan James (Miami Dolphins)
Key Rookies: TE Noah Fant, OL Dalton Risner, DL Dre’Mont Jones
1. Los Angeles Chargers
Sure, they play in the smallest stadium in the league, but they almost clinched a playoff spot without overwhelming support.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
The time has come to see if the Chiefs heavy investment in QB Patrick Mahomes pays off.
3. Oakland Raiders
The return of ‘Chuckie’ aka Jon Gruden has Raider Nation abuzz.
4. Denver Broncos
John Elway is trying to salvage a broken roster with another veteran QB not named Peyton Manning.
1. Oakland Raiders
They are a top choice to contend with the Patriots and Steelers for the AFC crown.
2. Denver Broncos
With a new coaching staff the defense won’t be tampered with, but the offense will need some work.
3. Kansas City Chiefs
There isn’t enough depth/talent at key positions for them to stay in contention.
4. Los Angeles Chargers
A change in scenery will have them flying under the radar, but they are talented enough to finish near the .500 mark.