Oakland Raiders: The Biggest Threat In Division Might Not Be The Chiefs

Dec 18, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) runs for a first down on a run after getting by San Diego Chargers strong safety Jahleel Addae (37) during the fourth quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 18, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) runs for a first down on a run after getting by San Diego Chargers strong safety Jahleel Addae (37) during the fourth quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

The Oakland Raiders are expected to contend for an AFC West crown this year – but their stiffest competition for a division title might not come from the team most expect it to be.

A year after falling just short of winning the AFC West, the Oakland Raiders have reloaded and many expect to see them win their first division title since the early 2000’s. Many of those same people expect the fight for the division crown to come down to Oakland and the Kansas City Chiefs – last year’s division winners.

But the team some should be looking at, and the one that could potentially present the biggest obstacle is one that might surprise – the newly-minted Los Angeles Chargers.

Now, before you start laughing and write this off completely, let’s look at things objectively. Let’s take a look at how this division breaks down.

The Broncos finished 2016 at 9-7 and missed the playoffs. And with the dynamic duo of Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch still Denver’s quarterbacks, it’s hard to see that record improving or the Broncos seriously contending for a division title this year.

Yes, they still have a pretty good defense that’s going to keep games close. After all, they did give up just over 18 points a game last year – although that defense may take a hit with the loss of DC Wade Phillips.

The biggest challenge for Denver though, is going to come from an offense that can’t score a lot of points.

Last year, the Broncos were one of the worst scoring offenses in the league, notching just over 20 points a game. Without a lot of new pieces on that side of the ball, it’s difficult to see Denver getting a whole lot better.

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Next come the Chiefs. And we all know about what we can expect from Kansas City. They’re a good team with a solid defense, but their offense is about as exciting to watch as paint drying.

Yes, they have Tyreek Hill and he’s going to do some good things and make some plays. Ditto that with Travis Kelce. They will also have a decent running game behind Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware. Alex Smith is a decent enough game manager, but don’t expect him to be able to take over a game the way other quarterbacks can and do.

In terms of Kansas City’s offense, about the best you can say is that they’ll be competent – more or less. They certainly aren’t going to have a lot of explosiveness or flash. And by cutting Jeremy Maclin and relying on younger, far more inexperienced receivers, last year’s twentieth ranked offense may very well take a step backward.

Kansas City’s offense was mediocre last season and without Maclin, they very well may slip below even that.

Which brings us to the Chargers. It’s a simple enough matter to write them off yet again after last year’s 5-11 season and laugh them off as a train wreck. But look closer. Look at the numbers as well as the talent they have on that roster closely. Do that and you’ll see a team, that if it catches a break here and there, could actually be a very dangerous team.

Oakland Raiders
Dec 18, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) is sacked by San Diego Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa (99) during a NFL football game at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

Consider the fact that they had one of the league’s better scoring offenses in the league last year, putting up just over 25 points a game. Behind veteran Philip Rivers, they had the league’s eighth best passing attack and fourteenth ranked offense overall.

Their defense, although ranked in the middle of the pack – sixteenth if you’re scoring at home – it was the fact that they had the league’s twenty-ninth ranked scoring defense that did them in. Their defense gave up a whopping 423 points – or just over 26 points a game.

You don’t need to be a mathemetician to know that if you’re scoring 25 a game, but giving up 26, you’re not going to win a lot of ballgames.

But, consider the fact that last year’s team was absolutely ravaged by injury. They lost some of their biggest and best players on both sides of the ball. Keenan Allen, Danny Woodhead, Branden Oliver, Steve Johnson – the list goes on.

The Chargers had an incredible number of players on the season-ending IR list or miss significant time with injury. And yet, despite the extraordinary number of injuries they sustained, they lost eight games by seven points or less last season.

Let’s also not forget that they gave the Raiders all they could handle, losing both games by a combined six points. They were games that quite honestly, could have gone either way.

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Which brings us to the 2017 incarnation of this team. Say what you will about Rivers – and there’s a lot you can say about him – he’s been a pretty solid quarterback in this league for a long time. We shouldn’t expect anything different from him this year.

Although Antonio Gates is pretty much a shell of his former greatness, the Chargers have one of the league’s better up and coming tight ends in Hunter Henry. Splitting time with Gates last year, Henry hauled in 36 passes for 478 yards – a solid average of 13.3 ypc – and eight touchdowns.

Rivers will also have Allen back on the field as he’s recovered from last year’s season-ending injury. Added to that receiving group this year is the Chargers’ first round pick, Mike Williams. At 6’3”, 205 lbs., Williams, along with Allen (6’2”, 206 lbs.), and Travis Benjamin (5’10”, 172 lbs.) in the slot, Los Angeles has three big, fast, legit targets for Rivers to throw to.

Add in Dontrelle Inman, and the Chargers have a four deep receiving group that can give opposing defenses fits. And likely will.

The weak link in Los Angeles’ offense may be a running game led by Melvin Gordon who started to come into his own last year, gaining 997 yards for the season. The problem is that Los Angeles didn’t have anybody behind Gordon last year to help carry the load. Gordon was the only legitimate threat running the ball.

Although Oliver is expected back at full strength this year, the Chargers didn’t do much else to upgrade their running attack. But if they can get solid blocking from a line that isn’t ravaged by injury and Gordon can increase his productivity, the Chargers may be able to get away with it.

San Diego’s defense had the most interceptions in the league last year, was seventh in yards per rushing attempt, and was the league’s tenth best in rushing yards allowed. The weak link was their passing defense which ranked twentieth in yards allowed, nineteenth in yards per pass reception, but was eighth in scoring defense.

Essentially, all the Chargers need to do is tighten down how many touchdowns they give up on the ground, cut down on the passing yards allowed per game, give up fewer yards per reception, and this defense could be incredibly dangerous.

The biggest key for this Los Angeles team is going to be staying healthy – something they were unable to do last season.

If this team can stay healthy and tighten a few things up on defense, this could be an incredibly dangerous team. A team that could come out of nowhere, win some games, and potentially find themselves in the thick of the race for a division title.

On paper, this Chargers team is a little more well rounded and complete than Kansas City and Denver. It’s simply a matter of bringing things together. While that’s obviously not always a simple matter, if new HC Anthony Lynn can get the most out of his players, this is a team that could potentially challenge the Raiders at the top of the division.