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AFC West: Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs the team to beat

The Kansas City Chiefs rule the AFC West, which comes as no shock. They are the defending Super Bowl champions and return their team almost entirely intact.

For the rest of the division, the realistic goal is to play for second place. The playoff field will expand from 12 to 14 teams, allowing one more wild-card team from each conference. So a second-place finish in the AFC West should put the occupant in a decent position to punch a ticket to the postseason.

It also would not be a shock if the third-place team was also in playoff contention. Last season the third-place Los Angeles Rams from the NFC West would have qualified for the expanded playoffs had the new format been in place.

The Raiders, who we predict will finish second, figure prominently in that equation, especially if their rebuilt defense rises to the challenge.

Here’s who’s standing between the Raiders and a playoff berth.

Kansas City Chiefs

VS. RAIDERS: Oct. 11 Kansas City, Missouri; Nov. 22, Allegiant Stadium

ADDITIONS: T Mike Remmers, TE Ricky Seals-Jones, RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (draft)

SUBTRACTIONS: RB LeSean McCoy, RB Spencer Ware, TE Blake Bell, G Stefen Wisniewski, G Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (opt-out)

OUTLOOK: The defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs appear ready to defend their title after solidifying their roster via contract extensions to QB Patrick Mahomes, TE Travis Kelce and DT Chris Jones. The offense, in particular, is in tremendous hands with Mahomes and his wide array of weapons. But if there is a soft underbelly to the Chiefs’ greatness, it’s a linebacking group that graded out among the worst in the league last year and a secondary that features an unspectacular group of cornerbacks who will be without the suspended Bashaud Breeland to start the season. As a result, Kansas City will often have to rely on their prolific attack-mode offense to win some shootouts. So expect the Chiefs to stumble a few times on their way to the playoffs.

PREDICTED FINISH: First place, 12-4

Los Angeles Chargers

VS. RAIDERS: Nov. 8, Allegiant Stadium; Dec. 17, Inglewood, California

ADDITIONS: T Bryan Bulaga, G Trai Turner, CB Chris Harris Jr. DT Linval Joseph

SUBTRACTIONS: QB Philip Rivers, RB Melvin Gordon, T Russell Okung, S Adrian Phillips, LB Thomas Davis

OUTLOOK: With DE Joey Bosa, LB Melvin Ingram and S Derwin James, a case can be made that the Chargers have the best defensive talent in the NFL. There is also argument that they fixed their offensive line with the addition of T Bryan Bulaga and G Trai Turner. All that, coupled with a top-notch offensive group led by Keenan Allen and TE Hunter Henry, make the Chargers as dangerous on paper as any team in the division. The issue is at quarterback, where Tyrod Taylor has been given the reins as the replacement for veteran Philip Rivers. By simply avoiding turnovers, Taylor can put the Chargers in a good place. But given how the Chargers drafted their quarterback of the future, Justin Herbert, with the sixth pick in the draft, hefigures to be given the keys sooner rather than later.

PREDICTED FINISH: Third place, 9-7

Denver Broncos

VS. RAIDERS: Nov. 15. Allegiant Stadium; Jan. 3, Denver

ADDITIONS: WR Jerry Jeudy (draft) RB Melvin Gordon, DT Jurrell Casey, CB A.J. Bouye, G Graham Glasgow

SUBTRACTIONS: CB Chris Harris, DL Shelby Harris, C Connor McGovern, DL Derek Wolfe

OUTLOOK: The future is now for second-year quarterback Drew Lock, who went 4-1 as the starter in the final five games of 2019. The Broncos have surrounded him with a strong supporting cast. The addition of RB Melvin Gordon, coupled with holdover Phillip Lindsay, should supply Lock with a sturdy run game. Jerry Jeudy, the rookie wide receiver from Alabama, has been impressive in training camp. Defensively, Von Miller needs a bounce-back year. If he delivers, a strong defensive line that also features Bradley Chubb will be a handful. The loss of Chris Harris at cornerback is certain to be felt, and it doesn’t help that the Broncos face one of the toughest schedules in the league.

PREDICTED FINISH: Fourth place, 6-10.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter

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