Raiders’ explosive offense should carry them to AFC West crown

Welcome to the best division in football — the AFC West.

Don’t be surprised if three teams come out of the AFC West for the playoffs. Figuring out in what order is the tough part.

Any team is capable of winning the division with stout defenses, but the one with the weakest should come out on top.

Yes, the Raiders’ secondary probably couldn’t stop the 49ers’ Brian Hoyer. But on the other side, not many defenses around the league will be able to slow down Derek Carr and his explosive Raiders offense.

Carr hasn’t missed a beat since returning from a broken fibula that ended his stellar 2016 campaign in December. The Raiders quarterback will be under center with new weapons Marshawn Lynch and Jared Cook to go along with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree.

And most importantly, left tackle Donald Penn is back to give the Raiders one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.

Good line, good season.

Expect the soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders to light up the scoreboard. Don’t sleep on the Raiders defense, at least not in the trenches. The reigning defensive player of the year, Khalil Mack, could have some help in rookie Eddie Vanderdoes and a healthy Mario Edwards Jr.

The Raiders’ struggle positions are at linebacker and cornerback. That could be a problem if they face the Patriots’ Tom Brady or the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger come playoff time.

2. Chiefs remain formidable

The Kansas City Chiefs are the defending division champions and could boast the best defense in the NFL.

But injuries to the offense, uncertainty at quarterback and last-minute changes to the front office usually don’t translate to a memorable season.

After firing their general manager, John Dorsey, in June, the Chiefs cut arguably their best wide receiver, Jeremy Maclin, and lost No. 1 running back Spencer Ware to torn knee ligaments last month.

That leaves the Chiefs with tight end Travis Kelce as their only reliable target. The versatile Tyreek Hill will contribute some big plays, but can he be counted on as the top wideout?

How much confidence do the Chiefs really have in quarterback Alex Smith when he has to look over his shoulder after every mistake? Kansas City drafted Patrick Mahomes, who showed flashes during the preseason.

3. Chargers need some luck

The Los Angeles Chargers might have the most talented roster, starting with defensive end Joey Bosa to anchor a rising defense.

The Chargers are covered in the middle by Melvin Ingram and could have one of the best cornerback duos in Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward.

On offense, old-reliable Philip Rivers is surrounded by a surplus of young weapons, including Melvin Gordon in the backfield.

Rivers could be throwing to the fastest receiving corps in the league. Good luck trying to keep up with Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin.

But the Chargers’ season might come down to luck. They were depleted by injuries a year ago, and the injury bug still hasn’t left.

The Chargers already lost rookie offensive lineman Forrest Lamp and don’t know if first-round selection wide receiver Mike Williams will suit up this season because of back injury.

Los Angeles is also going through a coaching change with the arrival of Anthony Lynn and playing in a new city after leaving San Diego.

4. Broncos still miss Manning

It seems like forever since the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl in 2015.

The Broncos’ ferocious defense is still there with linebacker Von Miller and arguably the best secondary, known as the “No Fly Zone.”

But Denver still hasn’t found a replacement for Peyton Manning. Trevor Siemian might give the Broncos the best chance to win, but he struggled throughout the 2016 season and didn’t stay healthy.

Former first-round pick Paxton Lynch hasn’t progressed the way general manager John Elway had hoped for when they moved up to select him.

If the Denver quarterbacks struggle again, that means another lost year for wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

It’s going to be up to the championship-caliber defense to keep teams under 21 points to give the Denver offense a chance to stay in games.

Contact Gilbert Manzano at gmanzano@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GManzano24 on Twitter.

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