The Raiders have significantly upgraded their talent and hope to take a big step forward in their final season in Oakland.
While they almost certainly will put a better product on the field, there may not be as much room for upward mobility as they would like.
The Raiders play one of the league’s most difficult schedules, specifically one that requires 32,023 travel miles — the most in the NFL and more than the Bills, Giants and Jets combined.
Then there are the four games against the Chiefs and Chargers, two of the premier teams in the AFC. The presence of those two juggernauts, along with the optimistic Broncos, makes the AFC West a difficult draw for the Raiders.
Here’s a look at the division:
Kansas City Chiefs (12-4 in 2018)
There’s not enough adjectives to describe their offense.
The immense talent of quarterback Pat Mahomes proved to be a perfect match for Andy Reid’s intricate offense as the Chiefs surged to the top of the league in scoring and nearly every passing stat last season.
While there may be some regression by the Chiefs and adjustments by defenses, there is little to believe the offense will give up the throne as the best in the NFL despite some question marks in the backfield.
Now it’s on the defense to step up its game.
All new coordinator Steve Spagnulo has to do is slow down opponents because he knows his offense is good for at least 30 points most weeks.
The biggest question will be whether the unit can find a way to pressure opposing quarterbacks. Kansas City led the league in sacks last year, but 22 of their 52 sacks left town with Justin Houston and Dee Ford.
Playmaking safety Tyrann Mathieu should help bolster the back end for a team looking to avenge last year’s AFC championship game loss by returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1970.
Los Angeles Chargers (12-4 in 2018)
The window may be closing on quarterback Philip Rivers, but the pieces are in place for him to finally make a Super Bowl.
It would help to have star running back Melvin Gordon back in the fold if his contract situation could get resolved.
Even without him, the Chargers have capable replacements in the backfield and pass-catching weapons for Rivers.
Coach Anthony Lynn’s team also has a defense that can win it some games.
If they can stay on the field together, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram form one of the most imposing pass-rushing duos in the league and pose a real problem for offenses.
A training camp injury to Derwin James dealt the unit a significant blow, but he should return to help the Chargers down the stretch and into the postseason, where they hope to advance even further than last year’s divisional round appearance.
Denver Broncos (6-10 in 2018)
One of Twitter’s favorite NFL debates for years was whether Joe Flacco was among the league’s “elite” quarterbacks.
He’s not really a part of that discussion anymore, but the Broncos don’t need him to be at this stage of his career. They need him to be good enough to take advantage of the defensive talent that new head coach Vic Fangio hopes to make into a dominant unit.
Last season, the Broncos scored 30 points just once.
They should be able to win with fewer points, but Flacco will need to make plays. A key to that may be finding ways to get young speedster Phillip Lindsay involved.
Fangio should represent an upgrade on the sidelines, but it’s unlikely the Broncos can do much more than battle the Raiders for third place in this loaded division.