By Jared Dubin
(CBS SPORTS) – The Kansas City Chiefs have won the division two years in a row. Before that, the Denver Broncos won it in five consecutive seasons. During those seven seasons, the Chargers have won an average of just over seven games per year and have made the playoffs once.
They’ve been building out a very strong defense over the last few seasons, though, and after a strong draft, at least one of their division rivals is very impressed with their team. Broncos general manager John Elway told reporters in Omaha that he thinks the Chargers might be the team to beat in the division in 2018.
“It’s the wild, wild West. I thought the Chargers did a really nice job with the draft,” Elway said, per The MMQB’s Peter King. “They’ve got the settled quarterback, even though the Raiders do too. Looking at it, [the Chargers] may be the ones to beat. As I stand here, looking at it, the Chargers might be the team to beat.”
The Chiefs are transitioning from the Alex Smith era to second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes. They traded away the best player from their moribund 2017 defense (Marcus Peters) and sustained losses to their coaching staff.
The Raiders hired Jon Gruden, which is nice PR, but Gruden is out here disparaging all the changes to the game since he last coached and openly musing about bringing football back to 1998. The Raiders signed two blocking tight ends and a fullback this offseason, and seemingly everyone else they signed was over 30 years old. There’s obviously a chance for them to take a step forward, but it’s no guarantee.
Then there’s Elway’s Broncos. They missed out on Kirk Cousins and ended up signing Case Keenum instead. They cut ties with their 1,000-yard running back. They traded away one of their best corners (Aqib Talib) because he became too expensive. They added one of the draft’s best defenders in Bradley Chubb but we don’t really know what their offense is going to look like.
Meanwhile, the Chargers finally have something resembling a real offensive line, if they can stay healthy. They still have Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry, and they should have a full season of Mike Williams. They’ve got Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram up front, one of the NFL’s best cornerback tandems (Casey Hayward and Trevor Williams, plus the returning Jason Verrett) and now a strong duo at safety after drafting Derwin James. Maybe they really are the team to beat. As long as they find a kicker, that is.