The AFC West will prove to be the toughest division in the NFL in 2019. This division may be the best it has ever been, at least since 2013 when three of four teams made the playoffs. The Chiefs look like they will walk their way back to the AFC Championship game, the Chargers are definitely capable of winning 11 games again, the Raiders added Antonio Brown and Gruden looks like he may be figuring out this whole coaching thing, and the Broncos have hired a defensive mastermind to lead their incredible defensive talents.
On top of all four teams that have a reasonable shot at making the playoffs, there are three elite quarterbacks that can change just about any game. I’ll let you guess who they are, but one of them has a Super Bowl MVP and a pretty sweet beard.
Even before the season starts, everyone is already thinking that the Chiefs will win the division. NFL analysts are thinking it, the Broncos homer inside me is thinking it and even Chris Harris is thinking it.
Harris told Pro Football Talk, “The Chiefs are the team to beat right now,” Harris said. “They’ve won it, I think, the past three years so until somebody knocks them off they’re the team beat. I’m telling you right now, I like being the underdog right now. Teams are sleeping on us and so I like taking that approach this year. They’re going to have to wake up when we hit them in the mouth”
I have to take Chris Harris’ side on this one. No pressure is the best way for Vic Fangio to start his career. Every other team sleeping on the Broncos can lead to some major upsets. The defensive genius of Fangio mixed with the defensive playmakers could spell trouble for Rivers, Mahomes and especially Carr. In fact, I think the Broncos can beat the Chiefs if they can keep it close until the end of the game and force Andy Reid to make wise choices when it comes to timeouts.
The Denver Broncos had a very disappointing 2018 season. They were the embodiment of the difference between a Buffalo Bill and a Dollar Bill and were never truly good for four quarters. On and off the field issues left the team in shambles. Injuries virtually eliminated the tight end position. Chad Kelly had two cases keeping him from the starting position. One of which was Keenum while the other was breaking and entering. With the 2019 season quickly approaching there are still many moving parts for first year coach Vic Fangio. In order for the Broncos to have success in the toughest AFC West since 2013, these 6 players will need to step up in major ways.
Noah Fant The Broncos have not had real success with a tight end since Julius Thomas. The lack of success is due to countless injuries, including 4 last year. Now, Elway has decided to roll the dice again by taking Iowa’s Noah Fant with his first round pick. Fant, at 6’4″ 250 pounds, has all the measurables to be a successful NFL tight end. Now, he needs to repeat the same success he had in college in his first year in Denver. It’s difficult to say that a rookie needs to have an immediate impact, but this is a position that the Broncos absolutely have to have production at to have success in the AFC West.
Joe Flacco His Eliteness will be gracing Mile High with his presence in 2019. It’s about time the Broncos added another Super Bowl MVP to the team in my opinion. Flacco losing his position to Lamar Jackson last season puts him in a difficult spot. He seems to have the the starting spot lined up for Game 1, but the fear of losing his spot to another rookie in Drew Lock has to be weighing on him. He will definitely be on short leash this season.
Courtland Sutton Emmanuel Sanders has been making unbelievable progress in his recovery from an achilles injury, but still may not be at 100% for Game 1. This means that Courtland Sutton will be the de facto first option receiver for the season opener. The last thing that Sanders needs is pressure to return to the field before he is ready. Courtland Sutton needs to have a big season to give Sanders all the time he needs. The Flacco specialty has always been underthrowing a receiver forcing them to run back and be interfered with by a cornerback with his back turned. Hopefully, the thin Denver air allows Flacco to actually throw the ball far enough for Sutton to put up some serious numbers.
Royce Freeman Phillip Lindsay has the starting running back position locked up for Game 1 of next season. But with uncertainty at the quarterback position, the Broncos needs a viable second option in the backfield. More specifically, a receiving option. Flacco is a big time check down quarterback and needs a safety valve receiver. Freeman played that role perfectly at Oregon and could add a whole new element to the Bronco offense. Screens, wheel routes and swing passes may be what unlocks his potential.
Kareem Jackson Kareem Jackson is the only newcomer expected to start in the Broncos secondary. Coming off 9 seasons in Houston and a career best year, expectations will be through the roof. But the veteran cornerback is exactly what this Broncos team needs. Joining an elite secondary with William Parks, Justin Simmons, Chris Harris, Bryce Callahan, and Su’a Cravens led by Vic Fangio’s expertise should make for a dominant season, but Kareem Jackson will need to have a big year to bring back to notorious No Fly Zone.
Josey Jewell Vic Fangio loves to play 3-4 defense. Obviously, three of the four linebacker spots will go to Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and Todd Davis. The last inside linebacker spot will go to the next man up, Josey Jewell. Coming off a pretty good rookie year of 58 tackles (38 solo) and 4 tackles for loss, he is going to have to come up huge for the Broncos defense this season. Josey proved that he is an elite linebacker at Iowa and needs to be a presence in the run game for the Broncos to be competitive in the AFC West. Luckily, Vic Fangio is the perfect coach for a young linebacker to learn under.
One player that you should not see on a list like this, at least for the upcoming season, is Phillip Lindsay. Some people still think that he needs to have a big year in 2019 in order to prove himself. Really? Has he not done enough? He went from undrafted to Pro-Bowler in a couple of months. Saying he has proven himself is an understatement.
John Elway and the Denver Broncos have reportedly blocked all interview requests for Gary Kubiak for Offensive Coordinator jobs around the NFL. As you may have guess from the Broncos’ terrible season, this is the first time they have blocked anyone all year.
So far, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Atlanta Falcons have requested an interview and it does not look like anymore will come. The Broncos want Kubiak to stay and work with the new Head Coach who has yet to be named.
Kubiak is widely considered one of the best candidates for an OC vacancy. He has not had too impressive of a recent track record due to not having a quarterback and Vance Joseph destroying everything he touches. There is no timetable for Elway to pick a new Head Coach, but it looks like Gary Kubiak will be in Denver for the foreseeable future.