Bold Predictions – AFC West Division Winner 

By Jay Stoltenburg, DFW Writer @sixshooter67


By the time a contending team finally reaches that ultimate goal of winning the Superbowl, their team soon after gets hand-picked of their players and coaches (if they don’t retire first) which peytonhas happened once again for my beloved Denver Broncos after losing the likes of LB Danny Trevathlon, S (and special teams standout) David Bruton, DL Malik Jackson, G Evan Mathis and QB Brock Osweiler in free agency and Peyton Manning hanging up his cleats so he can enjoy watching football from the luxury of his couch instead of the sideline.  The Broncos were also forced to trade or cut LT Ryan Clady (who was in fact traded to the Jets).  Needless to say, the Broncos have their work cut out to repeat as not only the AFC West Division Champions but Superbowl Champions.  Them orange and blue shades aren’t quite as rosy as they were a year ago but all hope is not lost.

raiders2Although I do still feel the Broncos will make the playoffs and make a run at another back to back Championship, I do not believe they will have home-field advantage for their first game.  As much as it pains me to say, I believe the team representing the AFC West as it’s 2016 Division winner will be none other than the Oakland Raiders, who could very well be the Las Vegas Raiders in the near future which will be equally painful for me as I have to travel to Sin City at least once a year for the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) and really don’t care to be surrounded by black and silver all week but I guess I am surrounded by sin anyways so what do I care.

My apologies to the Chiefs and Chargers fans but I just don’t feel your team can finish better than third in the AFC West this year which could still yield a playoff spot so all hope is not lost for you either. I feel and share your pain!

I must admit that I am actually happy the Raiders have gotten back on track by making great decision in the off-season because I do miss one of the greatest rivalries in the NFL.  They may have lost a couple great defensive players to retirement (DE Justin Tuck and S Charles Woodson) this year but the Raiders also acquired some solid defensive players such as LB Bruce Irvin and S Reggie Nelson and don’t forget that the Raiders have that guy named Khalil Mack anchoring one end of the defensive line pretty much by himself so they are not hurting on defense and are likely better than last year.

On offense, the Raiders improved in most every stat last year with QB Derek Carr, whom they selected in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL Draft, taking the next step in the NFL finishing the season with 3,987 yards, 32 TD’s and just 13 INT’s while completing 61% of his passes last year.  WR Amari Cooper was another great addition for the Raiders in the 2015 NFL Draft.  He was selected fourth overall and finished the season with 72 catches for 1,070 yards and 6 TD’s…….not bad for a rookie campaign, and I fully expect him to expand on those numbers after getting that freshman year under his belt and just turning 22 in June.  At RB, Latavius Murray produced another 1,066 yards and 6 more TD’s while averaging 4.0 yards per carry and also caught 41 passes tacking on another 232 yards.

In the 2016 NFL Draft, the Raiders selected DE Jihad Ward in the middle of the first round in hopes that he can fill the void left by the departure of Justin Tuck.  They also found a smaller RB out of Texas Tech in Deandre Washington to help complement Latavius Murray in the offensive backfield.  The former Red Raiders player seems to be a great fit in the offense and has reportedly had a solid mini-camp so he will be a player to keep an eye on when training camps open and preseason begins.

AlDavisAs you can see, the “post Al Davis” Oakland Raiders have figured out that having that barn burner like Raghib “Rocket” Ismail or wasting first round draft picks on a kicker or a guy like Jamarcus Russell whom was drafted first overall in the 2007 NFL Draft, got caught with the purple drank, turned into a Barney and was out of the league after just three years in the league is not the answer to the “Just Win Baby” motto that they so tightly hang onto.  But Russell didn’t walk away with his pockets empty as he got over $36 million of his $68 million dollar contract before leaving and being forced to sell his $2+ million dollar home before it got foreclosed on just a couple years later. But today, the Raiders are making smarter decisions and it’s showing which is why I feel this could very well be the year that they find their name at the top of the AFC West Division at the end of the 2016 regular season but it’s what they and the rest of the NFL playoff teams do in the post-season that will ultimately define their season!  I am not saying that the Broncos or any other AFC West team don’t have a chance but I am saying that the Raiders are a much improved team that has every chance in the world to win their Division or, at the very least, make it difficult for the other teams in their Division.